Category Archives: Living with Cancer

Living With Cancer: Broken Back and Grandma Pat’s Happy Hats

Well, I have been AWOL on this blog for about a month.  The reason…I have been taken out by a tsunami of a…..sneeze.  The dastardly incident…broke my back!

It did not seem like a disaster at the time. Just a sneeze accompanied by a  “pop” or two. I remember thinking at the time that, that might hurt later.  Then, I went on with life and ignored the situation until it became beyond ignorance to do so.

Within a week or so I had a extreme pain in my ribs.  Breathing hurt with every breath.  I decided that it was time to make a trip to see a doctor.  He said that he thought that I had dislocated ribs during the sneeze.  He said it was just going to take time to heal….weeks.

So, home I went and continued cooking, baking and oil painting as much as  time and pain would allow.  The pain continued to get worse.

During my routine oncology visit the following week for my monthly chemo four and a half hour infusing to treat my Multiple Myeloma cancer, my oncologist ordered a CT scan as the daily chemo medication I take can cause blot clots in my lungs and he wanted to rule that out.

After my cancer nurse Jen, she’s a little might, but nobody in their right mind would come between her and her patients.  It became quickly apparent that she and the radiation scheduling people were not on the same page. She felt very strongly that a CT scan for blood clots on the lung needed to be done that very day and not later in the week.  I immediately had the scan.

Thankfully, it showed no blood clots.

Home I went with orders to use Tylenol as needed for the rib pain.

This was on a Friday…by Sunday night the pain had escalated to the point where I need further help to control it.

Back to Regions Hospital I went.  The Emergency Room staff was great, as always, helped me get some pain relief and admitted me to the hospital.  Next, I was sent down for and MRI test.  This test showed that I had a new a complete compression fracture in my spine and two other partial collapses.

I was kept in the hospital at Regions until a back brace could be made and fitted.  I was not even allowed to go for walks in the hospital.

I have to wear the brace for 12 weeks.  Absolutely no oil painting or pretty much anything else for 6-8 weeks.  I am on week 4 now.  The back pain has moved from everywhere to just the spine and has settled in the breaks.  Progress!

This is my first time at the computer typing…so as long as I keep my elbows tucked close to my body and resting on the desk surface…this should be OK for short periods of time.

Other than being totally disappointed about this whole turn of events, feeling nauseous all the time from the pain and having doctor ordered physical limitations again.  I have a lot for which to be thankful.

While horribly stressful to have done…the PET scan than followed the MRI…showed no cancer.

Bone fractures heal.  So, while laying in bed waiting for them to heal I have spent my time praying for those I love and those I don’t. Keeping up with my friends and family on social media and watching lots of YouTube videos on metal detecting,  ocean beach foraging, fishing, crabbing, wild horses, horse auctions, rummage sales, American and Russian flea markets, world travel and recordings of survivors of the Titanic disaster..which reminds me that….it can always be worse.

And, I count my many blessings. I have a wonderful caring husband and fabulous doctors.  My neighbors and friends help whenever I call them for assistance..for those times when gravity hates the disabled.  I can still bathe myself, get my underwear on and for the most part dress. I can with limits….feed myself and walk for short distances in the house without a cane or walker.  Walking outside is a different matter, but then my neighbors, husband and a walker or cane assist me. Sliding open the patio door for my pups no longer brings tears to the eyes.  And, one of my friends even sent me several jars of her fabulous and highly sought after homemade jam…delicious!  All of the cards have been wonderful and a real morale booster.

While I wait for the pain to go away, and my strength to return, so I can go hiking in the badlands later this summer with my husband, my doctors still allow me to crochet my “Grandma Pat Happy Hats.”  I give them to my fellow cancer patients and the Regions Cancer Care Center.  I am told that they are very popular.  I was asked to make some for sick children so that is what I have been doing.  I can complete one just about everyday. If I don’t either get better soon or slow down production, I will soon disappear as the pile of happy hats continues to grow.

When I can again ride comfortably in a car and walk short distances, I plan on going with to deliver them to the children fighting cancer…they are all heroes.

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Until then, I am on my back in bed crocheting with the occasional trip to my backyard patio to hear song birds sing, yell at my dogs to get the squirrels away from the bird feeders, shout at my dogs to stay out of the mud, feel the sun on my face and burn my extra sensitive photo sensitive chemo skin.

back brace Pat 2019.jpg

Even though this health blip has, as my good friend and neighbor Jackie pointed out…has really taken it out of me….with the help of God and according to his will….I’ve got this!

Life is still so very good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Is On My Mind Today? The Passing of My Aunt Margie…Well Done My Good and Faithful Servant

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Uncle Klynn and Aunt Margie

My Aunt Margaret Cole surrendered her spirit to her Lord Jesus on March 11.  She had spent the last years of her life in a losing battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

When it comes to diseases Alzheimer’s and cancer both suck. However, in most cases, unless it directly attacks the brain, like it did in my neighbor Don’s case, cancer destroys the body…Alzheimer’s destroys mind and body, and in many cases, like that of my dearest aunt, a person’s very essence.  I believe that it is the much crueler fate.

I think her battle was especially tough on her as her older brother was passing from the same disease when she first noticed her own symptoms.  She really did a marvelous job during those first few years of working to keep her mind as focused, active, rational and relational as possible.  But, the slide of Alzheimer’s was still inevitable and relentless.

At first her devoted husband took care of her.  Their loving relationship was one romance fanatics could only dream about.  They were devoted to one another. Then, just as her condition began to worsen rapidly, he suffered a major stroke.  Since both of them now needed around the clock care…their daughter, husband and granddaughter moved home to care for them.

It was hard. Hard on everyone.  Lots of adjustments and challenges.

