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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Another Catch-Up Post

Looks like my   goal of posting frequently and regularly has gone unfulfilled again and despite my promises and intentions to do better, I’ve fallen into a pattern of posting once or twice a month.  So this will be a catch-up post.

I finished the eight cycles of Folfox plus Avastin October 3rd.  I feel  fortunate that the side effects were not as severe or debilitating as I’d feared. Probably the worst side effect, other than the occasional fatigue, was the drop in my white blood cell count, which delayed treatment a few times and made it necessary for me to get Neupogen shots to stimulate  my bone marrow to produce more white cells -- nineteen shots in all. One of the possible common side effects listed was  deep bone pain. I had the bone pain after the first shot  but was able to prevent it by taking a Tylenol before getting the next 18 shots- it worked! At one point my white cell count went from 3,100cmm to 36,200cmm after 3 shots; germs didn't stand a chance of surviving that week. But  they went  way down again after chemo.  It was a real roller coaster! 

I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture- the chemo was not all smiles and sunshine; there were quite a few days when I did feel the side effects.  And given the high temperatures we had here this summer, the desire for something cold to drink got really overwhelming at times.  But the oncology nurses warned me that drinking anything cold while on Oxaliplatin could be painful, so I drank and ate everything at room temperature or hotter. Except for the one time I forgot and took a swig of water straight from the fridge.  Oh MY!! It felt as though I was swallowing shards of glass! I didn’t try THAT again! And it did get to be an aggravation towards the end of the regimen when, in order to avoid the pain of neuropathy, I had to wear gloves while reaching into the fridge or freezer or shopping the frozen food aisles at the grocery store.

Anyway, I survived- and didn’t even lose much hair.  It thinned but stayed on my head for the most part. In fact, everyone I run into who knows I’ve been on chemo says how good I look, which is a little worrisome because folks never  went out of their way to tell me how good I looked before all this started ;-)

The oncologist set me up for another CT scan to see how effective the chemo had been. The results came in a couple of weeks ago. They show that the rectal tumor and the liver tumor have both shrunk, but the surgeon suggested that rather than schedule surgery right away we try to shrink or eliminate the rectal tumor using radiation therapy and shrink the liver tumor some more with chemo, then consider ablation, so I met again with the medical oncologist last week and will meet with the radiology oncologist this week to get that ball rolling.  Not looking forward to having a sunburn where the sun don’t shine nor am I overjoyed at wearing the portable infusion pump five or more days a week, but you do what you have to do.  And so it goes.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Rights, Restrictions and and Gun Control

