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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Weeding Saga Continues

The weeding continues.  I've been working on the square foot veggie beds for the last two days.  I got one and a half  done yesterday and  one and a half  done today, plus a few of the pathways between the beds. That leaves the asparagus bed and the blueberry bushes  that are being overtaken by weeds.  I'm getting there, slowly but surely. I have also discovered that every ant in Jefferson County, and maybe even  Walker County, just up the road, has taken up residence in my veggie beds and those nasty little  things bite. I did some unspeakable things to them today,  dousing them with boiling water.  I always  feel guilty about doing that, but   we just cannot coexist peacefully I'm afraid.

Now if only I could believe that  Mother Nature  isn't planning some nasty weather surprise, I  could begin planting. But I just don't trust the  fickle lady and fear that she had been sending us these  days  with temperatures in the 80s just to lull us into thinking it's safe to plant. And as soon as we do plant, she'll  zap us with a late frost. I hope I'm wrong, for the sake of all those folks I know who HAVE  gone ahead and planted. 

I'm hoping to get   the weeding finished in the veggie area tomorrow before the rains come. That is, if I can actually move tomorrow-  every joint and muscle in my  body is voicing discontent in light of my recent activities. Doe this mean I'm getting old, or is it just that  I was too sedentary over the winter?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Gardening as a Sleep Aid

I made a discovery this week: playing in the dirt  is a very effective sleeping aid. For the past two nights I have fallen asleep between eight thirty and nine PM.  Hence the lack of blog posts. I worked outside weeding again this morning, but  maybe my body  has gotten used to the new exercises involved in gardening  by now and won't fall out from exhaustion at sundown from now on.

The gardening/weeding is coming along slowly but surely, and Mr. G has been  digging out some althea bushes that had gotten out of hand.  I manged to free  some daylilies from the clutches of weeds and  ripped out some Japanese honeysuckle that was   choking everything in its path. There's still lots to do, and  we haven't even begun on the veggie beds yet. Rain is predicted for tomorrow, so maybe  I'll get some of the much needed inside housework done, but I do hate to be inside when the weather is so lovely. Here are some pics of  our recent handiwork in the yard:
One of the althea  bushes  Mr. G dug out.  They are  beautiful flowering shrubs, but had  dropped seeds everywhere and were becoming a nuisance. We left a couple and will have to be more vigilant about   keeping the seedlings from becoming established.
 Hidden in this profusion of Bouncing Bet, dead nettle and henbit, were some daylilies that had  strayed from their parents somehow. They have now been freed.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Playing in the Dirt

I got to play in the dirt today!  Since  my oncologist warned me to  stay out of the sun and make sure to wear gloves when gardening to avoid picking up any pathogens,  I donned  my long sleeved, turtleneck shirt, my  wide brimmed hat, and  gardening gloves and went  out to battle  the weeds that took over our little garden patch this winter. It was a  lovely day, albeit a little breezy,  and not too hot since  the clouds kept the sun hidden  off and on  all morning.

Mr. G  trimmed some dead wood from the trees and shrubs,  whacked weeds with the weed whacker and mowed the back yard while I tackled the weeds in the   herb and flower bed.  I managed to reclaim   a portion of the bed and rescue the  echinacea, monarda, calendula, achillea, rosebush and some other odds and ends from the clutches of the the vines and weeds that were trying to choke the life out of them. This is how it looked  when I began:

And this is how much I got done before running out of steam:

While  he was whacking weeds  Mr. G called me over to see something, and this is what  we found:  a clump of redleaf lettuce growing  just outside the  compost bin:
We dug it up and  put it in a pot.  I hope it survives- and we can make some delicious salads with it.  I also hope it inspires the slow-growing little lettuce seedlings to put on a growth spurt.
There is still a lot of weeding that needs to be done so we're hoping the rain holds off long enough to make some more headway. I might even   get around to  cleaning up the veggie beds to get them ready for the eggplants, squash, tomatoes and  bush beans I  plan to set out after  the last frost date.   Spring is definitely in the air, and it's most welcome to stay around a while.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pollen and Pot Pies