Eventually, Alzheimer’s robbed us all of the woman we loved…wife, mother, grandmother, sister, cousin and aunt.

When I was diagnosed with the cancer Multiple Myeloma seven years ago and was confined to a bed for years…my aunt Margie never forgot me.  In fact, she called me at least once a week.  She always had a Bible study prepared for us to share.  Our conversations could last for hours.  In addition to her scheduled calls, sometimes there were unexpected calls. Oddly, those calls always came during my dark times…she somehow felt that I needed her and would always listen to that feeling and call.  She lifted me up.

As the years went by I grew stronger and due to necessity our roles reversed.  It was my turn to call her.  My turn to organize the Bible study.  My turn to listen to my feeling and call her whenever I thought of her.  My turn to listen to frustrations and fears.

When she couldn’t see well enough to read her Bible anymore, I sent her one with extra large 18-point font and in addition a desk top magnifier with its own light. Then spent days worrying that the Bible would be too heavy for her to lift.  The large print and magnifier worked alright for awhile.  Too, soon she lost her ability to read completely.  Oh, how she grieved the loss of reading.  As a former school teacher reading was another of the loves of her life, especially reading scripture.

So, I sent her the Bible on audio tape.

I don’t believe this ever worked out too well, as by then even that simple recorder was too difficult for her to navigate. Then, too, her hearing was being taken away by the disease.

Eventually, I would call just to read her Bible Verses…John 3:16….Psalm 27…Psalm 23 and many others.

Too soon our phone calls had to cease. Once in a while she’d ask to call me and it was so very wonderful just to hear the sound of her voice.  Even if I wasn’t sure she still knew who I was, or how disjointed our conversation.

I will greatly miss my Aunt Margie.  It has been a long winter for me.  In addition to being basically totally housebound since October due to health, weather, snow, ice and slipping hazards, there has been a lot of goodbyes. First I lost my good friend El, then, my Aunt Dee, then neighbor Don, then, cousin Mim, then, a wonderful friend Scott Carlson and now Aunt Margie.

Heck of a deal.

blizzard outhouse

Sun still came up this morning and it shines warm and bright.

sunrise

Just as bright as the call I received from my cousin Laurie, the daughter who cared for my Aunt and Uncle for the past year.  I thought it was my turn to lift her up, but I have not even been able to bring myself to buy a sympathy card..too soon…too hard.

Laurie shared what my aunt’s last month was like.

For the last month of her life Aunt Margie was transported mentally back to the farm she grew up on in Minnesota. And spent much time with the folks from back home especially, her brothers. Laurie shared that one day Aunt Margie announced that she would like to have a tea party and invite her sister Ruth Marie.  The thing is…her sister Ruth Marie had been born with multiple birth defects and had died as a small infant.  Laurie, asked me if it was possible that her mother was already in heaven.  I believe that she was and Ruth Marie was hale and hearty and recognizable to Aunt Margie as a playable-sized sister.

The other story that Laurie shared was that one day when she was trying to get her mother to eat which at that time was already quite a process and consisted of the occasional spoonful of yogurt or apple sauce.  Aunt Margie commenced to lead a very robust prayer meeting and Bible study.  Laurie said she really had to be on her toes to get a spoonful of sustenance in here or there.

Then, Aunt Margie announced, “Let’s sing.”  Laurie said she tried to remember every old Lutheran hymn Aunt Margie had learned in Sunday School as a child and they sang them all…together.  I asked Laurie if Aunt Margie remembered the words.  Yes, she said every last one of them.

Which just goes to show that God always keeps his promises…and the importance of good parenting.

Proverbs 22:6
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

One of my Aunt’s greatest fears about her disease is that somehow she would forget her Lord Jesus Christ and lose her salvation. We discussed this a lot over the past several years and months. With God’s own words I could assure her that, that would never, ever happen.

Faith is heart knowledge, not head knowledge. Once we ask the Lord to enter our hearts, he hangs onto us…we don’t have to worry about hanging on to him.

Deuteronomy 31:8  

And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

Psalm 9:10

And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.

Hebrews 13:5

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.

Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.  

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Aunt Margie’s showed great courage during her illness.  In her case the “false witness that breathed out cruelty” and “will of her enemies” that had risen against her was a disease…Alzheimer’s disease.   She had no evil to fear as God, the most loving of all parents, protects and never forsakes his children.   He strengthened her heart, and she waited on her Lord. 

Two summers ago I made the long trip out to Montana to visit my Aunt Margie. Our visit went by far too quickly. We shared many hugs in the doorway before our departure. Then we looked into each other eyes for which we both knew would be the last time. She gave me a bright smile and said, “If I don’t see you again in this world, I will see you in the next!”

Psalm 23 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Surely goodness and mercy followed my Aunt Margie all the days of her life and now she dwells in the house of the Lord forever! 

 

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Always, but especially during the season of Lent, it so important to remember that Jesus defeated both death and the devil on the cross.  Therefore there is no evil to fear, for Jesus is always with us. He is our hope, salvation, ticket to heaven and eternal life.  Death has lost its sting.

John 3: 16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Blogger note:

Children’s Story about a Grandmother teaching her grandchildren about Jesus.

 

20150523130433119_Page_16On Grandmother’s Knee

 

 

What Is On My Mind Today? Neighbor Don….There’s Nothing Left To Do, But The Crying.

don
Donald G. Simonson  “Neighbor Don”

Don, Jackie and their son Nathan have been my next door neighbors for over 30 years.

I have spent the past year and a half watching my dear “Neighbor Don” fight against the inevitable loss of his life to a very aggressive glioblastoma….brain cancer.

Don by no means had a comfortable or easy death. He fought and fought hard.  His cancer threw hurdle after hurdle. The care he received from his wife and son can only be described as heroic and heart-rending.

God called him home this past Sunday at 5 p.m.