With all the news over the past few days of  shootings and the ensuing Second Amendment arguments that invariably follow such tragedies claiming that gun control legislation is an attempt to seize  guns owned by law-abiding citizens and to take away Second Amendment rights, I got to wondering. . .
The Privileges and Immunities Clause, Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1 of the US Constitution  guarantees the right of free movement between the states. Most people nowadays drive or ride in motor vehicles. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2008, Americans owned 137,079,843 passenger cars, or a little less than one car for every two people.  But in order to legally drive a motor vehicle a person here in Alabama, as in other states, must obtain a license which includes taking a test to insure that he/she  has the skills necessary, is  physically and mentally fit to drive, and is aware of  the laws related to operating a motor vehicle.  Furthermore, this license has to be renewed periodically.  Additionally, all vehicles must be registered, which has another set of requirements, and the vehicles must carry insurance.
And yet there is no great hue and cry that these restrictions and controls infringe on a citizen’s right of free movement. Nor is there an outpouring of outrage  that such   requirements are an attempt to take vehicles away from people. Because  people know that it just isn’t true, and the auto industry evidently has no powerful, fear-mongering organization  equivalent to the NRA to convince them otherwise. 
Guns  and hunting have been  around a long time in this country, as has the National Rifle Association, but  for  most of that time, people didn’t see the need to hunt defenseless animals with semi-automatic, military-style weapons using armor- piercing ammunition, and I’d be willing to bet that most responsible gun owners still don’t. It seems to me this whole Second Amendment   uproar is a result of manipulation and lobbying  by the NRA to increase their membership and increase gun sales during a period when fewer people own guns and a small percentage of gun owners actually hunt.  For over a hundred years the NRA focused on hunting, conservation and marksmanship. One of its programs  taught Boy Scouts how to shoot safely and still provides Rifle Instructor Certification for those who wish to become a Boy Scouts of America Rifle Merit Badge Counselor. That certification requires training and testing. Ironically, the organization that believes everyone who wants to own a gun should be allowed to  regardless of  their fitness or ability and that opposes sensible regulation and registration for gun owners requires candidates for   instructor positions to:"achieve a score of 90 percent or higher in a written examination and have a minimum passing score of 80 out of a possible 100 points in firearms handling, shooting competence, and firearms safety evaluation."  The NRA states that "Only those candidates who achieve satisfactory scores in the pre-course qualification, and who meet other specified requirements for NRA instructors, are eligible for certification."  So obviously the NRA sees some value in testing and certification for certain gun owners and users.  Somewhere along the  way,  radicals took over the NRA and it became more political,  until today it is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country, spending millions to influence legislators and legislation.  In 2014 the NRA spent $3.6  million on lobbying against gun control legislation, which is quite a hefty sum, but  is  considerably less than they spent in 2010.  Forbes magazine reported that in 2010 the NRA reported that it had 781 full time employees, 125,000 volunteers and generated revenues of $227.8 million, but that still wasn’t enough to cover expenses. In total, they spent $243.5 million, leaving a $15 million shortfall. That year, $10 million went to the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. The NRA’s 129th convention, held in Charlotte, N.C.  in 2000, became an all out political attack on Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, with speeches  claiming that Gore would  take away everyone’s guns.  The convention concluded with Charlton Heston, then president of the NRA, making  his famous speech in  which, in true movie star style, he brandished a musket in the air, challenging Gore, stating, “ especially for you, Mr. Gore: From my cold, dead hands!"
Today, there are  too many “cold dead hands”, too many dead children, too many troubled youth who see guns as the way to end their problems and too many paranoid people who have been stirred up into a frenzy by fear-mongering entities like the NRA who spread  misinformation, and hatred.  Yes, the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of free citizens to bear arms.  That is not in dispute. But that right, like all the others granted in the Bill of Rights, is not absolute.   Rights carry with them limitations and restrictions.  Even the very conservative Supreme Court majority, in their 2008 ruling in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, note that, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by
felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of fire-arms in sensitive places
such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
 Why is that so hard for some people to understand? How many more mass shootings at schools and workplaces, how many instances of children shooting each other will it take before people say, "ENOUGH!"?

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Tonight  was  a once-in–a-generation occurrence- a supermoon, plus full lunar eclipse.  Since the next one is not scheduled to appear until 2033 or such, I figured that at my age and in my condition, this was my last chance to see one.  Of course, as luck would have it, the weather has been overcast all day with a heavy cloud cover and we were afraid  we wouldn’t  get to see it after all, but  there were a few moments when the clouds drifted away from the moon and we were able to get a few pics.  Not as spectacular as  some  I’ve seen posted on the Internet tonight, but  it was fun to watch, anyway. 

At first, there was no  red or orange glow, but   at the first break in the clouds I was able to get the  pic at the left. Within a minute, though the clouds moved back in and obscured the moon. Later, Mr. G went  and stood in the street, where  the trees wouldn't block his view, and waited for another break in the clouds.  He was able to get the picture below which does show the the moon with  its orange glow. It was  kind of fun to spend an evening being a little  moonstruck.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Late Summer, Early Fall Roundup

Pepper Place Market
It’s been nearly a month since my last post, and what a busy month it was.  After  my sixth treatment on August 26, we began to get ready for our daughter’s visit from Australia. We were in a flurry of getting the dogs to the groomer, cleaning house, getting in groceries, etc. and getting more Neupogen shots to keep my white blood cell count up.  I was able to get the shots scheduled for early morning so that our days weren’t  interrupted too much, so we were able to get a few activities in while Heather was here. We went to the Pepper Place Farmer’s Market, Railroad Park,  Art Crawl in downtown Birmingham, plus a couple of yoga classes and had a family get-together. 