Spring is getting  much, much closer.  The trees are leafing out,  and the world is slowly getting covered in pollen.
Around here, that means pine pollen, a  yellow dust that covers cars, sidewalks, roads, and if you leave your windows open, all your furniture. Because it's so visible, people blame pine pollen for their spring  allergies, runny noses and watery eyes, but pine pollen is not the culprit. Ragweed, and other weeds and grasses as well as trees like oak, birch and hickories, pecans and such are the real culprits with their much smaller pollen grains that can work their  way into your respiratory system.

Since I'm in my post-chemo reaction stage with  hot red skin on my face, general fatigue and a low  immunity I didn't venture outside, although it would have been a lovely day for weeding and  getting the garden ready for planting. My most strenuous activities today were paying bills and cooking supper. I decided to   make a chicken pot pie from what was left of the  chicken I'd roasted on Tuesday but couldn't find my recipe.  I googled chicken pot pie and was surprised to find  one of my blog posts on the first page. The recipe called for  two sheets of packaged frozen puff pastry.  Of course, I had only one sheet in the freezer, so decided to make my own using my trusted Julia Child  recipe for pรขte brisรฉe fine. I made the pastry, lined a casserole dish, covered the pastry with aluminum  foil and pre-baked it.  While it was baking I chopped carrots and onions, sliced some mushrooms, defrosted some frozen peas and shredded the chicken.  Then they all got put in a skillet with some butter, flour, thyme, pepper, parsley and chicken broth. and  were left to bubble away for a bit.
When the  pastry-lined casserole came our of the oven, I removed the  foil, let the  crust cool a little, then spooned in the filling. I covered the top with   latticework using   strips cut from the second piece of pastry,  sprinkled some  chopped parsley on top
and popped it in the oven for about forty five minutes until the crust was golden and the filling was all bubbly. It came out  looking fairly decent and tasted good, too.
All in all it was a pretty nice day, with a delicious supper. I hope your day was as enjoyable.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Chemo Treatment Day with Mixed Emotions

Today was a mixed emotions kind of day. My visit with the oncologist went well; I've gained another  pound since the last chemo treatment.  Who knows, maybe at the rate I'm going  one day I'll actually hit the 100 pound mark ๐Ÿ˜„  We went over the scan results and the onc  says based on the good results from this one and the previous scan she's comfortable with changing my scan schedule to every four months  instead of every three months.  She also confirmed that we'll continue on the current regimen of  Camptosar and Erbitux as a maintenance therapy for as long as I can tolerate them well and they continue to be effective.

When I went to the lab to get  my vitals taken and have blood withdrawn for tests, I was beginning to get guilt pangs for feeling pretty good since everyone else  who came in while I was there when asked if they had any pain, replied "yes" and most rated the pain at  around  7 or 8 on the pain scale. I am   grateful that  my pain is infrequent and minimal, I hope those in pain  were able to get some relief at today's session.

Last year I met another patient in the  chemo treatment room.  We  usually  had chairs next to each other and became chair mates, in a sense. He was an upbeat  guy,  with a wonderful sense of humor. He began telling his wife that I was his chemo room girlfriend. She seemed to take it in good humor and reminded him I may not have wanted him as a boyfriend. If I had agreed to be his girlfriend, I might have been accused of cradle snatching since he was a decade  younger ๐Ÿ˜€.    He was  receiving chemo for inoperable pancreatic cancer, and realized the odds for long time survival  were not all that great.  He was still able to do things around the house and yard, and go fishing, which he enjoyed.  Over time, though, the cancer and the chemo took its toll, and he wasn't able to do  much at all except sit around.  A couple of months ago he told me he'd been hanging on for the sake of his family, but that he was tired and had decided to stop the treatment. Shortly after that I had my new port put in and that  messed up my treatment schedule so he and I were no longer  getting treatment on the same day and  didn't see each other.  I'd often wondered if he had followed through on his decision to stop treatment, but  knew better than to ask the nurses or doctor because of patient confidentiality rules under HIPPA. I'd tried googling his name but  nothing much turned up. Today, though, I decided to  google his name with the added  word "obituary". He had died early last month. I hope his family are doing OK, and understand why he decided to end treatment. I'm guessing that he probably  had hospice care near the end of his life- I hope he went peacefully and painlessly.

