Saturday, 30 May 2020

A certain person is costing EVEN more money!

Those of you who regularly (at least over the last year or so) read this blog will be aware that last April was the start of fixing a certain person's (ACP's) issues with his eyes - some treatment was free, some we paid for.

Because we were so focused on ACP's eye issues last April in the weeks before we flew out to the UK, he didn't get his usual annual general health check.

That check generally includes a PSA blood test. Do you know what PSA stands for? Nor did we specifically. It is Prostate Specific Antigens. What is an antigen? - it's a toxin. What counts as normal in the PSA reading is anything up to 6.5, but the Ministry of Health's guidance for GPs states that no referral for investigative work should be made until the reading is above 10, unless there are other factors present. Other factors are generally found with a DRE - Digital Rectal Examination.

ACP's PSA reading had been increasing gradually up until 2018 but always the doctor's comment was N for normal. (We are interested to know why any reading for an antigen/toxin counts as normal, but more about that some other time.)

So, this year (with nothing to distract us apart from a global pandemic) ACP had his general medical check in April and asked for a DRE. And good thing he did, as apparently the prostate has grown and there was a nodule that the doctor could feel - nodules are not good! And the PSA test came back as 7.4. So that qualified him for a referral to a urologist for further investigations.

ACP and I had a discussion about the benefits of waiting to have the investigatory appointments done in the public system or paying to have them done significantly faster. While prostate cancer is slow moving, ACP does not like uncertainty and is in fact quite stressed by it. So it was easily agreed that we would go the private route, at least until the results were known and prognosis explained.

So our only outings during Level 4 and 3 lockdown were visits to clinics, one at Bowen Hospital for the MRI, and one to Wakefield Hospital for the biospy. We could do the required exchange of money on the internet ...

The diagnosis was that he has a stage 3 cancer of the prostate, and we agreed that of the two treatment options, the only one we were both comfortable with was surgical removal of the prostate. Neither of us was at all keen on him having 42 days of radiotherapy (apparently known coloquially as Spray and Pray ...), followed by a year of hormone treatment - our reluctance is so hard to fathom, don't you think? 

We also agreed that we were neither of us prepared to wait for surgery in the public system - in the main because elective surgery was on hold during Alert Levels 4 and 3 lockdown and the waiting list from pre-lockdown will necessarily be attended to first; and a stage 3 cancer is not as severe as a stage 4 or 5; and he would inevitably (and rightly) be moved down the list for more urgent cases.

So I am no longer retired! Not because we cannot afford this (we can), but because we need to make sure there are some cash reserves for if I get sick in the future. ACP I live with and love dearly has been informed he has used up his quota of our self funding insurance ...

The operation is scheduled for 11 June, and earlier this week he has been for a pre-op blood test and ECG. The day before the operation he has to take the godawful bowel prep to clean him out - so we won't be moving far from home then, will we?!

I am amazed, by the way, how phlegmatic and relaxed he is about the whole thing in the main, now that the uncertainty is over. As soon as he had the diagnosis he grew very calm. As I noted above, uncertainty does not become him.

We have told both our kids, and our families, and most of our friends. ACP has spoken with a few guys who have had prostate cancer with different therapies, and he has listened to an audiobook about saying goodbye to your prostate.

He is on a strict vegetables-only diet as instructed by our friend Lesley to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It has worked for her so is definitely worth doing - it has been surprisingly easy to give up eating anything with a face!

ACP and I discussed whether I should write this post - we both believe that if it was fine for me to write about his eye issues then it is fine to write about this. And as we have let people know about it, we are finding how very prevalent prostate cancer is. So if this post encourages even just a few men to get into regular screening for PSA plus DRE once a year from the age of 35 (even if you have to pay for it) it is worth it to be more public.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Alert Level 2 today!

And we had friends around for dinner - just two of them, as the rules state no more than 10 may gather together at the moment, while we wait and see if our low infection rates continue with more and closer contact.

So Simon and Jane came for dinner. There was lots to catch up on and it was hard to resist the automatic urge to have hugs all round - we did resist though, and did elbow bumps instead. Amazing how warm and friendly an elbow bump can seem when hugs are not allowed!

Dinner was yummy!

We had beetroot and carrot salad (courtesy of David), a green salad, a kumara and orange salad with bacon and toasted slivered almonds, and a filo quiche thing made with sauteed onion, silverbeet (swiss chard to UK people), smoked fish, salmon, parmesan, eggs and cream with tasty cheese grated on top. It was all extremely yum.