Plenty of tomatoes and peaches
Heather   admiring some of the work at ArtCrawl
I was scheduled for the seventh chemo treatment on  September 9, but once again, my  white blood cell counts  had done a roller coaster ride in the week  following the last  Neupogen shot, so  I got more shots and chemo treatment was put off until September 11, a Friday, which meant I was  wearing the pump for Heather’s last week-end at home, which curtailed our planned activities somewhat. But we still managed to  have a nice visit and  we were able to enjoy some  of the sights  and activities in town while she was home.

It took me  quite a while to recover after that last treatment, and I had side effects that  I’d
 been able to avoid before. I experienced peripheral neuropathy in my hands for the first time- and it is NOT fun, so now I wear gloves whenever I reach into the fridge or freezer and Mr. G  reaches into the cooler and  frozen food sections  at the grocery store, because I  keep forgetting my gloves when we go out.  Gloves are just not something I normally think about when the weather is hot and humid, but a few more experiences of numb, painful fingers will probably work well to jog my memory.

I had  more shots on Sept 14,15 & 16 in order to build up my blood counts for  the last scheduled treatment on September 25, yesterday. I  thought at the time, and did mention that  maybe we should put off the shots until  just before the treatment, but was assured  this schedule should work just as well.  Guess what? It didn’t.  Another roller coaster on the  numbers and another delay, so I got a shot yesterday and will get more on Monday and Tuesday, with the chemo treatment  scheduled for Wednesday. About two weeks after that I’ll have a scan to see how all this chemo has worked, or rather IF it has worked to shrink the tumors,  and then we’ll figure out, based on the results, what happens next.

Hummingbird straggler, tiger swallowtail
Meanwhile, the  hummingbird  feeder, the scene of so much activity a week or two ago now hosts only the occasional straggler. The hummers have begun their migration now that fall has arrived. Butterflies are still fluttering about, and the summer  flowers are putting on their last show of the season, while  fall blooms and berries, like the beautybush are coming into their own.
Late summer bloomers
Signs of fall: American Beautyberry, goldenrod, pineapple sage, dogwood leaves
 Although the temperatures certainly don’t feel much like fall, the leaves are beginning to turn, ever so slowly, and  when a slight breeze blows, the golden leaves  come drifting down- a very welcome sight after a long, hot summer. .

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Blue Infusion Chair Blues

Got my sixth chemo treatment today while I was in the blue chair in the  treatment room all hooked up to pumps and tubes. I'm now  hooked up to the portable pump  with the 5-FU until Friday.  White blood cell count was up just enough to go ahead with treatment after the three Neupogen shots last week but was still pretty low, so  I'm scheduled to get four shots next week.  Yuck!

Our daughter is coming in from Australia for a two week visit on Monday. I was able to plead with the scheduling nurses and get all the shots scheduled for first thing in the morning so  we don't have   the four days  broken up by mid-day runs to the clinic. Yay!!

Not feeling all that great tonight, having a little nausea for the first time, along with the fatigue and general  feeling of malaise.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better and I can go back to feeding hummingbirds, playing with the dogs and enjoying  Fred and Flo, the  pink plastic flamingos with panache. I may change Fred's name to Floyd, what do you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pink Plastic Panache

We have flamingos in the front yard!  Gaudy, colorful, bright pink plastic flamingos. Maybe not a flamboyance of  flamingos,  since there are only  two, but I’m thinking of adding more.  I read of a  Christmas display that featured  eight  pink flamingos pulling Santa’s sleigh. I rather like that idea. Mr. G  went along with  these two, but didn't seem too thrilled about my idea for adding  to the flock.  I thought I heard him mumble something under his breath about my becoming an eccentric old biddy or words to that effect.  Honestly, the man has no sense of adventure!