Getting to know  other  patients in treatment is both rewarding and  upsetting.  We are happy to learn that someone has left treatment because it has done its job and their cancer  has been effectively eradicated or sent into what  we hope is a long term remission.  We are saddened when others, like my friend, leave treatment because it's no longer working, their other options have been exhausted and they are  just  bone-tired and drained, physically and emotionally. But  we all learn from each other's experiences, and I am very grateful to all of them, and grateful too  for the medical staff who care for us all in a  caring manner, knowing that some of us will make it and some won't.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We Skipped Spring!

Yikes!  Mother Nature is up to her tricks again,  and  has decided we should skip spring for awhile. The temperature hit 89ยบF today.  I finally broke down and turned on the air conditioner when the inside temperature hit 84. I  don't do heat well.  Needless to say, I didn't get as much done outside as I'd hoped, either.

I did supervise Mr. G as he trimmed and thinned out some some shrubs in the back yard. He was  trimming the butterfly bush when he realized all the branches were  dead- they just broke off.  Like the poor rhododendron in the front yard,  the butterfly bush  is  another victim of last summer's drought and  the accompanying water restrictions we were under.

I wonder if we'll have the same situation this summer.  It makes me wonder whether it's wise to  plant a garden. But since I've already started seeds,  I may as well plant and hope for the best. To that end I did manage to get some more seedlings  potted up into individual containers as they wait for  time to be planted out permanently in the garden or in earth boxes.
The lettuce is slowly  beginning to look like lettuce, or  miniature lettuce- this time last year I was already harvesting some leaves, so I'm hoping it goes into a growth spurt before hot weather sets in permanently.
Tomorrow is chemo treatment day so I won't be doing any gardening, or much else, actually,   for the next day or so.  I've been on the irinotecan/cetuximab regimen for almost a year now; this will be my  nineteenth  treatment, and despite the  dry, flaky, itchy skin, the cracks that develop on my fingertips and feet, the fingernails  that tear, the   swollen  toenail beds and ingrown toenails, I've actually tolerated  it  pretty well so far. I'm fortunate not  to have suffered some of the really nasty, pustular  skin eruptions that  many  patients get.  I had the  acne like rash  at the beginning of treatment, but   that subsided after a few treatments, thank goodness.  At least I now have  very long, luxurious eyelashes-they are so long that I have to use eyelash curlers to keep them from  brushing against my glasses. And the hair on my head- that's strange.   It has grown in  all straight and coarse in the front and wavy in the back.  I have no idea   what do do with wavy hair- it seems to have a mind of its own and does what it pleases regardless of what I want it to do.  Sort of like Mother Nature  and  Mr. G ๐Ÿ˜‰

Monday, March 20, 2017

Blue Skies and Blossoms

Today was an absolutely beautiful day!  After getting some laundry and housework done I went outside to enjoy the sunshine and to see how everything was doing.

Sadly, the  white azaleas didn't fare too well in the  freezing temperatures we had.  What were once lovely white blossoms now hang limp and brown  and much of the new growth was  also damaged and is now wilted.

