Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spring has Sprung


The full blush of spring has overtaken the Brazos Valley, making me feel lazy and romantic. I don't want to rush away from the Dutch irises in the front bed to hunker down at the office with a set of reports or blue book exams. I don't want to stop long enough at my computer to update Erin's website when I could just as easily wander out and see what message the heart-shaped leaves unfurling shyly on the red bud tree have for me.

Solution: Do the update while I'm teaching.

My students are beaving away at their midterm exam, so the computer has beckoned me over for a short interlude. The benefit? I don't accidentally fall asleep while proctoring the test, and readers don't get stuck with last week's news.

Not that I have that much to offer. Erin is handling the added schedule pressure of playing soccer
and softball simultaneously. Her first softball game was pretty even, and the girls looked like they had a passing familiarity with a ball and glove. The second game was a slaughter, with Erin's team barely able to bat around the order before the game ended. Personally, Erin is on much more solid ground with fundamentals of soccer than softball. She played second base last game and understood the concept of covering the bag on throw downs (which she did pretty well). The problem arose on potential doubles, where she so intrepidly kept her eye on the runner rounding first that she would have been beaned from behind had any of her teammates had the sense or ability to throw the ball in from the outfield. She did make one of the only put outs for her team (besides strike outs) when she fielded a grounder and successfully made the throw. It was one of the few highlights on a very short reel.

I wish I could tell you that Erin's ears had improved mightily from the round of Omnicef. She'll finish the course tomorrow, and she still feels like she has a banana in her ear. Hopefully, the ENT doctor will get a handle on it during our visit in the morning. In the meantime, we'll stop by the dentist after school. Maybe she has done such a lousy job brushing that the plaque build up has overflowed into her ear canal.

Davis got the news that his time trials last Saturday were fast enough to put him on Will Rice's Beer/Bike team. He told me he did the "Willie smile" for thirty minutes after his race and for thirty more minutes after he was named to the team.
Here is a picture of the "Willie smile."

It's Davis's imitation of Willie where he draws his lips tightly back so his teeth show and then pastes on a big smile. They both look simultaneously ecstatic and ferocious when they do it.

Keep us all in your prayers over the next week. Erin, Nico, and I will leave for Houston Tuesday evening for an all-day scanfest on Wednesday. We sure would like to see stable or improved pictures this time. Davis has Maundy Thursdsay and Good Friday off from school, so we will drag him back with us so the Easter bunny will know where to find him. For my part, I'm going to try and be as brave as Elizabeth Edwards, who doesn't want cancer to keep her from doing anything this week that she could or would have done last week. The Buenger's won't be prisoners to cancer either.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Anniversary Retrospective--Oops, a long one


Ear update: Yesterday's trip to the pediatrician turned up normal blood counts in every category, including a hemoglobin of 12.0 (slipping back into the normal category for the first time since Thanksgiving). One ear had cleared of infection, but the other merited a fourth round of antibiotics. What's up on the hit parade? Omnicef. I made an appointment with the ENT for next week to see what is going on.

How do you celebrate anniversaries? A night out on the town? A quiet dinner at home? A gathering of your forty closest friends? A daring trip? A silent soliloquy to yourself in your journal?

That question leads to the next. Why do we mark them at all? Perhaps we want to celebrate how long we’ve been at something or to note that it’s been so long we can’t possibly be at it for that much longer. Sometimes we use them to reflect on what is past and to hope for the future. Sometimes we just marvel at the unlikelihood of it all.

I can remember going steady for the first time as a young girl. I think we marked anniversaries by the week (this was before we knew what the “anni-“ in anniversary actually meant). No one expected those early boy/girl things to last long, so if you were going to celebrate, you had to do it by the week. Later, it was a Special Occasion if we actually reached A Year together. When I married Walter (1984), I changed my perspective. At first I was sort of bummed that our anniversary number from dating zeroed out and we had to start the count over. But from Day One we had an agreement. We weren’t counting on staying married forever. We contracted for sixty-four years. After that we gave each other permission to re-evaluate and either sign up for more or withdraw from the contract. We made jokes after a year. . .”And they said it wouldn’t last.” Last October we hit 22 years. Still a decade before we reach halfway, but so far, so good. I’m withholding judgment about whether to re-enlist until we get a lot closer to 64 (like 63 and a half).