 I know there are those who think pink plastic flamingos break the rules of decorum and good taste in garden decor, but  some rules just cry out to be broken. By having only two   pink plastic flamingos guarding two potted palms, I have also broken another rule, one of the cardinal rules of  good garden design- the rule of odd numbers. According to the garden guides,  one should plant things in groups of three, five, seven, etc. rather than in groups of two or four or six and so on because odd numbered groupings give a more naturalistic appearance. But let’s face it, there really isn’t a way to make   a gaudy pink plastic bird on wire legs look naturalistic in an Alabama garden, or any garden for that matter.  Since I am rather fond of symmetry, there are only two- one on each  side at the top of the front steps leading  from the parking area to the  front landing. The flamingos have a certain panache, pink plastic panache, if you will.  You can see only one in this photo,  this is Flo Flamingo. There is an identical display on the other side of the steps, with Fred flamingo guarding the potted palm. I’m not sure you can have identical displays with a male flamingo in one and a female flamingo in the other , but  in a whimsical world anything is possible.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Yoga, Doga, Do

Monday  night is yoga night, and I really look forward to our weekly class.  Many, if not most, of the class  participants have had or are having some sort of medical or health issue.  Some  have had   joint replacement or other surgery, several are  cancer survivors who have had or, in my case, are currently having, chemotherapy, and quite a few of us are in our golden years or beyond.   It's doubtful that any of us will be doing headstands,  complex lotus poses  or one-legged cranes, but Jilda, our wonderful instructor, encourages us to do what we can. And in fact, we do  very well with lunges  and planks and as  mountains, chairs, warriors and trees,  although I  will admit that my tree  tends to sway in the wind quite a bit, and since I do chair yoga,  have steered clear of planks. I do  enjoy the class and feel both energized and calm afterwards.

Agatha and Victoria are always overexcited when we get home, particularly when we come in, as we did tonight, with  aromatic food from the neighborhood Mexican Grill.  Agatha was  leaping about begging for  some of my spinach cheese enchilada while  Victoria was more low key, sitting under the table and whining as though she hadn't been fed in ages, when in fact, she had eaten  shortly before we left for class and could, given her current pudginess, stand to miss a meal or two.

Tonight, I decided to  try a new technique on Agatha.  I told her, in my calmest, most soothing yoga voice to  "just breathe  and let your muscles soften and relax.  Let go of your tension and  with each breath feel yourself becoming calmer." Wonder of wonder, she was so  surprised that  she sat down, perked up her ears, cocked her head and looked at me as though I'd lost my marbles. But she was no longer    begging noisily for food. I told Mr. G that maybe we were onto something and should start    a yoga class for dogs. Then I discovered that this isn't a new idea at all- there actually is such a thing as dog yoga- or doga!   There are books about doga and doga calendars like these that I found on
Agatha and Victoria won't be going to yoga class with me, but who knows, one day  there may be a doga class offered at the community center and if there is,  I just might sign them up! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Confessions of an Unrepentant, Semi-reformed Pack Rat

Remember the messy desk pic from a  few of days ago? In case you don't remember, here it is again:
 Well, today I decided to tackle it.  It was almost like going on an archaeological dig, carefully peeling away  layers of time to reveal the past. There were grocery store coupons that had expired six years ago; store receipts from who knows when because the print had faded so badly; old clippings from newspapers and magazines and more.  Most of the clippings were a puzzlement. I have no idea why  I clipped them. At any rate, I filled a  trash can with stuff.  I am sure that once it has all made its way to the dump I'll remember  why  I was saving some of those receipts and clippings and want them back, but. . .
I finished cleaning up the desk by late afternoon.  Here it is in all its clean, boring, uncluttered glory. It will look like this maybe for a day or two, then it will, in all probability, revert back to its normal disorderly state.
My next challenge was the table - I forgot to take a "before" pic, but trust me- it was piled high.  Plus it  has some trays  holding files.  My first  thought after going through some of  the files, folders and piles of things on the table is that at  some point I must have adopted the belief that if I dared ever to throw anything away, no matter how insignificant, a great monster would swoop down from the sky, transport me to the county dump and force me to  rummage through   trash for eternity.

