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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Thursday, November 23, 2006

He Goes Home

It was about 1430... 2:30 P.M. on November 22, 2006... A tiny
hand knocked confidently on the pearley gate. The Littlest Ranger had come home.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


It is the next evening now. The wheel turns. Once more I was asleep in preparation for going to work the night shift. Once more I awakened suddenly in the dark bedroom with a nameless sense of anticipation, expecting Something to happen. Out in the great room the phone rang. I got up. Mrs RRR saw me come out of the bedroom. "No, he's awake... here he is..." and she handed me the phone.
My brother this time. The Littlest Ranger's grandfather. We talk. The end is in sight now. The tiny tyke is down to only brain stem function. No more liver function, no bowel, no kidney. It's all almost over. Still the heart tries valiantly to beat. Still the respirator blows air in, stops and gravity pushes it out. That is all. The options are down to almost none. I've already said my piece. My brother and I reminisce gently of the loss of our mother. I tell him some deeply personal memories of patients that have eased past the veil as I cared for them. I think of all those affected.
The child's mother, grandmother, sister, aunties, cousins... all the women who long to hold him and caress him and cherish him and help him grow up feeling safe and loved. The father, grandfathers, great grandfathers who would raise him up to be a man, to stand tall before his God, to ride, rope, shoot straight and tell the truth. Even his great uncle, me, who would teach him to spot the best route through a rapids, to pick a camp sight, start a fire, read the signs of the woods. All of us wait. On the other side of the veil... the Littlest Ranger's Lord waits also, for him to be welcomed to the arms that WILL hold him.
And one more prayer.... "Thank you God, for this tiny life that has touched ours. Thank you for the lessons he is teaching us about You and ourselves. Help everyone not to hurt. Please comfort his mommy and daddy, and all of us. God bless us... every one."

The Battle Draws Closer To The End

Two decades ago or longer Papa Ranger, then about 60, lay in a coma in a small hospital in a little town in rural Canada. He had contracted encephalitis. My mother sat by him. Suddenly his eyes opened. He spoke his first words. "Has my son called?" At once the door opened and the nurse stuck her head in and said to Mom and Him, "Your son is on the phone."

It was me. I had felt a sudden urge to call. Last night before I went to work, I suddenly awakened at 8:35 p.m. I lay in the dark room, suddenly alert. The phone began to ring. It was Papa Ranger. News about his great grandson of whom I've written these last days.

The news was not good. The Littlest Ranger is no longer fighting. His partially formed tiny heart beats on, but only the machine filling his lungs and letting them deflate is keeping him alive. He is totally flacid. The tests show massive brain damage. His organs are shutting down or already have. Papa had held him and marveled at his beauty and asked all the "why" questions. The medications have been stopped. Only the sound of the ventilation machine continues. His parents have the night to consider the few options left.

Only Heaven holds the answers. And soon he will be there... and suddenly he will be everything he was meant to be. Please Dear God... comfort those who hurt, dry the tears of those who weep. Please....

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Battle Continues

Tonight the RRR called his niece, the Littlest Ranger's mommy. Things do not look good. More tests are being done. She and her husband are facing one of the toughest of decisions. Praying for a miracle. Praying for wisdom. Asking The One who sweated great drops like blood on His knees in a garden that "this cup" be passed from them. And like Him, saying "nevertheless... not MY will but THINE".

Oh, but it's so hard.

Today at the chapel, I preached about another cup, the one Joseph had hidden in Benjamin's sack of grain in the book of Genesis, chapter 44. We talked about the Middle Eastern tradition that it was an insult for a host to give a guest a cup smaller than his own to drink out of. And how it's the greatest of honors to offer the guest the hosts own cup to drink from. The ultimate compliment for a guest of honor, as Benjamin had been in chapter 43. And how the ultimate insult that guest could give would be to steal the host's cup. And suddenly the chapter opens to your mind and you realize why it was his own personal cup Joseph chose to put in the sack.

If only that little boy in the hospital could have his situation suddenly make sense.