Dessert was poached pears (a Jamie Oliver recipe that I adapted slightly - 3/4 of the sugar stated, probably about 1/4 cup chardonnay added to the syrup, and the syrup quoted for 2 pears/2 people was plenty for 4 with some left over awaiting the next guests on Monday).

I had declared that filo was too much faffing about, but it tasted so good I will have to keep using it, I think. There is enough left over for David and I to have it for tomorrow's lunch. I may even be able to do another pear each ...

By the way, we are not going to be exercising much of the new-found freedoms that come with Level 2 until we see how the infection levels pan out. We have had several days in the last week where there have been no new cases, and the Director General of Health is fairly confident we have no hidden cases waiting to pop up. But the counsel is to be careful, so as I noted above, we will be - waiting and seeing are the watch-words.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Alert Level 3

We continue in Alert Level 3 here in NZ. Zero new cases on COVID-19 here yesterday and no new deaths. That is excellent news on both fronts - my fear is though that it will be used in 2 ways:
  • the opposition party will say (as they already are) see, you overreacted!! And we can open up all of the economy right now, everyone can go back to work and we can all suffer while we repay the debt you have put us into with this blatant and obvious overreaction;
  • the public (or enough of them) will relax their vigilance, stop social distancing, forget their bubbles, and set off a new wave of infection, and set us all back to the beginning.
My fingers are crossed that the latter doesn't happen - it's too late for the former and they are already on their high horse, trying to destroy the government's good work, and spreading misinformation and lies - or to be more charitable: half-truths, or quarter truths.

And we have had people openly criticising the government for ruining the country by providing funds to businesses to pay workers and keep the businesses afloat - and then in the next sentence writing about how they have applied for and taken the money for their businesses even though they say they didn't need it and could have coped without it. Irony, dishonesty, lack of integrity.

I spent the last two days on the verge of vomiting since reading that stuff: I know it was despair and anger that was making me feel nauseous.

I knew that kind of greed and entitlement existed in the US and the UK, but I thought New Zealanders were better than that.

Apparently some are not.

Fortunately they are a small minority. However I do hope when borders open again that they bugger off and live somewhere else - I don't want to have to see them polluting this place.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Alert Level 3 - fingers are crossed!

Tuesday was our first day on Alert Level 3 and I gather that some people queued at McDonald's for hours to get one of their plastic breakfasts ... Why would you, I wonder? And BurgerFuel is in trouble for not having a sensible system to keep people in their cars and wait till texted to come and collect their burgers et al. Photos circulated on social media and news outlets of one franchise with heaps of (young) people waiting in a mass outside the shop. The police were called by a passerby, I gather. Please note, I have posted a comment for them asking them to get it sorted for the sake of the parents and grandparents of their customers and staff ...

For David and me and for most of the rest of the country, nothing much changes at AL3 - we are still required to maintain our bubbles but we can allow one more person into it if necessary, we are still required to stay home as much as possible, only going out for supermarket shopping, pharmacy and doctor's visits. We can shop on line or by phone and have deliveries or click and collect - but it all has to be contact-less.

About 400,000 people have gone back to work but need to maintain social distancing, safe work practices from a COVID-19 non-spreading pov, and any business they do with the public has to be contactless.

We are happy to stay at home - it's lovely here. And now that the frustration of the sourdough starter has been overcome, I am dead keen to keep making bread - we just aren't eating it fast enough!
The second loaf - even yummier than the first, but not as crusty because I hadn't put the oven tray in to drop it on to after the first 15 minutes or so.

Doesn't that look great?

I have discovered two ways that I love this bread though - both toasted: one with baked beans, and the other which I did on Tuesday, is with creamy mushrooms (garlic and mushrooms sauteed in butter until tender, then add a teaspoon or so of powdered vegetable stock, some chopped parsley and thyme, and a bit of salt; then add about 100ml of cream. I thickened the sauce with a couple of teaspoons of flour shaken up with water in the empty cream bottle. Yummo!! It was even healthy (almost), served with beetroot and carrot salad and a green salad.

Note to self: put mushrooms and cream on the supermarket list.

I have got rather brave - foolhardy perhaps - and gave my hair a trim with the clippers a week or so ago - only took off a 1/4 inch using the method of doing it a section at a time and holding the hair out between two fingers to just have the requisite 1/4 inch showing above my fingers and then trimming that off. Worked quite well and looked reasonable all round. Thanks to big Neil in Cornwall for sending me the youtube video on how to cut your own hair (if you're a guy ...)