My second thought is that I am a pack rat, or a hoarder in training.  But my third thought is  that being a pack rat has an upside. I mean, had I not saved  the program, how would I know that at 8:30 PM on Thursday evening, September 30, 1965, I had attended  the  ballets, "Coppelia" and "Carmen"  performed at the Philadelphia Academy of Music by the Royal Danish Ballet? That  actually brought back  memories of standing in a long line   outside the Academy on my lunch break.  and  being late getting back to work. I attended the ballet alone and can remember how entranced I was by the music, the costumes and the beauty and sensuality of the dancers, particularly of Erik Bruhn  and Kirsten Simone as Don Jose and Carmen. I don't think I'll throw away the program just yet.

The table is almost  cleaned off now, and a lot of papers have been either filed in a cabinet or tossed in the trash. There are still plenty of  areas that need to be sorted out and straightened- including the wall hung file sorter which has become another catch-all, as you can see.

I may get   everything in apple pie order, sooner or later or I may not. Maybe someone  will  buy me  the book, The Secret Handbook for Perpetually Paralyzed Procrastinating Pack Rats Anonymous by Patricia NudelmanThen  I could spend my time reading  about how to get   organized without actually getting organized. I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about  messy desks or untidy  rooms.  There are birds, squirrels and chipmunks to watch as they  go about their business in the  yard, dogs to play with, people to talk to, points to ponder, Memory Lanes to travel down, and any number of other interesting things to do instead, so I 'll hold off on  sending  my membership dues to Pack Rats  Anonymous for a while and hope we can continue to survive and thrive in a state of semi-chaos.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Market, To Market

We went to  market this morning but didn't buy a fat pig- didn't even see one, but we did see a lot of  lovely fresh veggies, fruit, eggs, herbs, breads, jams, jellies, pickles and preserves.  And dogs-  there were quite a few families who   had brought their  dogs to the market.  Small dogs, medium size dogs,  and one enormous dog that was about the size of a  small pony. The dogs were all well behaved, although it was  obvious that several of them would  rather have been off sniffing the other dogs rather than being led around on a leash.

Since I've been on chemo and trying to stay away from crowds because of my  now compromised immune system,  I have really missed our Saturday morning trips to  buy fresh veggies, eggs, herbs, etc. at Pepper Place Market in Birmingham. Once upon a time, when I was making and selling soap we had a booth there, and while I don't miss  getting up   in the wee hours of every Saturday morning to drive to  the market before dawn, set up, then stand out in the heat of summer or the chilly mornings of early spring and fall, or the rains, I do miss  the people and the atmosphere.

We decided if we could get there early, maybe  we could avoid the crowds.  There  were certainly more people who got there early than I had anticipated, but  it wasn't so crowded  that we were rubbing elbows with people, so it worked out pretty well.  We    enjoyed   wandering, visiting with some of the folks we knew from our market days,  and picking out some lovely fresh veggies.   Here are some of the sights from this morning's market.  Click on the pics to enlarge them.

The first booth we visited was  the Red Rubin Nursery booth   for some  herbs.  Bryan was in the booth next to us when we sold  soap at the market and I still  like to get  my herb plants from him. Today we bought some Italian parsley and  two pots of basil. Next we just wandered the market, enjoying  all the wonderful colors of the  fruits and veggies, stopping   to  touch smell, and buy  some, too.

There were purple pole beans and fuzzy peaches.

There was red and green okra in one booth and colorful grasses and flowers in another.

There were muscadines and scuppernongs, tomatoes, more peaches,  some pears and   green pole beans

There were  farm fresh eggs  in many hues,  jams, jellies and preserves, and and some lovely slender little haricots vert.