I walked Bay Toe Ven before leaving the cabin to drive in to work tonight. The stars were starkly bright against a black velvet sky. The great calendar has turned. Pleiades is very high up in the Eastern sky, below at about East East South is Orion, my good friend and companion of the night. The stars keep turning and burning... The life of the universe will continue.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Another Prayer

In an incubator... on a ventilator... tubes in and tubes out of his tiny body... The Littlest Ranger fights for life. His kidneys are not functioning. His malformed heart tries to pump. There is blood on his brain, blood in his urine, his bowels may not be working either. The family gathers. The nurses, those soft hearted, ultra competent technicians try to shut off their feelings and be mechanical. I am a nurse. It does NOT work. Each life that slips away is a failure in your heart whether you admit it or not or agree it's logical or not. Each twist and turn and moan of pain becomes YOUR pain. It doesn't go away when you run your card through the time clock. The faces haunt you. The cries become part of you. God help them. God help the family. God love and cradle that little boy to your bosom. Please Dear God.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Plea To The Creator

The RRR has a solemn tale to tell. The Littlest Ranger was born 4 days ago. His father, a genuine cowboy, his mother my younger brother's daughter. This would make him my great nephew. From the moment of his birth something was wrong. It was found he had way too few white blood cells and x rays showed his heart to be enlarged. He was rushed to a hospital with Neonatal Intensive Care. It was found that he was born with almost half of his heart missing. Then he developed pneumonia and had to be placed on a ventilator. He was placed on an air ambulance and flown to a major medical center specializing in children's diseases. There he was stabilized in their Intensive care unit. Now we await anxiously the tests that will show if any other congenital problems exist and for the first of the many, many operations it will take to save his life. At once we heard, word went out to all the relatives across America. They called their churches and relatives. Over a thousand people are now praying for him and the family regularly. Oh Dear God... let this tiny one live. Hold him and his family in your love. Comfort them and give them strength... please Dear God.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Possum Guilt

The RRR tells a story of small scale violence. It starts with Jake. Jake farms the land on two sides of the cabin. Each year it's either corn or soybeans... this year beans. When he harvested them in October, there were suddenly tens of thousands of mice homeless and with their food source removed. And right there close was the Ranger homestead. They decided to move in. We knew the invasion had started when there were rustlings in the walls of the cabin and Mrs. RRR found mouse droppings on the bathroom floor. I opened up the crawl space and reset all the traps, baiting them with peanut butter. Then I went into town and bought a bucket of poison bait chunks. I have two feeding stations outside the shop and three inside and one about 40 feet from the cabin. In a day the bait was gone from all six locations. I kept putting out more... it disappeared. And more. I bought another bucket. But my conscience was prodding me. Something more than mice HAD to be getting my poison. When I went out with a flashlight and saw a raccoon waddling away from a feeding station, I knew I was hurting more than mice. I LIKE raccoons. They are the worse scamps in nature, but delightful to watch and I wanted no part in causing them miserable deaths. So I made mouse feeding stations from old buckets with firmly fastening lids. I cut holes big enough for mice, but too small for anything else and too small for the bait chunks to be removable.
A quick check the next morning showed the bait mostly intact, but nibbled at and mouse droppings in the buckets. I had succeeded. And I prayed the raccoons did not suffer. But this afternoon I went out to the shop and there found a very sick possum, properly spelled "opossum" lying on the shop floor. He had been at my bait before I sheltered it and was now dying. I have no love for possums. They are nasty little rats. Eat carrion and only fight when cornered. But I hate to see anything suffer. I went to the house and got a .22 and scooped up the possum and took him in a pail out to the woods to a secluded ravine. Laying him on the fallen leaves, I apologized for his suffering and ended it quickly.
A plea to Ranger Readers. If you MUST put out mouse and rat poison and I know many of us must... take the time to make bait stations accessible only to the target animals. Our Creator made us stewards over all creatures. We have the power of life and death to them. Let us not misuse it by making any creature suffer unnecessarily.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ranger Apple Crisp