It has always seemed to me that we all have a choice of whether or not to be a coward on this earth.  Bravery like cowardliness is a choice. Regardless of personal and emotional cost, I truly believe that faith and friendship is action.

So, tough or not, from the moment Don and his family were thrust into the cancer war, myself and several other neighbors formed the “Simonson Care Committee.”  Our committee’s goal was to be there…all the way…for our dear friends and neighbors.  We were resolved that they would never feel alone.

All of the members of the Simonson Care Committee have recently and personally been affected by cancer.  And, I know it was very hard on on the entire committee to watch someone we love so dearly slowly lose his battle with this disease….cancer is cruel.

Yes, cancer is cruel. It doesn’t discriminate by age, race or gender.  Some cancers, like Don’s, are as deadly as a car accident….the only difference being there is time to say good-bye.

Well, the goodbyes now have all been said and it’s like my grandmother used to say,  “there’s nothing left to do, but the crying.”

Donald G. Simonson Obituary:  

https://obittree.com/obituary/us/minnesota/white-bear-lake/mueller-memorial–white-bear-lake/donald-simonson/3700313/?fbclid=IwAR0HhYQU-jW4VzKhhqGV7ECX_n3RnihTb-cBI_Re7Z_QCj2ufSAoNqDn2uc

What Is On My Mind Today? The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow….God Is Good

cancer hats

What Is On My Mind?

My cousin Sylvia will be having quadruple bypass surgery on Monday. She is currently in the ICU at Mercy. Neighbor Don, hospice, had a much better day yesterday. Last reported sitting up in his chair eating ginger snaps. I have reason to believe his son installed his new trail camera yesterday. As reported by Oliver and Truman as they were either loudly directing the entire installation or begging for butt scratches. Poor, Nate, did stop to give the boys back scratches through the fence.

Aunt Margie’s situation with dementia continues to rapidly decline. She has not known me for several weeks now. Still, I call her because I know her and love to just hear her voice.

My pup Oliver has developed a growing bump on his head and will be seeing the vet in the morning.

And, it’s 2 a.m. In the morning and I am wide awake from the steroids that I have to take every week for the rest of my life to fight my cancer.

As I lay here thinking about all this I still feel like one of the luckiest SOB’s on this planet.

I am a Christian and have a loving God.

I was born in the United States. That is a lottery win right there. My country is filled with people who do not think alike. It is when everyone thinks alike that liberty is truly in peril.

My parents and my brother and sister have had a wonderful trip to Hawaii this week and Dad called and held up his phone so I could hear the ocean.

I am pretty sure I managed not to tick off any of my children. I needed to focus elsewhere this week, I will have to get back to that next week…..just saying.

I am again strong enough to not only have made gingersnaps, and lemon black raspberry muffins this week, but a whole meal for my neighbor who is battling brain cancer and his wonderful wife. Productivity is a blessing.

I no longer take anything stronger than Tylenol for pain. And, that is rarely. I am not saying I do not have pain, I am saying it has declined to ignorable levels. Chemo sucks ….chemo and narcotic withdrawal really bites.

After all those years spent in a body cast sleeping away from my husband in the hospital bed in the living room, truth be told I kind of treasure these steroid induced hours of being awake and knowing he is sound asleep right next to me. Mostly, I just lay here listening to his CPAP machine and count my blessings for there are so very many.

As I wait to watch the sun come up again in my east facing window and it will. I pray that God watches over all of those I love, and those I struggle to find any upside to at all. I ask that they too will come to know Jesus and be filled with his peace that passes all understanding. Best gifts ever!

Tonight I pray especially for Mark Rosen and his dear wife……AND thank God that Jamie Closs is safe.

Well, since I am obviously “woke” there are some cancer patients at Regions that need some bright and cheerful Grandma Pat hats and mittens. I think I have gotten five sets done this week. Every hat as unique as each precious person battling cancer. Last week when I was there getting chemo, a mother actually showed me a picture of her daughter sound asleep getting infusion wearing one of my hats.

So on with my headlight! Wearing that thing is just plain joyful. Always makes me feel like I am camping. LOL.

I will leave you with prayers on my lips and my favorite inspirational Christian motto…..onward and upward.

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Update:  Sylvia had another angiogram yesterday.  Her doctors inserted three stents.  They feel that this will resolve her blockage and that the quadruple bypass is not necessary, at least for now.  She will still remain in the hospital for several days.

My pup Oliver’s head lump turned out to be a plugged oil gland.  These are common and usually resolve on their own.

The first night of trail camera surveillance of our backyards revealed several visitors.  A raccoon and a fox.  

God is good.

Have a blessed Sunday!

Recipe: Boys, Bravery and Beef, Basil and Bean Soup

 

horses

Many times throughout my marriage I have been reminded of my Grandmother Esther’s first impression of my husband.

Doug and I had just started dating. We were still both teenagers and nothing was too serious.  However, Doug was kind enough to accompany me to the nursing home to visit Grandma Esther.  She was fairly bed bound by that time and sure enough, it was there that we found her as we entered her room.  As she took in the big tall fellow trailing in my wake, her eyes lit up and fairly danced.  “So, there he is, your tall quiet man.  Pat, always remember that still water runs deep.”   Then, she settled back onto her pillow with a serene look on her face that said that a prayer had been answered.

Grandmother Esther knew a lot about tall quiet men…she was married to one.   Next to my husband, my Grandpa George Larson, “was about as perfect as a human being can be on this earth.” Those are the words of my cousin Bryan…I was not the only one who held Grandpa in great esteem.

I never heard Grandpa utter a cross or unkind word.  He was kind and gentle, but when the situation called for it, he was one brave man.  I will never forget the story of him staring down a charging bull with only a field rock in his hand.  When the large raging bull got close enough, Grandpa calmly knocked him upside the head so hard with the rock that the bull went down and was rendered momentarily dazed. That bull came to with a much improved disposition, and a more realistic opinion of his worth and appreciation for who was in charge.