There were shiitake mushrooms growing on logs and resting in baskets.

On our way back to the car we  walked through the lush area outside Charlie Thigpen's Garden Gallery, enjoying the  lush, colorful plants   displayed.

We're  now looking forward to enjoying some delicious meals with the veggies and herbs we bought.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Islands of Order, Seas of Chaos, Messy Desks

 Most people who know me casually think I'm a well-organized person.   If they only knew!  In all honesty, I am organized in some areas.  My herbs and spices are arranged in alphabetical order. Every   cent I spend, owe or receive is entered into a  personal money management software program. The clothes in my closet are grouped  by color. The towels in the linen closet are arranged in neat stacks according to  their size and color. The books  on the bookshelves are arranged by category (more or less). The problem is,  these areas are  little islands of order in a sea of chaos. Open a cabinet  door in the kitchen and with the exception of the neat little  boxes containing the  herbs and spices, you are liable to be buried in an avalanche of various  bags and boxes of  foodstuffs that have been stuffed in wherever they would fit. Laundry  baskets full of  clothes that need to be ironed or folded  are permanent fixtures. And we don't even want to go  into the    files of documents and  photographs  on  the computer containing  heaven only knows what.  I keep intending to tackle some of these problem areas, but am overwhelmed  by the enormity of the task and give up without accomplishing much.

Which brings us to my messy desk.  Or rather Einstein's desk, as shown in this photograph taken  by Life Magazine photographer Ralph Morse the day Einstein died. The photo and several more previously unpublished photos are featured in this Time article. Einstein is  quoted as  asking, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Einstein wasn't the only one with a messy desk; as it turns out, a lot of creative people also   kept or keep   messy desks.  In fact,  several researchers at the  University of Minnesota, in  an abstract entitled Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity,  determined that “order and disorder are prevalent in both nature and culture, which suggests that each environment confers advantages for different outcomes.”

So I will leave you with a picture of my desk. I will no longer worry about it, because with this level or disorder, I must be one of the most creative people in existence! And believe it or not I know exactly where and what is buried in that chaos.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Sense of Accomplishment

Today has been one of those days that began with high hopes of getting  several things on my to-do list done.  I  got two of them done, and it exhausted me. I managed to get three loads of laundry  washed and dried and one load folded and put away.  The other two loads   still sit in the baskets reproaching me.

 The job that  took the most time was   our poor little water feature.  The water feature consists of a  big plastic  flower pot  with a fountain pump that sits atop an inverted clay pot. There are a couple of large rocks and a fake frog to anchor the fountain pump. Here's a pic of it  taken in May when it was all clean and spiffy.

Before I got my port and began chemotherapy in late  May I   kept it cleaned out regularly- or at least I cleaned it when it wasn't serving as a frog nursery.  However, thanks to the fatigue that  hits me frequently and the   miserable heat and humidity we've been having  the garden and everything on the deck  have suffered  neglect.  The water feature has been getting nastier and nastier as algae and  who knows what   have formed a thick, slimy black coating on the  container, the  fountain parts, the rocks.  Today I decided it was time to declare war on the yucky black stuff. Mr. G had a meeting, so  I got him to  dump all the water out and   unhook the pump before he left.  I  put on my   long rubber  gloves and began to blast away at  the  container with a jet from the garden hose. Nothing.  I  didn't want to use any  chemicals  to kill the algae because of the frogs visiting it regularly, so  I  began to scrub with  the scrubby side of a sponge. Nothing. Finally I  went in search of a brush of some sort.  The best I could come up with was a little nail brush.  By golly it worked, but it was taking absolutely forever and I kept running out of steam in the heat, so would take frequent breaks, then move  everything  to a shady spot and  continue working. This has become my primary mode of operating lately- work a while, rest a while, repeat.  It takes longer to get anything done, but it does get done, eventually.  I finally got  the container and the rocks scrubbed clean and picked up the pump to remove the fountain.  I was immediately covered in ants! While I had been scrubbing away the ants had been moving into the filter on the pump. There must have been lebenty kazillion of  those nasty little things. I was finally able to  get the pump taken apart, get rid of the ants, clean up the fountain parts and  refill the  water feature just before the rains moved in  this evening. The fountain is  now happily gurgling away on the deck, looking once more   clean and spiffy.  I feel a sense of accomplishment.
The fountain creates so much foam it looks as though the froggie is  having a bubble bath.  Notice the Terro ant bait thingy  at the side of the water feature. 