This week anniversary mean something different. We are celebrating three rather different anniversaries in the Buenger household: one year since Luke overdid on a beautiful spring day like yesterday and found himself the unwilling butt of many I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up jokes, one year since Willie chose our house as his personal teething ring, and two years since Erin relapsed with neuroblastoma.

We still have Luke. He is no longer spry. In fact, he’s beyond pokey. But, he eats heartily every morning, can “hold it” until he gets outside, and will still hobble up the stairs for a treat and a pet. Luke is on the way to fifteen years old, ancient for a yellow lab. When we think back over the last year (which included high dollar, synthetic drugs and doggie water aerobics), we celebrate how long we’ve enjoyed this pup and note how few grains he has left in his hourglass.

Willie’s one-year anniversary as a member of the household means so much more. Given the longevity of the Buenger pets, I can only wonder what (if anything) he will leave behind. I mean, we only have so much stuff. For an incomplete (yet growing) list of items eaten by Willie click here. Place your bets on whether we will run out of “things” before Willie needs dentures, and join us in marveling at the unlikelihood of it all.

Some of you know how joyous (and unlikely) celebrating two-year post relapse for neuroblastoma is. I guarantee it deserves more than a mention in the website update. It deserves a party, with floaty balloons and confetti. When you reach such a milestone, you should drink deep of the spirit of life all around you. Instead, Erin will walk the same path she does every day. She will wake and make the most of what she encounters, whether it is a spelling test, a chance to get together with Nico and company, a cozy book, or a rousing game of soccer.

I will watch her as she glides through her day and count the milestones: another class picture to add to the scrapbook, another pair of new Easter shoes (For a while my children marveled at how the Easter bunny knew their size and what would perfectly match their Easter outfit. Later they just assumed the bunny cobbled shoes on the side). I collect the moments and hold them like a talisman against a future I don’t want and probably can’t prevent. I sneak peaks at her when she won’t notice. She works in front of her mirror to get her hair up into tiny, toddler-sized pigtails. She faces the pitcher, no longer batting off a tee, smacks a grounder, and almost beats it out. I wonder what the next year will bring. None of us know, but we all want our full measure.

Now on to more lighthearted fare. Thanks to Michelle Braden for alerting me to the Starlight, Starbright Children’s Foundation contest. If you click on this link:

you can vote for Texas Children’s Hospital to win a FunCenter. The five hospitals with the most votes will receive a FunCenter mobile entertainment system for patients use. This takes less than a minute, maybe less than ten seconds.

Another opportunity for you to help comes from George Stuart who plays with me in the Carter Creek Brass. He has traveled to Odessa (Ukraine, not Texas) on mission trips over the last year and has given special attention to an orphanage there. He hopes to go back before the end of the school year and would like to take musical instruments with him for the boys and girls (read more here). If you have a leftover band instrument sitting around your house, give him a call (979.229.4954) or an e-mail (gstuart2001@ and help him out. Consider it part of your spring cleaning.

In the meantime, Erin is thriving. She finished her ranch project (see the map below) and got it to school Monday. The gang celebrated PPR Day on Monday with a full crew (perfect attendance). We have not heard if the affiliated chapter at Rice had an equally good turn out. Maybe not. Yesterday Erin rode, and Napoleon did much better than he had lately. I think they switched back to the bit they had used earlier and he responded much more eagerly to her commands.

The only question mark continues to be her ears. She does not have ear pain, but they remain congested, with muffling. She completed the course of amoxicillin last Friday (3/16), which is, as you may recall, the third sequential course of antibiotics (along with cefzil and Z-pack) for her ears since the last week of January. She reports that her ears seem somewhat improved, in that she can clear them momentarily by holding her nose while blowing out, but they do not remain open. Related (possibly?) to that is a weird thing I saw when I was watching the Weather Channel night before last. An ad for Singulair came on, and as part of its disclaimers noted the mild side effects of taking it, INCLUDING EAR INFECTIONS. We’ll run this past Jesse Parr when we are in for blood counts this afternoon.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end. As you metaphorically celebrate Erin’s extra measure with us today, remember those children (and their families) whose time ran out too soon. We are thinking especially about Vince Lopez, who we met doing chemo for relapsed Ewing’s Sarcoma when Erin was doing outpatient chemo summer before last. He died night before last, too late to receive the honorary degree from Blinn College that had been given him by the faculty and administrators. His family will receive it for him at his memorial tomorrow. You can also browse Angel Warriors to learn the stories of children no longer in the earthly fight against neuroblastoma.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Home Schooled


Spring Break. What a relief. We go at it hammer and tong during the semester, so we really look forward to the unplanned, unscheduled days that always arrive just in the nick of time. Walter took Davis back to Rice Sunday morning. We miss him, but . . .we know he is incredibly happy and doing well academically and socially. That is what parents hope for.