Then on Saturday I decided that it needed doing again and I got a bit bold. I used the clippers with the 1" measuring comb on, and managed to take a bit much off on one side behind my ear ... It looks fine from the front and that is all that counts really ... And it's not like I'm going out anywhere, is it?

It's all in how you hold your mouth ...

Sally our gardener came on Tuesday and did a big weeding job (with appropriate social distancing) in the rose garden beside the driveway and from the side garden she took out a stack of liriope, planted some beside the trellis by the motorhome, handed some over the fence to Jillian and delivered some to my friend Jane on her way home. There is still a lot of it in situ... Rob planted it a few years ago as a border/skirt around the ponga, but the ponga died a couple of years ago when the summer was just too hot and it had no shade. Now the liriope skirts nothing but hosts lots of grass, bugger it. So it had to come out. I think I am going to fill that area with canna lilies, camellias and hydrangeas. And the camellias will get regular haircuts so they don't grow to 30 feet which they tend to do here in Waikanae!

While in lockdown, I have been re-reading my blogposts from when we first came here. I remember Grahame from over the fence telling me not to worry about pruning hard because he said everything grows madly here. He was so right! I have quite a bit of it to do as soon as I can get my arse into gear...
Those camellias had been trimmed down to below the level of the fence when Luke and Rob first attacked that piece of the garden. They now need another severe trim. The sapling on the front left with the big long leaves is a native fushcia - it is self sown and probably about a year old...

Not a single one of these shrubs was in situ when we arrived. The big tree was, and was much bigger and has been severely pruned - it's hardly pruning when it requires chainsaws and ropes though. This is the piece of garden that Rob and Luke cleared of 12 trees, multiple elephant lilies, 6 woolsacks of tradascanthia.  The rest of the big plants have been in place probably 3 or 4 years or so, apart from the grape vine (the yellow autumnal one on the left) which has been in a couple of years. The smaller ones were planted just before lockdown.
And I am not posting photos of the camellias in the front or the side garden as that will give you the idea that Waikanae is triffid country!

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Family stuff in lockdown

Our son Tim and his partner Dana are living on nb Waka Huia at the moment - they are at North Kilworth Marina which they tell us has the most wonderful facilities. They have planted some of the salad greens seeds I had left over in a drawer in the galley and they are coming up nicely in the warm spring sunshine. They have done a giant clean of the vinyl on the floor throughout the boat - I have always hated that vinyl: it is a woodgrain look and was laid cross ways so the ridges in it are across the narrows, so to speak. That makes it impossible to keep really clean unless you do it on hands and knees, which is exactly what Tim and Dana have done. I've done that once, but then decided that sterilising and bleaching the dirt was easier and less painful a process. But Tim is going to replace the vinyl for us which we are delighted about. I do need to see what he thinks I would be happy with though before he purchases! Got that, Tim?

For a while, until he went back to work as an essential worker, they had the boys with them. But a couple of weeks ago now, Tim took the boys back up to Dalry to their mum, Marta.

Even though both of the boys are very social animals and are separated by 5 years in age, they have kept busy quite happily together. I understand that they have been cooking meals, and when I saw Olek this morning on his bi-weekly maths session with David, he didn't look like he was malnourished ...

One day Olek apparently asked his mum if she needed the timber in the basement, because if not, he had an idea... Karol has long had the desire for a treehouse, and Olek thought they could make one. So a couple of phone calls for advice and to score some coach bolts, and away they went. Marta said it took 4 half days. As Marta described it: Olek had the idea, Karol had the desire and Marta had the materials. And the three of them did the planning and construction.
The first crossbar/support is up and Olek is clearing the branches that are in the way of construction.
Three crossbars are in place. Marta said the first one took a couple of hours but once they got the idea, the others went up much much faster. Olek still on trimming ...
Framing in place - look at that beautiful blue Scottish sky!!

Marta using the multi-tool to trim

The flooring is going on and Karol is going up to check it out. And Olek is off to fetch something else.

Karol carefully using the saw to cut the platform pieces - I am sure Marta was within a couple of feet to effect a rescue if required!

Platform on, support struts bolted in place, one happy boy. See how the branch comes through the platform?
I understand that a guard rail is the next step as Karol wants to be able to sleep out there on summer nights - rolling over could be disastrous. However they could reposition the trampoline, I guess...

What a great thing to do during lockdown!

David and I had a call with Marta and Karol after the construction project and somehow I managed to touch a function on the screen that allowed different faces to be attached to those on the call. I started out with a dragon face that breathed fire - excellent! But we didn't know how to do snapshots of it at that point. We did get these though ...