I wish  I felt the same sense of accomplishment   about the dinner I cooked tonight.  In an effort at variety I decided to try a recipe from an old cookbook for pineapple  burgers with a spicy sauce, served with  buttered noodles and  frenched green beans. Mr. G. was not impressed.  I told him it was a recipe from the  1960s.  He said it should have stayed back in the  sixties. Oh, well, you can't win them all. I have discovered a  great way to  french cut green beans, though- in the food processor! Works like a charm.  You can see how it works on the Clever Carrot Blog.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Queen of the Night

Last night we were treated to a special show.  Five buds on the night blooming cereus, also  known as Queen of the Night, opened.  For the first few years that it bloomed there were usually only one or two blooms  opening at a time, but as it has matured we have been treated to a profusion of blooms all at once.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this plant, it’s a member of the cactus family, and although it is often called a night blooming cereus, it is not in the Cereus genus but is actually an epiphyte, Epiphyllum oxypetalum.  While  Cereus are tall cacti that grow in the ground, Epiphyllum are flat stemmed, somewhat sprawling epiphytes that live in trees. It is, for most of its life, a rather plain and somewhat ugly plant. But when you notice a tiny bud forming on one of its flat  branches,  you know the ugly duckling is about to become a beautiful swan and  you’re in for  quite  a show. Here’s a tiny bud  forming.
When the buds are fully formed  and ready to bloom, they begin to turn upward on their stems. Once the sun goes down and dusk descends, the show begins and lasts well into the night. The pink sepals  begin to raise up  like fingers,  bending back as the creamy white petals unfurl, revealing the  flower’s delicate anthers and stigma.  As the sepals and petals  unfurl,  the flower emits a wonderful heady fragrance. As the sun comes up, the  blooms close, and by morning, the once beautiful flowers hang,  spent and exhausted, on limp peduncles. Here are some pics I’ve taken of the sequence of events, both from  last night’s performance and some earlier ones. The last pic is  of the little frog who was perched on the garden hose  last night providing background music for the show.    

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Odd Shoes and Serenades

Today I went  in for  shot number two of three in this week’s Neupogen series.  Tomorrow is the third shot, then six days with no shots, no treatments, before going in for the sixth chemo session next Wednesday. I have come to look forward to those days when we don’t have to plan our activities around trips to the doctor’s office or infusion center or adjust to the limitations of wearing a portable  infusion pump.

We were almost late for the appointment today, thanks to a poor little hummingbird who couldn’t seem to   figure out how to get out from under the gazebo cover.  For about half an hour he or she fluttered about in a frenzy,  its little wings beating like mad as it kept opening and closing its beak. It would fly all around close to the roof of the gazebo, hitting the cloth top but never swooping low enough to  go through  one of the side openings in the  netting.  We tried to gently coax him to fly lower   with mops and brooms, to no avail, and there were no other hummers around to  help guide him out.  I was afraid he would exhaust himself, drop down to the floor and be pounced upon by  one of the neighborhood cats. We finally decided another hummingbird was bound to show up sooner or later, so we hurriedly gathered up what we needed and headed for the car.  The traffic, which was unusually heavy for the time of day, was slowed down even more by a  heavy rain that had begun to fall. 