Last night we had the most remarkable meal available in the Brazos Valley. Meatloaf might not sound like much to you, but if you consider that the entire meal (click on the menu shown below to enlarge it) was prepared and served by Erin, Nico, and Adam, you might change your mind. We had four appetizers: chips and salsa, trail mix, boats (snap peas stuffed with sesame sticks), and torpizzas (tortillas with pizza sauce, pepperonis, cheese, and olives), lettuce salad with mandarin oranges, croutons, sunflower seeds, and blackberry walnut dressing, a main course of meatloaf, French green beans, and baked potatoes. The dessert included brownies with a masterpiece sauce made from melted ice cream mixed with fresh kiwis, strawberries, and blueberries. They even cleaned up as they went, loading and unloading the dishwasher no less than three times over the course of the day as they prepared the various parts of the meal.
I am getting a little ahead of myself. Despite the fact that we have had five-and-a-half inches of rain since the weekend, we have really enjoyed ourselves. Erin played in a soccer scrimmage Sunday afternoon at left forward, right midfield, and center stopper. She looked better on the field than she has since last fall. Her eat-chocolate-at-every-opportunity weight-gain diet seems to be working. You can see her "bulging" muscles straining her UnderArmor as she trains Willie after the game. (I'm not sure he needs any more training on how to grab things in his mouth, but what do I know?)

Nico spent the night Sunday night, so they could take an early start on the PPR explorations they had planned. After breakfast, they geared up and headed behind the dam for several hours of animal tracking, plant identification, and general enjoyment of nature's laboratory. Next Monday is the real PPR Day (19th of every month, in case you have forgotten), and everyone will be over, so they took the chance to get things in order and take notice of new discoveries to share with the gang. Willie helped. As a prelude to the occasion, Nico composed this, "The PPR National Anthem." Feel free to sing along (you can see the words more clearly by clicking the image)!

After roving and tromping, they took a break for lunch and some errands (including making the first shopping run for the planned dinner party). When we made it back to the house, they took advantage of Annabelle's willingness to play with them for a while, devising a game that involved shaking a blanket like a parachute, while doing various maneuvers over and under it. One of the stages of the game involved doing a move while not making noise or laughing. This, apparently, was very difficult to accomplish.

The other days of the break have been equally loaded and equally fun. Sudoku puzzles, shared reading time, watching episodes of West Wing, a little gardening, a dash of house keeping. If I had only know that teaching science (PPR fun), music, P.E., the culinary arts, and history (last week's trip to SA), reading, and math (sudoku) was so easy, I might have been home schooling all along. NOT! I value free play way too much to buckle down to a curriculum. I'm just glad that there are dedicated educators willing to do it for me! Thank you teachers. You can have her back next week.

Health update: I almost forgot that some of you stop by to read the latest on the medical front. Erin's local clinic visit went just fine last week, except that Dr. Parr discovered that Erin had still not shaken the double ear infection that she has taken both a Z-Pack and a second round of a different (why can't I remember right now?) antibiotics for. That means we signed up for a third round: Amoxicillin this time, with the hope that it will do the trick. We had a message on the answering machine when we returned from San Antonio that Erin's blood urea nitrogen (you remember the infamous BUN) had crept up again. We will keep an eye on that in early April, when Erin returns to Houston for clinic AND quarterly scans.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Free Willie


What would you do? Let's pretend you have a dog who eats your house when he is indoors and who aggravates your neighbors to the point of distraction when he is left out. You are leaving town for four days, having just liberated him from the hoosegow at a cost of 100 smackeroos (fees plus generous donations to keep the shelter staff from putting him on the adoption/euthanasia list next time he backslides). You have found an angel to feed your various animals in your absence. What do you tell her about the now-free Willie? Mum's the word.