For the past several days I have been thinking a lot about the special men in my life.  I know its because my neighbor, who is my age with a brain tumor, was put on hospice this week.   He has fought his brain cancer, a very aggressive Glioblastoma,  for almost a year and a half.  On top of all of his other troubles, two weeks ago he developed shingles.  After spending about a week in the hospital in agony, he is home…in agony.

I have especially always had a healthy appreciation for males, especially brave ones. Just like an old bull protecting his cow herd or a magnificent stallion his mares,  I believe that for humans, just like animals, nature intended males to provide and care for their females and little ones.

Special men in my life have protected and cared for me. Grandpa on the farm.  Doug, well, the only reason I am still alive is due to his compassionate care and incredible love for me.  Although, he is no pushover, that man is very good at delivering a well-timed dose of tough love when inspiration or behavior modification is required.

There was  Bob Hansen and El Ewert.  Both World War II veterans and gone now.  I loved them so.

Then, there is the Donald.  I have lived next door to Don and his dear wife Jackie for over thirty-years.  It pains me some, but in truth, he has been more of a brother to me than my blood kin.

Don is a good-looking sarcastic chap with a head of riotously curly hair with a super brain.  Don is also talented. He is the only man I ever have known that could push a lawnmower with a beer in each hand. He also never mowed his lawn the same way twice.  Each mowing was a new puzzle to solve.  Don hunted, he fished.  His flower gardens are practically a legend in our neighborhood.

Oftentimes, when I was in my vegetable garden hammering away at Centerville’s rock hard clay soil, he’d come over to chat.  Leaning on the six-foot fence that separated our properties, he would watch me swinging my hoe. I was the “Russian” woman in my bib overalls and tank top.   We’d chat.  Our chats almost always ended in a political discussion.  Politically he’s a libertarian…I have never known him ever to be wrong about who would win an election.  His input was pure gold in my profession.

When I melted all of my Tupperware onto my oven racks, he just took them from my hands and quietly walked over to his fire pit.  They were clean as a whistle when he brought them back.

Then, too, after the Hugo tornado when we had lost so many trees, he helped us burn  them in his fire pit.  Right up until the cops showed up.  With his usual crooked grin on his face, he asked me if I had ever been arrested.  I told him no, but I did get pulled over once for going through a stop sign, but it had just been installed the night before so the officer was just pointing the change out to motorists.  I also confessed to having a late library book once, but that was right after my daughter was born when I wasn’t allowed to drive yet.

Don just grinned down at me, then walked over to the cops.  I told him that Doug and I would pay any fine.  He never told me he was fined for burning without a permit until just a couple of months ago.

When I was trapped in the hard plastic body cast for all those years, crippled and pushing my walker up the street, just to get stronger.  Don would tell me that the body cast looked sexy.

I haven’t seen much of him this winter.  Minnesota winters keep me housebound.

Then, a couple of weeks ago we crossed paths.

When I saw him standing in his yard with his wife, I told him he was looking pretty good.  He wasn’t.  He is very thin and tired looking.  With a huge grin on his face he ran his hands down the front of his person and exclaimed, “Of course I do, did you think brain cancer could damage any of this.”   Jackie and my eye rolls were as simultaneous as our laughter.

Don has had a rough week.  Things have been hard for both he and his wife.  The concept of hospice is bad enough, but he still is suffering immensely with pain from his shingles. I have been praying for them a lot.

Each morning this week, I have texted Jackie.  I want her to know she is not alone.  This morning I got so frustrated trying to answer her questions by text, I just called her.  She sounded more rested and she thought that Don might be feeling a bit better as with a twinkle in his eye, he had winked at her.

That is bravery.

That is a man.

I informed her that I would be providing supper. I baked that “the Donald” a batch of his favorite cookies…gingersnaps.  Then, I baked an apple pie (my mother-in-law had left a frozen apple pie in my freezer) and made a huge pot of my favorite soup.

Since, I cannot go anywhere near someone with shingles, as my counts were in the tank when I had chemo last Friday, another member of the Don and Jackie care committee, my neighbor Susie, delivered the goods.

This is my best soup recipe.  It is full of protein and vegetables.

And, it is magical.

For, no matter how tough my side affects or mangled my taste buds become from chemo this soup always tastes wonderful.   Don thought so too!

Beef, Basil and Bean Soup

1 pound of ground beef, browned and drained
1 cup of diced onion
1 cup of sliced celery
1 cup of sliced carrots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 quart of tomatoes
1-15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 -15 ounce can of kidney beans, undrained
2 cups of beef broth
1 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon oregano (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon basil (or to taste)
1 cup of shell-shaped pasta

Add everything into a large soup pot, except for the pasta. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes.  (I simmer mine for a couple of hours.)

About 20 minutes before you are ready to serve.  Return to a boil and add pasta.

Garnish with grated Parmesan Cheese.

This recipe comes from the kitchens of my two sister-in-laws.  Velda and Heidi Larson. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is On My Mind Today? Living With Cancer: Myeloma Relapse, Uncle Mrywin, Good News and Great Fudge Bars

possum 5
Errrrrrr!

I have had a busy, if not sedentary and solitary past six months.  In July, I suffered what my doctor told my parents was a “Horrific Setback.” Even though, all of my lab tests at that time still indicated that I was in remission, my multiple myeloma had silently returned. Its presence revealed one evening, when I arose from bed to make the very short trek to my bathroom.

As I stood up, I told my husband that my spine felt really weird and weak, just like it used too when it would break.  As I hung onto the wall, he assured me that after all of the years of bone-hardening drugs, that was not possible.  So, I lifted my foot to step over my huge white German Shepherd and my world and back exploded.