We arrived just a minute before my appointment time instead of the fifteen minutes early  that the clinic  prefers. After signing in, I sat down  waiting to be called, looked  down at my feet and realized I was wearing one brown sandal and one black clog and that my socks were on inside out. This is my  usual footwear at home, but I  change before going out in public.  Or at least, I do most of the time. I have a sore  big toe on my  right foot; wearing socks inside out keeps the  seam from hitting the sore spot.  The sandal  keeps pressure off the toe.  But when I wear  both sandals, they throw my bum hip out of kilter.  The  Slogger  clogs  are just the right height  to  keep the hip  aligned so that it doesn’t hurt and   those are the shoes I normally wear when   my toe isn’t sore and swollen. Before leaving the house I  usually make sure that I’m wearing socks that don’t show whether they’re inside out or not, and I swap the sandal for the other  Slogger shoe.  The hummingbird adventure   made me forget- or perhaps it was chemo brain striking again! Maybe I  can start a new fashion trend where  comfort  trumps  style.

When we arrived home, we were happy to see that the hummingbird had found its way out and that  other hummingbirds were buzzing around the gazebo waiting their turn at the feeder.  It’s dark now,  the rain  has stopped, although we  occasionally hear thunder off in the distance. The hummingbirds have gone to roost and the frogs have moved onto the deck near the water garden, filling the air with sounds of their romantic serenades. I wonder if we’ll see  more frog spawn in the  water garden tomorrow.
Spawn from  one of  Froggie's  earlier romantic evenings.
One of our serenading frogs

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gluttons in the Garden

In between showers this morning (Yes, we have been getting some wonderful, cooling rain!) I stepped out on the deck to refill the hummingbird feeder.  The first thing I saw was a pile of  green pellets  littering the deck.
 If you grow tomatoes you are probably familiar with the sight, but for those of you who aren’t’ familiar, those pellets are frass, or the excrement of the tomato or tobacco hornworm.  This particular frass belongs to a  tobacco hornworm,  the same one, or the relative of  the one, that dashed my hopes of a decent tomato crop this year.

 I planted the  heirloom Opalka tomato seeds in  the Earthboxes on the deck with such high hopes, and  in June they definitely showed promise, as you can see here.
 Then, one morning I  looked out horrified.  My once bountiful, leafy, fruit laden  tomato plants  had been defoliated!  The scientific name for this particular hornworm is Manduca sexta. Manduca comes from the Latin word for glutton, a very apt description for this voracious eater!  There, at the base of the plants were the telltale pellets.  Hornworms are notoriously hard to  see because they are masters of disguise and manage to blend right in with the leaves and stalks of the tomato plant, but there they were-  chomping away. They have, over the last few years, become the bane of my tomato-growing existence. I pick them off and  dispatch them- I’ll spare you the gory details, but I don’t want to come back as a hornworm for I have done some despicable things to hornworms, maybe even worse than the crimes I have committed against ants.  Here  are some pics of the nasty little green devils at work. 

The damage  was almost complete by early August.  We managed to harvest a few tomatoes, but not many. Defeated once more, I left the plants there on the deck  for the remaining hornworms to finish off.  And finish them off they have- as evidenced by the  last remaining tomato in the last frame, and the fact that the pellets are much larger than they were  earlier in the summer. But I cannot find the hornworms this time. I have a feeling that they may be in the soil pupating. That  process is magical, and  a year or so ago we were able to witness the metamorphosis of a hornworm  into a  sphinx moth when I  inadvertently   dug up a pupa  while replanting the Earthboxes.  Here are some pics of what happened.The first pic is a close-up of the hornworm in  the larval stage.  See the horn on its  tail end? 

 This is the pupa  I dug up. I put it in a shallow  dish of  soil to finish the metamorphosis and hoped that it wouldn't dry out and die before making the transition.
Finally, we saw that the pupa case was beginning to split
Finally a moth struggled out,  shook off its wings and flew away to lay eggs and begin the cycle all over again.
The  hornworms that ate this year's tomato crop are probably the great grandchildren of  this one. And so it goes. . .
If you'd like to see  some much better pics and learn more about hornworms, here's a  really  nice and informative site from the University of Florida: Hornworms