Actually, the trip worked out just fine. Willie only ate a little woodwork around the kitchen bar area and Davis's second flip flop. He was not arrested, detained, incarcerated, nor did he become a ward of the state in our absence. In addition, the Buengers all hung our together without fussing or even disagreeing much. We all considered it a major victory. San Antonio turned out better than I expected. It is still tourista extreme, but we managed to do our own thing a good amount of the time. Translation: no Sea World; no Fiesta Texas; no Splashtown; limited evening meals on the Riverwalk
; only a brief trip by the Alamo (and fie upon the myriad of people who started conversations with Erin by asking her what she was going to do in San Antonio? Go to Sea World?).

We substituted plenty of walking; a lot of visiting with friends; a really bang-up reception hosted by the Texas A&M University Press and the A&M History Department (where Erin and Davis comported themselves like pros and kept the conversational ball rolling right along. Thanks Mary Lenn!); a trip to the Witte Museum; and a substantial dip into the "other" missions of San Antone. NOTE: This first image is not the Alamo. It is the Mission Concepcion. You can tell it's not the Alamo because it has two bell towers flanking the sides. The original Alamo was flat all the way across, unlike the second image below which most people are familiar with (that elegant hump in the middle was added about fifty years after the Battle of the Alamo).

As a side note, look carefully at the two photos above. Now guess which one is the object of a $30 million dollar fundraising effort by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas? If you guessed Mission Concepcion, you would be wrong. If you recognized that $30 million would fully fund all 90 planned NCI trials for pediatric cancer for 2007, you would be correct. Unfortunately, The Alamo sells; cancer trials and lesser-known missions do not.

Erin, Davis, and I actually spent quite a bit of time exploring the city, while Walter did the hard work of attending banquets and meetings. Here are some of the highlights:

Erin discovered a remnant of a tree with seating for two. Rosie wore her sun visor to protect her sensitive skin, but Erin caught the rays, au naturale.

She also fell in love with a family of ducks and duckling that lived not far from our hotel. There were five ducklings. Not enough really to adopt the monikers of the ducklings in Make Way for Ducklings: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouck, Pack, and Quack. But we did it anyway. We just took the first five names and hoped the mother duck would sit again before the summer. This one is Lack. I couldn't tell that he (she?) lacked anything, except the will to hold still.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip for Erin was discovering a long tropical-like leaf floating by. With the help of some handy Duct-tape (not provided by Davis, who found himself in the nation's 10th largest city without his usual stash of DT. Instead, our dear old friend Larry Hill, who is recognized by all who know him as a Fine Figure of a Man, saved the day with a roll of regular colored duct tape that he found rolling around behind the seat of his pick up). With said duct tape, Erin transformed the leaf into a long canoe, suitable for transporting ear-plug people across the hot tub (there was a big pool, but the shade from the super tall building across the street kept the pool temperatures much too cool to swim, or boat , comfortably. Hence the hot tub.)

Luckily for us, we don't have to get back to the grind anytime soon. We have a week of spring break to dispose of before we have to go back to work. . .well all of us except Davis. Davis returns to Rice tomorrow to finish of the last seven weeks of the semester. I have all the confidence in the world that he will acquit himself in fine style. (Check out the Report soon, I will have details of several near arrests and, of course, details about the upcoming Beer/Bike Race.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Mixed Emotions


I'm leaving soon to see if I can bust Willie out of jail. That is, if he is there. He went off missing yesterday after school and didn't come home last night. Erin thinks he might have gone down to the PPR ravine, wondered into the cow herd, and got trampled to death. Davis is sure that some dog lover found him, recognized his obvious value, and claimed him for his own. Walter is sure he is dead, flattened by a passing semi or shot by an angry homeowner who didn't want his bunnies agitated. I'm fairly certain he was smote down by a vengeful god, peeved by the Destruction of the Word. But, we heard through the grapevine that a neighbor thought her husband might have taken an animal fitting Willie's description to the Animal Shelter last night because they were afraid he might try to cross a busy road. So, on the off chance I am doing good by protecting the flimsy shelter cages from the destructo dog, I am WITH MIXED EMOTIONS going to see if he is there.

I have to do it now, because we leave for a four-day family vacation to San Antonio as soon as I get home. Sorry to have to keep you in suspense, but I'll let you know if I find him in the local equivalent to the Folsum County Prison when I return on Saturday.