 But all is not lost-  the blooms that were hidden at the bottom of the  bushes and closer to the protection of the wall survived without  damage and  there are plenty of new buds that somehow managed to escape the freeze.
Some of the dogwood blossoms are fully open now and the branches are filled with buds and blossoms in various stages, from closed up tight to nearly fully open. A few more days  like today and the tree should be in all its glory, filled with  a bounty of  delicate white blossoms glistening against a  clear blue sky.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sam the Second Is In the House

Our daughter-in-law, Sharil, celebrated her  birthday today. She and granddaughter Abby  celebrated another holiday today, albeit a little late: Chinese New Year, which began on  January 28 this year and  is designated  the Year of the Rooster.  Abby decided that since last year was the Year of the Monkey, she should  have a monkey and I should have a Rooster.  So they went to  the Build A Bear Workshop and  built a monkey for Abby and a rooster for me.  She delivered   him this afternoon- and a lovely rooster he is, too. He even brought his  birth certificate with him, showing that his name is Sam. He crows just like  the old Sam, although I'm not sure how Sam the First would have  liked    having a competitor, especially one more colorful than he was! As you can see,  Sam II is  quite a handsome fellow, although he lacks the long spurs that Sam I  sported, so he would be wise  not to antagonize any real roosters since he's at a definite disadvantage in the self-defense department.
Abby also gave me a  picture of herself with the Easter Bunny. Maybe it's just me, but that bunny looks as though it ate a few too many Easter eggs. I haven't figured out what the eyes remind me of- but that chubby rabbit has some seriously long eyelashes!  None of that seems to be bothering Abby, though, and she looks  quite pleased to be sitting on the critter's lap.
 Tomorrow is the first day of spring and our temperatures are predicted to be in the high 70s tomorrow and 80 on Tuesday, which makes me wonder if  Mother Nature  is planning to skip spring and go directly to summer.  I certainly hope not! But I do plan to get outside and transplant  some of my seedlings into  bigger pots and window boxes.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Blossoms, Butterflies and Baked Goods

Today was another day that began  cloudy and gray but the sun emerged victorious and broke through the clouds once more.

There is a peach tree growing in the woods behind the house, just over the fence.  It had begun blooming last week and I wondered how the  blossoms had fared in the   freezing temperatures we had earlier this week. They  seemed to have come through   unscathed. The peaches are this tree produces are very small and quite hard.  By the time they get soft enough to pick and eat they  have usually been pecked at by birds and invaded by ants, so the blossoms are all we  really get to enjoy, but they are a lovely sight.

When I went out with my camera to take a picture of the blossoms I was  surprised to see an eastern tiger swallowtail  flitting about. I followed me back to the deck and  swooped about the roses on the arbor before settling down on the mulch just off the deck.  It stayed still for quite a while as though anxious for me to  take its picture. I was only too happy to oblige.
With blossoms and butterflies, I decided  we needed another "B"  to round out the day's activities so I decided to bake something.  These chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are quite delicious.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Luck of the Irish

St Patrick's Day today.  It would have been my dad's 109th birthday. His name, oddly enough ๐Ÿ˜‰, was Patrick. He was born to Irish Catholic parents in Philadelphia.  I know his mother emigrated to the States when she was about  20.  I know little about her, other than  that I was named for her, and that she is said to have put an Irish hex on my mother. I know even less about my paternal grandfather. Despite  my father being one of  seven children, I had only five cousins. One uncle died as a child, one became a priest, another had no children,  and one had one son and one daughter. One of my aunts had two daughters and the other had one daughter.  Only one cousin, the only  male in the group, was close to my age, and we   didn't get along well at all.  The rest were much older.  My dad died at the age of  fifty-four when I was sixteen. The family wrote me off when I left the Catholic church a year or two  later and there has been no contact with them for over  fifty years. Anyway, I feel Irish enough that I don't need to prove it, so I don't wear green and   don't  cook Irish food.  In fact, we had fish curry tonight- definitely NOT Irish fare! I do admit to listening to an old LP of an Irish tenor singing Danny Boy every once in a while, though.

It was much warmer today, but   cloudy and dull until late in the afternoon, when the sun as it set, cast a lovely golden glow on the trees.
The late afternoon sky was a brilliant blue, as a  plane streaked by  leaving a wispy white vapor trail. In the western sky, contrails resembling cirrus clouds had formed a cross.