The RRR helped tonight with the production of the World's Best Apple Crisp. This evening I was puttering about the cabin... ok, I was curled up with a good book, the classic Two Years Before The Mast by Dana. Mrs. RRR had gone out to the shop. She came in from the frosty out of doors breathing out vapor and with her glasses fogging. She was carrying a 5 gallon bucket of apples. "It's time for more apple crisp." She announced. I did NOT argue. I took our nifty apple peeler/corer/slicer from it's box and clamped it to the kitchen table. It is a wonderfully mechanical device whose design hasn't changed in over a hundred years. My 1906 Sears catalog reprint shows one just like it. We put a cup of lemon juice into a large bowl and added enough water to make a quart. Actually we save the mix from one apple peeling session to another, keeping it in a jar in the refrigerator and adding water or a little juice as needed. The juice is an important part of the recipe. It prevents the slices from turning brown and adds a tangy tartness to the taste of the apples. By that bowl I sat another with a strainer in it. And next to that, Mrs. RRR put a large stainless steel dishpan. I sat the cutting board by the peeler and sharpened my homemade paring knife with my EZ Lap diamond sharpening stone. EZ Lap stones are the best I've found. I have a short one I carry on river and desert trips and a tiny fountain pen sized one for backpacking. My father made the paring knife from an old broken one. It fits my hand just right.
I reached down into the bucket on my right and took the top apple, a Golden Delicious. The stem twisted off easily and I impaled the fruit on the prongs and turned the crank. THIS is where technology should be going. The crank moves the apple toward the peeling arm and engages it. The arm swivels as it peels and being spring loaded follows the shape of the apple. As the apple moves past the peeling blade, it engages another circular blade that cores it and the support blade which spiral slices it. If all goes well, the newly peeled apple slides off the core and I had only to slice it in half to make about 20 apple slices. These I dropped into the lemon juice mixture to prevent browning.
Mrs. RRR let them soak a little and dropped them into the strainer to drain. Then she checked for bad spots I'd missed and dumped them in the dishpan. There were plenty of scraps not quite right for baking for us to gobble as we went along. Soon the bucket was empty and the dishpan full. Mrs. RRR divided the slice between three glass cake pans she had greased with butter. Then she covered the apples completely plus a little more with her premixed apple crisp topping. Here is her recipe:
3 1/2 Cups of dark brown sugar, 2 Teaspoons Salt, 1 1/2 cups of butter, 1 Tablespoon cinnamon, 4 Cups of oatmeal, 1 1/2 Cups of whole wheat flour.
She mixes these all together in multiple quantities and freezes until needed. She takes it out to thaw while we slice and soak the apples.
When the apples are in the dish and covered with topping, they go in the oven at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes. Set out to cool.
While they were cooking Bay Toe Ven and I walked down the lane through the icy mist to get the mail. We took the apple peelings and cores along and left them for the four legged clean up crew down by the bridge. It was pitch dark in the woods along the lane so I used my miniature flashlight and my walking stick to keep from slipping. As we came back down, another flashlight bobbed towards us.. Mrs. RRR coming to meet us and escort us home. Back in the snug cabin the wonderful appley sugary smell greeted us. When the bell on the timer rang she set the pans out to cool. After 15" she covered the pans with waxed paper to keep the moisture in. But FIRST she cut out two pieces and placed on plates, each with a scoop of ice cream on it. She brought mine into the great room, the apple crisp steaming and the ice cream melting. Heaven wasn't half a mile from here.
Now, as the warmth from the oven leaks away into the cold night, I'll light the gas fireplace and we'll crawl under the blankets on the pallet in front of the fire. Life is good.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Day Described