My legs became instantly useless and a pain like electrical liquid fire enveloped me. I fell right on top of my dog.  My dog never moved. He just laid perfectly still until Doug was able to lift me from on top of him.

It was obvious something had gone terribly wrong.

My husband half carried me down our steps, out of the house and got me into the car.  We drove to Regions hospital. There in the emergency room, a doctor asked me to wiggle my toes. I tried and the pain became extremely intense as a spasm coursed through my body so harshly that it arched my back in off of the bed about six inches, then froze me in that position until the spasm stopped.   Then, it would do it again and again….and again.  It was unpleasant.

I remember almost nothing of the next three weeks that I spent in the hospital.  I do remember being conscious for a moment inside and MRI, because I was waving at the technicians. I felt foolish. Then, I was put out again. I remember a nurse standing next to my bed describing to someone else a patient who was in so much pain she was levitating 6-inches on top of her bed.  I felt sorry for that poor soul. I remember staff both Christian and Muslim asking me if they could pray with me.  I experienced angels.

The cause of all of this trouble was due to Myeloma lesions having grown on the base of my spine. My bone marrow biopsy showed over 40% myeloma.  The great news was that no bones had actually broken. Too bad whatever was causing the paralyzing painful contractions could not have celebrated that fact and left me alone.

I am told I had ten rounds of radiation.  I remember only the last three.  I can recall that after my last one my parents were in my hospital room as I returned. When the bed I was on moved too fast, a spasm was triggered and as usual during the contraction my head would be arched completely back.  At that moment my dad was standing right there with the most awful look on his face.  I felt bad that I had scared him so.

When I was eventually released from the hospital, I left too weak to walk on my own and was again trapped in a walker.  And, I faced months and months of weekly, four and a half hour, chemo infusions.

During those months, my life as a cancer patient reminded me of my grandmother’s embroidered kitchen towels.  She would embroider them with the name of each day of the week.  Each day of the week was set aside for a different household task.  Monday for washing, Tuesday Ironing….etc…  My entire autumn schedule became much like those old dish towels of grandma’s.  Each day’s task the same as it had been the week before.

dish towels

It went like this….on a Friday, I received infusion. On a Saturday, I thought I was Hercules powerful and bursting with energy from the massive dose steroids given with the chemo.  On Sunday, the effects of the steroids, such as not sleeping for 48 hours, would begin to wear off.  Monday arrived accompanied by severe fatigue, body pain and nausea. Tuesday was an amplified copycat of Monday.  Wednesday was a slightly more productive day.  Thursday was the best.  Friday morning was outstanding… right up until you began swallowing the half cup of pre-med pills needed for your next chemo infusion signaling it was time to hop on the cancer chemo carousel and take another spin.

Whether it was a real or carousel horse, I have always been an excellent rider.  My dad still brags about how as a small child I would grab onto the ears of a a small pig, jump onto its back and away I’d go.  I only rode the pigs because the adults in charge felt I was too small to have my own horse. He still marvels that I never fell off.  Riding a pig is a lot like riding the cancer carousal. If you loose either your focus or grip the situation is going to become very stinky quickly.

Where there is breath there is hope.  With that in mind, regardless of how I felt, I kept busy. I completed several oil paintings, crocheted over two dozen hat and mitten sets for charity.  Still managed to visit my World War II buddy in the nursing home. And, when my back had recovered enough to lift a cookie sheet…I baked gingersnaps for him and to help relieve my neighbor’s nausea in his battle against brain cancer.

I had no interest in laying around and letting all of my hard won muscles turn to mush again. No pain, no gain. Besides, what doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. By the end of August, I had graduated from physical therapy and nurse home visits, and  I had escaped the walker was again using only one cane. And, I was strong enough to enjoy a Saturday at Fort Snelling State Park with my family.  I wasn’t up to my usual miles of hiking, but I did walk from the car parking lot to the picnic grounds and sat up for hours.  I am not saying I did not pay for that outing later, but and it was so very worth it.

Just over a week ago, I had another bone marrow biopsy.  To be honest, my husband and I were both just hoping for single digits.  However, to our and my oncologist’s delight no abnormal cells were present….at all!  I am again cancer free!   What a great 60th birthday present!

Which brings me to this morning.

As I took lots of butter out of my refrigerator to soften for a robust Christmas cookie baking session, which will commence shortly, I thought of my Uncle Mrywin who passed away in early December a couple of years ago after a long a courageous battle with dementia.

Somehow, I always grin when I think of my Uncle Mrywin.  A fabulous earthly legacy!  In my mind, Uncle Mrywin was defined by three things.  His love for God, people and sweets.  So, I guess it is only natural that, whenever I begin baking my Christmas cookies I think of him.  Especially, since so many of the recipes I use are his mothers.

Several years ago, I wrote the following blog about my Uncle Mrywin, his stuck tractor and a recipe for Fudge Bars.  The story of the stuck tractor really does capture the essence of my uncle and the importance of good-naturedly attempting the seemingly impossible, attacking a task with determination, giving it your all, recognizing when you are just spinning your wheels and knowing when to seek help…earthly or divine.

Throughout my life and especially during my cancer battle the following bible verses are the ones get my wheels unstuck.  I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t have the words to these Bible passages pass through my mind.  I guess my confirmation pastor was right when he told me that memorizing these verses wasn’t a waste of time, and that knowing them by heart would pay off in the long run.  It certainly has.

Psalm 118:24 (Everyday is a gift)

“This is a day that the Lord has made, We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 121 (My help comes from God)

“I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 23 (I am never alone)

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

So, if ever you should find yourself stuck in the mud up past your axels, and it is easy to do especially this time of year, remember that a God of Love loves sent us something sweeter than Christmas cookies…a baby…his son our savior…Jesus Christ.  The Son of God who came to give hope to the hopeless.