I am happy to report that the rosebuds survived the two nights of temperatures that dropped into the  20s.  The blossoms, as they open,  are a little damaged around the edges but not enough to mar their beauty.   They must have had the luck of the Irish protecting them from the frigid weather. ☘☘☘

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Look Ma- No Scanxiety

Yesterday was CT scan day. The scan was scheduled for 8:30 AM but since I have to drink the contrast material before the scan I was supposed to be at the Diagnostic Center  at 7:45. Of course, it was another cold, cold day.  The temperature was around 25 degrees when we left home and the sun  was in the process of getting up.  In fact, the moon hadn't yet gone to bed and was hanging like a big silver  balloon in the western sky as we crested the hill  on our way to the back road. We had decided to go the back way  because bridge construction/road widening on our usual route had slowed traffic to a crawl last time we took that route. So off we drove, heading east into the rising sun.  It's lucky we made it safely, since the sun was blindingly bright and   the bare trees on the side of the road did little to block its glare.

But we arrived safely, with a few minutes to spare. While Mr. G went to park the car I headed to the  lab in the oncology clinic so they could access my port. I discovered last time I had a scan in the diagnostic center that they were not able to access the port,  so I had to have the contrast dye injected via an IV in my arm. With my rolling veins and the multiple jabs it takes to  get an IV needle placed I end up with some nasty looking bruises. Once  I had the port accessed I headed  across the hall  to  sign in for the scan. The barium contract material that  they give you to drink at home doesn't agree with me so I  get an  iodinated radiopaque contrast medium once I arrive at the clinic. They brought me   a big bottle of the stuff to drink and told me they would call me back in about thirty minutes. One of the unfortunate possibilities with the contrast medium is that it can have a laxative effect, so I had to make several  quick trips to the  restroom. They finally called me back,  took a blood test to check my kidney function, told me to wait, and brought me yet another  cup of the contrast medium to drink.  I couldn't get all of it down, but  the tech told me I had gotten enough down. Then I was called in to the  lovely machine, positioned on the table,  hooked up to  an IV for the final contrast and slid in and out of the  doughnut hole while a stern male voice  bellowed,  "BREATHE IN" "HOLD YOUR BREATH" and finally, "BREATHE." Then they   began the IV and my mouth was filled with a metallic taste,  I felt  warm all over and  had the sensation of wetting myself as the contrast   solution  made its way through my veins. A  couple more  times of sliding in and out of the  hole and we were finished. I  went back to the lab to have them flush my port and remove the needle and we headed home.
 Once at home, thanks to the previously mentioned laxative effect, which may have been enhanced by my having eaten  lobster and shrimp  on the two previous  days, I spent a  large part of the afternoon in the bathroom, which was a shame since it was one of those lovely, sunshiny days that are so rare lately.

 Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the scan results were posted on my doctor's patient portal site late yesterday evening and I was able to see that everything was stable and there was "No evidence of new or worsening metastatic disease." It is indeed very nice to be spared  the scanxiety that  creeps in while you're waiting to learn the results of scans and tests.

Today was another cold, gray day. I thought such a day called for a nice warming meal, so prepared roasted chicken with  root vegetables. I tried a new method of roasting the chicken, which was a big disappointment and has convinced me to  stick with my old tried and true method in the future. I also must confess that until tonight I had never cooked and eaten a rutabaga. And I probably won't  cook and eat another. All in all, it was a disappointing  meal, but you win some and lose some.

The temperatures are supposed to be warmer tonight- in the 40s instead of the 20s, and  the  daytime temps tomorrow will be  warmer.  I am definitely ready for some spring weather so I can get out and dig in the dirt, move the plants out of the greenhouse and get the garden planted. But not yet. I just don't trust Mother Nature anymore and  wouldn't be  at all surprised if she pulled another of her  sneaky tricks with an April snow or some such  thing. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Fickle Mother Nature

Fickle Mother Nature was at it again today.  Yesterday's lovely blue skies  were replaced by  gray skies that wept off and on  most of the day leaving us all shivering in the cold. And she's not finished yet, by all accounts. We could get temperatures in the twenties for the next few nights.  I hope  the cold weather doesn't  kill off all the lovely rosebuds.