A simple description of a day in the life of the RRR. This morning the clock was set for 0445 for Mrs. RRR to get up to go to work. As usual I awakened about 30 seconds before the alarm went off. I groaned and rolled off the pallet in front of the gas fireplace and was stretching when the buzzing of the alarm started. Mrs. RRR also groaned and covered her head with the quilt. I stumbled about and shut off the clock and went into the kitchen and peered out into the pitch blackness. Why do the days have to get shorter? Yes, yes, I KNOW why, but I don't want them to. I poured fresh water from the water filter into the tea kettle and started Mrs. RRR's morning libations. She begins every day with a cup of Columbian Supremo coffee, a cup of green tea with ginger, and a half cup of home made tomato juice with a tablespoon of cider vinegar in it and hot water added. In a few minutes the cups were in a row and the tea kettle was beginning to hum and pop, clearing its throat to sing. She hurried out to face the day and I returned to the pallet before the fire to finish the dream my anticipation of the alarm clock had interrupted.
I was vaguely aware of the quick kiss and the cool blast of frigid outside air as she went out to walk Bay Toe Ven and warm up her car. The door slammed. Bay Toe Ven padded by and curled up with a sigh by my pillow. I heard the noise of her car turning around... saw the flash of light from the headlights... heard the rumble as she drove over the plank bridge and I was back in dreamland. At about 0615 I was awake again. I groaned and stretched some more and called Mrs. RRR at work. We talked a little about how her job was going and then I checked my blood sugar. 136. Not a bad fasting sugar for a diet controlled diabetic who loves fresh fruit. Then it was time for the daily visualization.
I draped the heating pad over my liver and leaned back in the recliner. Next came the deep breathing exercise, then I visualized as I've described before, striding through the caverns of my liver, destroying the vicious little bright yellow Hep C birds with my sword. Now I've added the kidney and adrenal cysts. They are clear globules hanging now and then from the sides of the tunnels. I slice each open with my sword and drain it. After an hour the heating pad timed out. I sipped back from trance state to sleep, then awakened. It was full daylight outside. I folded up the sleeping pallet and put it away.
Now it was time for my breakfast soup. A quart of water, a tablespoon of beef bullion, a left over hamburger patty, 3 carrots cut up, an onion cut up, cilantro, parsley, a large double handful of chopped chinese cabbage, a half cup of tomato juice and the whole mess allowed to simmer. Meantime I sat and watched the squirrels in the yard scamper about while I sipped my own cup of green tea with ginger. Then I read in the current book as I sipped the soup. I savored it for a long time and finally pulled myself together to begin canning tomato juice.
Yes, Ranger Readers.... though it's the 13th day of November, there are still tomatoes to can. We thought there would be almost no crop at all, then rains came in September and the plants bloomed anew and put on hundreds of tomatoes. But they were all green and not nearly mature when the first hard frost came in October. Mrs. RRR refused to part with them. She picked 45 gallons of green tomatoes and stored them on a large table out in the shop and covered them with a blanket. Then she brought in a five gallon bucket full and spread in trays in the sun to ripen. As they turn red, it becomes time to preserve some. And today was time. We have it down to a science.
I dumped them into the kitchen sink and rinsed and sorted. The bad places I cut off, along with the stems, then halved or quartered based on the size and put in the large pot to boil. eventually the 20 quart pot was almost full of simmering tomato goo. While this was happening, I clamped the Victorio strainer to the table. Then I lifted the pot over to the table and started ladling the stewing tomatoes into the hopper of the strainer. Mr. Victorio of Italy has my undying appreciation for his invention. I turned the crank. Tomatoes juice flowed into one pot and the seeds and skins into another. Within 25 minutes I had over 10 quarts of juice. I put that pot on the stove and sat up my jars and lids. They were sterilized in a roasting pan. I fished out a jar with tongs lifted it to the other side of the stove, put in the funnel, added a heaping half teaspoon of sea salt and ladled in the boiling juice. Then I took a lid and ring from the boiling water and placed on the jar and screwed it down tight. One more quart of juice. There were ten full jars and a half cup left over to sip hot while I listened to the lovely "ping" of lids sealing.
Then I took all the pots, strainer, etc., out to the hydrant and sprayed the excess tomato off with the high pressure hose. The seeds, skins and other tomato scrap went into the creek to feed the raccoons, muskrats, and other assorted members of my clean up crew. I started washing the pots and equipment and was almost done by the time Mrs. RRR arrived home from work. She made a fantastic lunch to celebrate us going over 100 quarts of tomatoes canned. We had left over turkey, asparagus with cheddar cheese melted on, lettuce and cottage cheese salad. And then dessert... oh... oh... oh... dessert. Fresh apple crisp from the apples I'd peeled and sliced a few days ago with a scoop of ice cream! No one eats better than the RRR... no one. After lunch I again visualized my battle with the Hep C's and Mrs. RRR and I and Bay Toe Ven and Sam the Outside Dog took a long walk in the woods.
It didn't take long for me to realize that I am still far from recovered from the trauma of my Cardiac Ablation. I was very fatigued by the time we got back to the cabin. But how beautiful that walk was. Birds soared above us. Rabbits and squirrels bounded out of our way and we saw some huge deer tracks. The leaves are almost all gone from the trees now and the woods have reopened so that it's easier to see the cycle of nature moving through them. I collapsed in a chair after I cleaned the mud from our boots while Mrs. RRR picked out another 5 gallons of tomatoes to ripen. We had a half cup of her homemade yogurt with strawberries in it for supper. Then she started doing paperwork for her job while I wrote letters and now this blog.
One day in the life of the RRR. One more day.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Ranger Ablation

"Where has the RRR been?" some Ranger Readers have asked. To answer... right here, often wallowing in self pity over his health problems. At least one I've finally been able to take some action on... that is the cardiac arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation as it's called. The episodes continued. At the last one I waited in the cardiologist's office with Mrs. RRR for a bed to open up on the telemetry unit at the hospital. The Dr. came in to announce I could now go to the hospital and be prepped for a "jump start", defibrillation. But moments before she entered, I "converted" back to normal sinus rhythm. That was enough. We scheduled a procedure called a Cardiac Ablation. In this treatment, an endoscope is introduce through a large vein in the groin and another tube in the opposite side and the Dr. "crawls" it up into the heart. There he or she maps the areas where the incorrect electrical impulses are sourcing and running and then burns the improper areas out with a cautery or laser. It involves at least one perforation of the central cardiac wall and is scary to think about, much less undergo.
The Thursday before the Monday procedure, I stopped taking my blood thinner... coumadin. Something else scary. As my blood got more and more able to clot quickly, the danger of stroke or pulmonary embolism increased. Then Sunday night I stopped eating and drinking at 2200 (10 P.M. to non-rangers). Saturday Papa Gringo, my father, and my Step Mom drove Mrs. RRR and I to the hospital. The ablation was to start at 0800. At 0810 a nurse came out to the waiting area and said they were doing an emergency pacemaker placement on another patient and that I'd have to wait about 3 hours. She was exactly correct. By 1100 I was tremendously thirsty and sitting with my family in a tiny changing room wearing only a hospital gown and slippers. They rolled a cart into the room. I kissed Mrs. RRR goodbye, hugged the folks and got on the cart.