I hope you enjoy this humorous farm story about my Uncle Myrwin and his stuck tractor.  A yearly spring ritual as I recall. I also would encourage you to try this recipe for Fudge Bars this Christmas Season…they are tasty and would have made my uncle smile.

Stuck tractor 2

My dad and my Uncle Myrwin farmed together for most of their lives. The brothers and their families were all very close. In fact, when I was a child the phone would ring bright and early every morning and it would be my uncle calling to talk to dad about the day’s farm business and work. I cannot remember a day while growing up when I did not talk too or see my Uncle Myrwin.

About five years ago my Uncle Myrwin had to move from the farm into a nursing home, because he had developed memory issues. He has been there ever since and over the years his cognitive abilities have declined.

From the first week he entered that home, I decided that he was not going to ever be forgotten by his niece and so I began to write him a letter every week. I have continued this practice for the past five years except for a short time during my cancer fight when I was in a nursing home and too sick to write. I even got letters off during my stem cell transplant. I have never told him of my illness.

Yes, I know that my uncle would no longer recognize me. That does grieve me, but I know that he still enjoys getting my cards and having them read to him. I will continue to write to my uncle for as long as God allows either one of us to remain on this earth. You see it doesn’t matter one bit that he doesn’t remember me, because I remember him and that is what counts.

For the past year I have found pictures online and made my own “farming” cards for my uncle. This picture of a stuck tractor is this week’s card. I thought I would share this week’s story of my memories of farm life with him, dad and stuck tractors.

Dear Uncle Myrwin,

I hope this finds you having a good week and feeling good. It looks like spring is almost here and there are a lot of song birds again at my bird feeder. Their song sounds wonderful!

I really like this picture of a tractor stuck in the mud up to its axles. Boy, does that bring back memories of stuck tractors on our farms.

It seemed that the vast majority of stuck tractors occurred in the spring when we were in a big hurry to get into the fields and plant. I recall many a time riding on the back of a big red tractor, standing on the hitch behind the driver’s seat and holding on for dear life to the back of the driver’s seat and the wheel fender.

As we would drive into the fields to check field readiness, there would eventually be a dip or ditch that was extra moist looking. Sometimes there was even standing water in them. It was at this point the tractor’s driver would shout loudly above the roar of the engine, “Hang on, I think we can make it!”

The driver would then speed up and make a run at the wet spot. As we would hit the moist mud the tractor’s engine would moan in exasperation at being so rudely stressed while the tractors big back tires would slide first to one side, then back the other way as they cuddled into the rich slippery black dirt. Eventually, we would come to a complete halt with the rapidly spinning back tires furiously spitting mud chunks high into the air.

With mud raining down on us from the heavens, the driver would then start the process of rocking the tractor. First, forward,then in reverse. This was done to try to get out, but in my experience it only served to sink us deeper. Eventually when the big rear tires were sunk to the axles and the back hitch was level with the water and frogs, the driver would shut the tractor off.

As we climbed free of the stuck tractor the driver would then slowly walk around the entire scene with narrowed eyes and a set jaw. Then, he would walk up next to me, grab the bill of his green seed corn cap with his thumb and pointing finger, slide it to the back of his head while he scratched the top of his head with his other fingers. He would slowly replace his cap into the original position, breathe a deep sigh and with a proud smile declare, “Well, we almost made er.”

Sending lots of love and hugs,

Pat

There is one thing that Uncle Myrwin always appreciated as much as he did good farming and that was excellent baking. There was always great cakes, cookies and bars to be found in either family’s farm kitchens. Fudge Mud Bars are still a favorite treat served in my mother’s kitchen.

Fudge Mud Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease at 9 X 13 cake pan.

Crust:
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups quick cook rolled oats

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and salt. In a separate medium-sized mixing bowl combine and mix together the dry ingredients: flour, oats, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix well.

Firmly press about two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of your greased 9 X 13 pan.

Fudge Filling:
2 Tablespoons butter
One, 14-ounce can of sweetened and condensed milk
One, 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium-sized sauce pan, on top of the stove on a low-medium heat, add butter, chocolate chips and milk. Stir continuously until the chocolate chips have melted. Add vanilla and stir to combine.

Spread the fudge mixture over the dough. Drop teaspoons of the remaining dough evenly on top of the fudge mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the dough starts to brown.

Letter writing has become a lost art which is a shame, because the written note immortalizes the writer while bringing so much joy to the recipient. I would encourage all of you to take the time to send off a card or note to someone who is ill, lonely, a child, grandchild or anyone in your life who needs encouragement. I can assure you that it will make their day!

What Is On My Mind Today? I Already Wrote A Story About My Cancer Battle…….The Hen Who Wanted To Fly

I have many times been told that I should write a story about my struggle with cancer.  I did several years ago. This one. The Hen Who Wanted To Fly.  So, today I have spent the entire day, instead of baking and wrapping gifts, being my own editor.

I am the hen, chickens are humanity, the farmer is God, and the weasel is cancer.  The ducklings are the young people mentored through the years who grow up to care for us….nurses, doctors…the scientists who dream up new treatments.

It is important to note, that the part about the hen hatching out the orphaned wild duck eggs is true.  That actually happened on our farm. Our poor old hen completely panicked  the first time she saw her “babies” swim.

Little known Pat fact:  For two summers when I worked for Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, I was on Lieutenant Governor Carol Molnau’s State Fair Celebrity Ag Team.  I competed in animal calling.  I was reserve grand champion both years.  Finishing second both times to the the entire Department of Agriculture Team.  My ribbons are huge!

The first year, I called in the cows.  The second year, I was the wildly clucking hysterical hen whose babies went swimming.