Marta and Karol at the top, David as Pizza face and me with the quiff (?!?) - it was in the morning for us and we were still in bed ...

On Friday last week David turned 71 - hard to believe but it's true.

I made this cake for him - banana with lemon cream cheese icing, sultanas and toasted pumpkin seeds. Very yummy!

Ann made a cake for his birthday too and they put up decorations! So we celebrated by FaceTime. Lovely friends. They had to eat the cake themselves though - Ann deliberately made it only half-sized to save them from themselves, sensible woman.

David and I had cake and bubbly with Bruce and Gary by FaceTime later that day.

The following day would have been David's dad's 93rd birthday.
Cake for breakfast to celebrate John's birthday on 18 April. This photo was for Ginny.
To save us from eating half a banana cake each in this time of social distancing with Cafe Rata closed, I did a swap with Bruce and Gary - a large chuck of the remaining cake for feijoas; plus I took a slice over to Kay. That just left a decent sized piece each for dessert.

Today I sampled the latest lot of tomato soup that I made a few days ago with the acid-free tomatoes delivered by Penray Gardens late last week. It was so yummy I rang to see if they still had some. Yes, they do, so 3 boxes are being delivered tomorrow and more soup and probably more chilli chutney and possibly some capsicum chutney will be made.

Life under lockdown is plenty active enough, I reckon, and there is still heaps I could do out in the garden when the desire to weed and trim and plant overtakes me - yeah, right! Like that'll ever happen!

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

A science experiment - spoiler alert: better results than hydrochloroquine

As those of you who know me can attest, I am not a science nerd by any stretch of the imagination. I am married to a boffin and it is his role to be the one who investigates/trials/experiments.

My role is to be the action woman and just get things done.

However, in the climate of Alert Level 4 and being isolated in our bubble, as well as being pissed off at failing in the sourdough starter stakes, I got a bit caught up in chasing success.

Pip from nb Oleanna had suggested adding a red cabbage leaf to the starter. I did, and after a couple of days, success was mine!! I feel a bit like Billy Connolly - I should be proclaiming this loudly and with lots of swearing from a stage. But you will have to do as my audience. Of course, I have emailed photos to Bernice the Mean, and she has been suitably and kindly encouraging, providing me with much needed positive reinforcement. So I am in the process of changing her name by deed-poll to Bernice the Okay Really...
Very few bubbles
So back to the experiment:

A few nights ago (I am losing track of time), but quite late for me, I sent Bernice an email requesting urgent advice - the red cabbage leafed starter had expanded exponentially in its jar in the airing cupboard, so I needed to know if I could take it out of the cupboard and leave it overnight. Yes, she replied immediately (further changes to deed-poll application: Bernice the Prompt and Okay Really). So out it came and sat on one of the hall bookcases overnight.
A red cabbage leaf and lots of bubbles!! Yay!! Back on went its paper towel cover and it sat on the bookcase overnight.
Late the following morning, I decided to split the starter instead of discarding half of it before feeding. So I divided it roughly into 3 and fed each portion the same amount of flour and water, but two of them had room temperature water from our filter jug and one had tepid water from the tap. One of the two had a new cabbage leaf stuck in it. The others were autumnally deciduous.

The experiment is comprised of three starters all of which are labelled - good grief, I sound like David ... The bowl has the cabbage leaf in it.
Fast forward (but not really - nothing in this bloody bread-making process is fast...) about 28 hours, having checked a few hours before that all portions were active and rising, I pulled them out to do the float test. Yay!!! The first one was floaty-ish - the biggest part of the spoonful stayed on the top, but the strandy bits sank. But I counted that as success.

So on to the second portion - sank without protest to the bottom.

And then on to the third vegetated portion - AAARRRGGGHHH - I had left it too long, a skin had formed over the submerged part of the red cabbage leaf, and underneath it, the leaf colour had leached into the starter. Down the sink with that one, leaving two to be fed and watered again and back in to the airing cupboard for the night.

In the early afternoon of the following day (the next one after the one I wrote about - 4 paragraphs back) I checked again, and the one that had floated the previous day was even more floaty, so I decided I should be able to start making bread sometime in the next millenium. So I fed it, put it back in the airing cupboard thinking I would wait till the following day to make the leaven (poolish is what Chris Verburg calls it). But my patience was running out, so that evening, and quite late for me, I decided that the starter had foamed and bubbled enough in the few hours since I'd fed it for the umpteenth time, and so it was on to making the leaven.