They rolled me into the cardiac cath lab, which should be named, as is my cheap pup tent, The Ice Palace. In order to naturally slow down the patient's heart beat and metabolism, the room is kept agonizingly cold. And I had on only a thin cotton gown. The nursing staff had me get onto the stainless steel table. I had only THOUGHT I was cold up to that point. My bare body rested on the icy steel from head to heels. Then two staff lifted my torso and slapped a cold gel pack to my back for a grounding device for the electronics. I began to shiver. They lay me back down and stuck more gel pads to my torso and legs for the EKG monitors and the cautery. By this time my gown was folded down to my waist. Two staff strapped my wrists down to "help you remember not to move." Then my legs were spread and ankles restrained. I felt the deep stick of an IV being started in my right hand. The gown was pushed further down and a restraint fastened around my belly. Now I lay totally helpless.
The nurse lifted the bottom of the gown and flopped it back over my belly. Barely bothering to drop on a small towel for a little and I mean LITTLE modesty she began shaving my groin. "If you find my lost dignity down there," I complained, "will you please leave it in my suitcase in the changing room"?

"I'm starting the sedation now." The other nurse said as she fussed with my IV. And I was out. Five hours later I came to in my room on the cardiac floor, more chilled than I've ever been in my life and ravenously hungry. They piled on the blankets and brought a dinner. Mrs. RRR fed it to me a bite at a time and I rewarded her by vomiting back up spectacularly. The ward nurse rushed to give me a shot of compazine and once more I descended into the fog. I awakened at midnight, entangled in dozens of blankets and not certain where I was. By noon the next day I was discharged and Papa Gringo and Step Mom drove me back to the cabin. In the days since the monstrous bruises that covered me from knees to chest have finally began to fade. I had to take shots in my belly to re-thin my blood. That's done too now. And thankfully... the newly resculpted heart keeps beating regularly. If it keeps on doing it for a year, I can start tapering off the blood thinner and if I've lost enough weight, the blood pressure meds.

Meantime... the RRR plods on. One step. Then another step. Each one the first on the journey of the rest of my life.

A Ranger Bouquet

Mrs. RRR occasionally surprises even the author of this blog... here's how it happened. On occasion I will bring home a bouquet of flowers for her and leave them in a vase on the kitchen table, then tease her about how long it takes for her to notice. She decided that turn about was fair play. Thursday afternoon I arrived home from the Big City exhausted from having taught Management of Aggressive Behavior all day at the county hospital. I collapsed gratefully in a chair at the table, glad the long class was over. Usually we have at least two instructors and we trade off lectures. But this day there were only three students, so they got the full benefit of my knowledge only. By the middle of the afternoon I was hoarse and the students had heard my voice enough for one day.

I ended the class and drove home. I poured myself a steaming mug of Columbian Supremo coffee and sipped it and wondered why Mrs. RRR was smirking at me. I eventually used the old interrogator's trick of seeking not what the suspect is looking AT but what they are avoiding. Mrs. RRR was carefully not looking at the table. So I did. And there, on a plate in the middle of the table was a huge, fresh pineapple. That was my "bouquet". It had sat for 20 minutes right in front of me and I hadn't noticed! We laughed about it and admired it for the next few days. Today, Sunday, I cut it open, sliced out the core and trimmed off the skin and we stuffed ourselves with the delicious, tart fruit.

Fresh pineapple has about as much in common with canned as fresh sweet corn has with institutional canned corn. Oh it's delicious! And what a wonderful surprise from Mrs. RRR!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Once AGAIN The RRR Returns!

The River Rat Ranger at last writes after months. Youngest Daughter explained to me that if I keep waiting to blog until I have formulated all my catching up, I will never blog again. She is right, of course. So I am blogging again. The present is what matters. For right now, the US is fixated on the recent Swing To The Left evidenced by the mid term elections. My Asian readers may be scratching their heads in confusion over our incomprehensible politics. What does it all mean?
Nothing. That is right... nothing. Because of our odd system whereby our Lower House has re-elections every two years and the Upper House every six, divided into thirds and the presidential every 4 with a two term limit. Is this confusing enough? But the last 2 year election of an 8 year presidential cycle almost always results just like yesterdays. And means almost nothing.