As  cold and unpleasant as the weather was today, Mother Nature  didn't  pull the same nasty trick she pulled in 1993 when the  13th of March saw us buried under snow.  It's rare for the entire state of Alabama to be covered in snow, but all  sixty-seven counties reported snowfall.  Here in the Birmingham area  the official measurement was  thirteen inches but high winds caused  five foot drifts in some areas of the city.   I know some people love snow, but I'm not one of them. It's nice to look at but very hazardous to drive in, especially when it's such a rare occurrence that nobody seems  quite sure how to drive in it, and we invariably lose power as  trees and limbs  fall, taking  power lines down with them.

 It looks as though the Northeast will be hit by a huge blizzard in the next day or so. I hope it doesn't cause  too much damage, that all those who need shelter are able to find it, that everyone  stays warm and safe and that neighbors keep an eye out for each other. And I hope that that spring will soon  arrive and chase winter weather away once and for all this year.

The pic on the left is  one I took yesterday.  The one on the right was taken this morning. The  sky was so gray that the pic looks as though it was taken in black and white rather than color.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Reluctantly Springing Forward

We have survived the first day of Daylight Saving Time! I really don't know why we have to go through this ritual twice a year, and most of the reasons  given to support  DST turn out to be not convincing at all. For instance, it doesn't really save energy  or  electricity usage.   A study published by the United States Department of Energy on the "Impact of Extended Daylight SavingTime on National Energy Consumption" in 2008  noted that, "The total electricity savings of Extended Daylight Saving Time were about 1.3 Tera Watt-hour (TWh). This corresponds to 0.5 percent per each day of Extended Daylight Saving Time, or 0.03 percent of electricity consumption over the year." 

What's worse,  it's probably not good for our health, either.  In fact, a  2012 study published by the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported that “The Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour in March is associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of having a heart attack.” The fact that the same study mentioned that “The opposite is true when falling back in October. This risk decreases by about 10 percent.” is little consolation. There have also been reports of an increase in  traffic accidents on the Monday  following the time change as sleep deprived people climb behind the wheel to drive to work. I'm fortunate in  not having to get up and drive to work  on roads  crowded with  sleep-deprived people, thank goodness.  Those of you who do have to drive to work on Monday morning, please be very careful out there.

One of the suggestions for  coping with the time change is  to go outside in the sunshine in the early morning. Thank goodness that although we had rain overnight the skies cleared this morning  and we had a lovely sunny day.  I  didn't take any pics this morning- we headed out grocery shopping.  Publix had  lobster tails on sale,  so we had  lobster risotto for supper tonight,  with strawberry shortcake for dessert.  The risotto was a little disappointing- sort of bland.  I haven't quite figured out what was missing, but something was.  Maybe  sleep-deprived people shouldn't cook, either!๐Ÿ˜‰  I'm looking forward to being able to buy local sweet, juicy strawberries at the farmers market later- grocery store strawberries and tomatoes may look delicious, but  they leave a lot to be  desired in the taste department. 

 Tomorrow's weather forecast calls for more rain, then nighttime  temperatures  will plunge into the  20s for a couple of days. But  today was  a gift.  Blue skies,  a little nip in the air, and a sunset that while not spectacular, cast a golden glow on the  bare tree limbs making them glow. Here are some of the pics  from  earlier this evening. 

 The  dogwood blossoms are  opening a little more each day:
We were afraid that the redbud tree was completely dead after it suffered some  blows and fallen limbs during a winter storm, and Mr. G was saying  we should probably cut it down, but it  voiced its objection to that idea by  putting out some pink  flowers on its few intact  branches:

 The mystery  pink climbing rose on the arbor is loaded with  pink buds and one   fully open rose, with many more to follow, we hope.