I should not really do stuff late in the evening that I have never done before and that I am nervous about. I tend to hit the wall tiredness-wise and I get tetchy (OK, tetchier ...) and only able to focus on one thing. Being given instructions from the sidelines by someone who never uses the scales but apparently knows exactly how they work is not conducive to my completing the task with any degree of equanimity. Enough said. So a portion of the floaty starter into a bowl; flour weighed, water weighed and added and stirred to mix. Shower cap cover fixed on top and the whole thing put into the airing cupboard. The remaining starters fed again (I am hedging my bets and continuing the experiment in case the floaty one decides not to work); starters placed beside the hopefully-about-to- burgeon leaven.

An apology given to the scales expert and off to bed I go with a calming cup of chamomile.

Yesterday morning, I cautiously peered in to the airing cupboard to find that the leaven had really and truly done its thing in a big way, so on to the bread making I get - excited, but nervous. And I tell you it is difficult to do any kind of kitchen stuff with your fingers crossed! And the kitchen was a bit Piccadilly Circus-like yesterday as I had tomato and chilli relish (cooked the previous day) to reheat, blitz, then reheat and bottle; a huge amount of vegetables to chop and juice; and mushroom stroganoff to prepare (task assigned to David).

I decided that it was probably better if I printed out the sourdough instructions so that when David comes to use the laptop with the stroganoff recipe I am not also wanting it ...

So the next first of countless steps in the actual bread-making task is to mix in the carefully weighed flour and the carefully weighed (yes, weighed!) water that is at a specific temperature. So actually the first job is to find a thermometer. OK, found, but not that useful as below about 30 deg it just says Lo (without a w). Request follows to David to find the one he uses to register room temperatures. Yay, he finds it, once he knows what it is I am asking for - somehow my functioning use of language diminishes when I am in a hurry and his understanding reduces when I am in a hurry ... So the water is weighed and has its temperature taken.

The water is added to the leaven and stirred to mix, then the flour is added and squidged in with my hands, swapped in to a bigger bowl because I realise that if any expansion is to take place the smaller bowl will be overflowing, and the dough is turned and stretched a few times; shower cap put back on and into the airing cupboard.

There follows a process that is more demanding than a wakeful baby - wait for an hour to add the salt, turn, stretch and fold: turn, stretch and fold.  Then every half hour for 4 hours: turn, stretch and fold several times, replace the shower cap, place back in the airing cupboard. Then leave it for at least 30 minutes to relax - WTF??

Before we played cards with Ann and Salvi, the dough was ready to be shaped, so out it came on to a floured bench and I hoped that I was doing it right, having been taught a couple of years ago by Sarah and in October last year by Chris. You have to put your hands on the far side of the dough and then pull it gently towards you, repeatedly. It looked and felt pretty good, so back in a floured bowl I put it and left it to rise in the airing cupboard. Instructions said 2 - 3 hours or overnight.

After cards and yummy dinner, I checked the dough and it had risen hugely, so I decided to cook it even though it was getting late for me (see note above re me and hitting the wall...) I turned on the oven, put in the cast iron pot to heat for 30 minutes, and waited.

Then I realised that Chris uses baking paper in the pot, and I hadn't put baking paper in the shaping bowl - could I tip it on to baking paper before I put it into the pot? Quick email to Bernice (I must get her phone number!) and a quick reply yes I could. So I did, but bugger and deep depression: the dough sort of squoodged and lost its shape. But in a fit of "well, F*uck it if it doesn't work" I lifted it up and put it in the pot, sprayed it with a bit of water, put the lid on and grumpily closed the door.

Bernice's instructions say not to open the door for 15 minutes, so I followed that instruction then when the time went off I gingerly looked in. Yay!!! It had risen in the intense heat. Lid off, loaf taken out of the pot, a roasting tray with water in placed on the rack below the bread and the timer set for another 25 minutes.

And here is the result:
I didn't succeed in cutting clean slashes across the top once it was in the pot unfortunately, but who cares?

Once it had cooled on the rack, I cut a couple of slices for late night taste testing - verdict: very yummy indeed. This morning we had it toasted with baked beans - delicious.

I think sourdough bread making is a bit like giving birth in that you forget the pain (or it recedes in your mind) once your eyes light on the loaf or baby, whichever ...

I'll give it another go. And I am giving one of the starters to Bevan today - it'll be left in their letterbox along with a jar of chilli tomato relish when I get up and go for a walk.