 

Children’s Story: The Hen Who Wanted To Fly

Once upon a time there was a farmer.  On his farm lived many different kinds of animals.  He was a kind farmer and was always very good to his animals for he loved them very much.

As fond as he was of all of his animals, he had a special fondness for his chickens. The farmer really liked chickens.  Of all of his chickens his favorite was an old hen named Henrietta.

Henrietta had been on his farm for many years, in fact she was the oldest chicken in his flock. In her youth she had been a very good egg layer and mother to the many chicks she had hatched.  She was almost always friendly to the other chickens, even when some of them had not been so friendly to her.  She was never the prettiest, or the smartest hen in the farmer’s flock, nor was she the most popular hen in the coop, but Henrietta was okay with all that, because she knew she was special.  She had a secret that made her different than all the other chickens.

What was her secret?  Henrietta wanted to fly.

Many times she had practiced flapping her wings and running as fast as she could across the chicken yard attempting to fly over the chicken coop fence, but she never could get off the ground.  Practice makes perfect she figured, so she just kept trying until time caught up with her and she had to admit she was no longer a plucky pullet, but a large old hen.

The many changes of nature to her mechanics, did not diminish her dream of chicken flight.  When she became a mother she decided that if she could not fly, maybe her chicks could be the first chickens to take flight. Regardless, of the countless hours of wing flapping and running while wing flapping, none of her chicks ever achieved lift off.

Many years passed by.  Now, in old age Henrietta would sit outside the chicken coop on warm summer days lost in memories.  She no longer laid eggs or mothered chicks, but spent most of her time dreaming about the good old days.  Those golden days when she was needed by the farmer and greatly loved by her chicks.  Day after day she felt less and less useful as she watched pretty perky pullets flirting with the roosters and young hens mothering their new chicks.

Then, she would hear them.  The great flocks of wild birds on wing overhead. Her eyes would dart heavenward to watch them fly over. She had long ago accepted that neither she nor her offspring would ever join any of those great flocks and that her dream of flying would never be realized, but dream about it…she still did.

It was there daydreaming on her empty nest one fine morning that the farmer found her. He grinned and showed her that his hat was filled with brown speckled eggs. “Henrietta, old girl, have I got a job for you!” the farmer exclaimed.  He then gently took the eggs out of his hat and placed them under his old trusty hen.

Of all of the hens in the coop he chosen her to hatch these strangely colored eggs for him. Henrietta heart swelled with emotion as her eyes filled with tears..the farmer still needed her.

Henrietta knew exactly what to do with a nest full of warm eggs and was as devoted to those orphaned eggs as she would have been to her own.  She kept them cozy and warm and made sure that she turned them with her feet on a regular basis so that they would not get any cold spots.  For over two weeks that old hen sat on those twelve brown speckled eggs.

Then, one morning she heard a tiny peep coming out from one of those eggs.  Jumping off the nest Henrietta watched as egg after egg started to crack and small fuzzy yellow and black creatures began to emerge.  Turning her head from side to side she checked out her new brood. These were the strangest looking chicks she had ever seen, but it did not matter to her a bit, because the farmer had given them especially to her!  She was their mother, they were her chicks and she thought them beautiful.

As soon as her babies were dry and fluffy and she had them jump out of the nest and follow her outside into the chicken yard.  Holding her head high, she led her new babies out to meet the rest of the flock.

It didn’t go well. The other chickens, being chickens, crowded together and began to cackle with alarm about Henrietta and her strange looking family.

Frightened fowl often make foul choices and these chickens were no exception to that rule.  They quickly decided that their precious small-beaked yellow chicks should have nothing to do with those odd looking creatures of Henrietta’s.  The other hens immediately resorted to malicious clucking and gathering of their babies under their wings to prevent them from even seeing, let alone associating, with birds that were obviously of a different feather.

The farmer heard the commotion in the chicken coop and knew right away what the ruckus was about.  Henrietta’s eggs had hatched!  He raced to see Henrietta’s new babies.  All twelve of the eggs he had entrusted to her had hatched.  What a picture greeted him!  A proud Henrietta strutting through the chicken yard with her twelve new ducklings in a straight line trailing behind her.

Now Henrietta did not know that her babies were ducklings, she just knew they were her babies, but the farmer knew.  The morning he had put the eggs in her nest, he had been in a field harvesting.  There in the bright green field had lain a dead mother duck.  A victim of a weasel attack. When the farmer had lifted the young lifeless mother duck off of the nest, she had lost her life defending, he had found the twelve eggs.

Quickly, the farmer checked the eggs to see if they were still warm.  They were!  At that moment, the he knew that he could make some good come from such bad. He gathered the eggs gently into his hat and raced for home.

The farmer knew that of all of the hens on his farm, it was Henrietta that he trusted to hatch those eggs and raise wild ducklings.  He knew her to be a very good mother, and about her secret wish to fly.

Many a time he had enjoyed watching her trying to fly or attempting to teach her chicks to fly.  As entertaining as her antics were to observe, he had no fear of Henrietta ever “flying the coop”.   First of all, the farmer knew, even if she did not, that big strong hens cannot fly.  He also knew from extensive chicken exposure and experience that there was no more loyal of a hen than old Henrietta.

Here is where the story begins to get a little crazy for Henrietta.  She knew very well how to raise chicks, but she did not know a thing about baby ducks.  She did not even know that her new babies were ducks. She just figured the eggs had belonged to a big round-nosed chicken with funny looking feet.

At first the ducklings behaved just like baby chicks.  They peeped a lot and stayed close to their mother as they ate bugs in the grass.  Everything was going swell until the day of the big summer storm.

This storm was a banger.  It was loud, windy and wet.  It was so windy and wet that the fence to the chicken yard blew down, and the road ditches near the coop had filled with water.

During the storm, Henrietta’s babies had been all tucked safely beneath her.  Her soft downy feathers kept them warm and dry.  For,  Henrietta knew how very important it was to keep young chicks dry.  They get very sick if they get wet. Then, too, loose, energized or deep water is perilous for chickens, because chickens cannot swim anymore than they can fly.

Henrietta saw nothing, but danger in the situation left behind by the storm.  Not only was the fence down, but worse and worse, the road ditch next to the downed fence was flooded to the brim.

As the mighty red rooster let out his ear-splitting universal barnyard chickens in danger of drowning warning, Henrietta sprang into action, but before she could corral any of her youngsters, all of her babies took perfect leave of their senses and made a dash for the deep water in the ditch.

Hysterical Hen.!

One right after the other of her babies jumped into what Henrietta knew would be certain death. She began to run around in circles frantically flapping her wings loudly cackling, “Bakk, bakk, bakk!”  The other chicken’s saw her misfortune and they too joined in the chorus of, “Bakk, bakk, bakk!”  Soon, the whole barnyard was in an uproar.

Henrietta stopped running in circles and covered both of her eyes with her wings.  She just couldn’t bear to look at her drowned dead baby chicks, but she knew she must!

Slowly she opened one eye and peaked out through her wing-tip feathers. To her amazement her chicks were swimming around having the best time of their lives.  Why a couple of them were even diving under the water.  She quickly regained her composure, smoothed down her ruffled feathers and proudly informed the rest of the flock that HER babies can swim!

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Every day from that day on the farmer let Henrietta and her babies roam loose on the farm.  They were no longer penned up with the other chickens.

Oh, the adventures they had.  They explored the dark woods and scratched the dirt with their feet for worms.  Henrietta taught them how to eat grain in the farmer’s fields and chase and catch bugs in the meadow. Each day ended with a swim for her babies in either the flooded ditch or the farm’s small pond.

Henrietta’s babies grew stronger day by day.  Soon, their downy fluff was gone and they were all feathered out.  They liked to test out their new feathers by fanning their tails and yes, flapping their wings.

Of course the flapping of wings had always been one of Henrietta’s great thrills.  Even at her ripe old age she still dreamed of learning to fly.  Many times the farmer would see her racing her babies across the barnyard.  Wings flapping and running as fast as her feet could go with all of her babies following her in hot pursuit.

Summer passed quickly, as it always does, and the leaves on the trees began to turn colors.  The weather had grown colder and Henrietta and her babies no longer roamed as far from the barnyard as they had during the long warm days of summer.

Darkness came early this time of year and with darkness came danger for farm chickens.  At night weasels came out and their favorite snack was fresh chicken.

Weasel

Every night the farmer would lock up all of his chickens, except Henrietta and her brood, inside the warm well lit hen house. Henrietta began to wonder if the farmer had either forgotten about or no longer cared about what happened to her or her babies.   So, Henrietta looked out for her family herself and found safe harbor at night inside the big barn with the cows.

It been a particularly lovely fall day and Henrietta and her ducklings had dallied too long down by the pond.  By the time they arrived back at the farm that evening they found  the doors to the barn were shut.

Well, now, this was trouble.  Henrietta knew how dangerous it was for a chicken to be alone out in the night unfarmer protected. Since, there was no way to get into the barn, she decided the safest place to sleep would be right next to the lighted hen house.

That is where the weasel found her.

She spotted the weasel slinking in the shadows silently slithering towards her and her babies.  Weasels are quick nasty little varmints that can easily outrun a chicken. Clearly her babies’ lives were in danger!

Henrietta’s only thought was to save her babies.

Henrietta quickly told them to…..RUN!

As she bravely faced death and the weasel, behind her she could hear the rush of air through her babies’ wings as they flapped them to increase their getaway speed as they ran.  Just like they had done so many times in play when Henrietta had raced across the barnyard with them chasing her as she pretended they could all fly.

After making sure her babies had escaped, Henrietta attacked the weasel with all her might! She ran at him as fast as she could go flailing her wings as hard as she could and ready to peck his eyes out, if given the chance, with her sharp beak.  She knew that there was every chance that the weasel would win and her life would be forfeit, but she was determined to go down fighting.

Just as the weasel was ready to pounce on Henrietta to finish her off, a large shadow passed over.  Then, she felt herself being lifted up into the air.

Mallard16_Karen Bonsell_KY_2012_GBBC_KK

Higher and higher she went.  She was flying! Her babies were flying! Chickens cannot fly?  It was then that she finally accepted that her babies were not swimming chickens at all…but were wild ducks.   As a flock, they had swooped down to save their beloved mother from the weasel and were flying her high up into the tree where she would be safe.

Henrietta’s babies had rescued her!

As she looked down from the tree, she saw the farmer standing below them grinning up at her.  At that moment Henrietta knew that her and her babies had never been left to wrangle with the weasel alone. The farmer had been watching out for them the entire time.  He had not forgotten about any of them…not for a moment, because farmers love their chickens and ducks!

At last, Henrietta understood why it was that the farmer had trusted her with those duck eggs. He had known all about her secret wish to fly.  He knew she would never be able to fly on her own, however he also knew that his faithful hen would never give up. He had counted on her and her dream of being able to fly to teach the orphaned wild ducklings to fly.  It was all of her wing flapping races with those ducklings across the barnyard over and over again that had strengthened their wings and enabled them to take flight.

Throughout the rest of her long and peaceful, flight-filled life, Henrietta never again felt unloved or unneeded.  She knew that was she was one very blessed, in a non-overly-busty way,  old hen.  For the very ducklings she had helped the farmer save, had saved her.  And, the wisdom of the farmer had saved them all.

Psalm 44:21 For he knows the secrets of the heart.