We have an abundance  of cheerful dandelions  in the front yard.  A bee is enjoying  this one:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spring Interrupted

Mother Nature is playing mean tricks on us again. After a bout of lovely spring-like weather in February and the  first week of March, we've been plunged back into  winter with  a cold, dreary, rainy day. There's a possibility of  frost, and possibly some snow flurries, for parts of the state tonight and early tomorrow, which  could be very bad news for all the  trees and plants that have been tricked into  blooming early by the warm  temperatures. 

There isn't much going on, we've been lazy.   Victoria did go to the vet yesterday for her six month  check up and to  get her heartworm meds. She did her usual thing at the vet's-  barking her head off, even though she doesn't bark much at all elsewhere.  I guess  she can  smell all the other  dogs and cats that have been   in the waiting  area, and can't resist commenting in the noisiest way possible. At any rate, we usually get called in  ahead of other   patients- probably  because  they get tired of listening to her carry on. As soon as she gets  in the examining room she's her old quiet self again. I've  often wondered if a similar tactic would work  for  us humans to speed things up in the doctor's office, but I'm hesitant to try  barking for fear I might end up under observation in a mental health facility.

Tomorrow is supposed to be  chilly but rain-free so we  shall probably venture forth to the Publix to stock up on groceries for the week.  Tonight we  set the clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time.  I have a feeling  it might take me awhile to get  my internal clock reset, so I'm going to cut this blog post short and  go to bed earlier tonight in an attempt to lose as little  sleep time as possible. Sweet dreams.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Nesting Season

 For the last few years a wren has managed to get in the greenhouse to build  a nest in one of the hanging baskets. I was hoping  they  would find a better place this year because once I discover the nest I can't, in good conscience, water the plant for fear of destroying the nest. We've lost several very nice geraniums  thanks to the little wrens.  So far, there have been no signs of nest building in the hanging baskets.

We know  that nest building has been going on because  several times a day we see a  wren perched on the  privacy fence around the deck with leaves, pine straw or strands of moss in her mouth. We've tried to get a picture of her but any movement near the door or  window spooks her and she flits away, sometimes under the earth boxes, sometimes she lands and scurries under the barbecue grill.  But we couldn't figure out where she was  building the nest- until Mr. G discovered it yesterday.He refused to tell me where it was, said I'd have to find it myself, I couldn't miss it.

When I went outside this morning to check on the greenhouse I looked all around but saw nothing. But as I went to open the kitchen door, there it was! We keep a couple of brooms just outside the kitchen door  under the eave, in the  corner formed where the house meets the privacy fence.
The brooms are used to sweep the deck.  With the brooms is an old self-wringing twist mop with a thick yarn head. I haven't used it in ages since I got the steam mop, but keep it around for wiping down the siding on the house, etc.
The wren saw the potential in that nice yarn  mophead and  got to work. Here is what I saw when I looked at if from another angle.  I saw that all those  leaves, moss strands and other bits and pieces the wren had been gathering  went into making a nice soft place to lay her eggs. I just hope the mop stays dry in the rain.  It's  pretty safe under the eave but if wind blows rain against the house  all her  hard work may be for naught.

 I do hope it all works out, and that her eggs when she lays them,  will hatch out little babies , and that she can keep them safe. We have to be careful now when we let the dogs out that they don't try to go after her. Now I feel guilty that  I didn't want her in the greenhouse- I do think it would haven better  and safer for  mother and babies inside, out of the rain and away from the dogs. Then again, maybe she is  very smart and the mop nest is a diversion.  She may be hoping that while I'm watching what goes on at the mop, she is watching for her chance to get back in the greenhouse and claim a hanging basket.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Battle Fatigue in the War on Cancer

It's been almost two years since I first received the diagnosis that I had rectal cancer and that it had metastasized to my liver, making it the dreaded stage four. Once upon a time, a stage  four diagnosis of rectal cancer was an imminent death sentence but new  advances in treatment have changed that. Although the long term survival statistics are still not all that good, there are  many people who have survived longer than five years and who enjoy an active lifestyle. Although my cancer is not considered "curable" we plan to "manage" it as though it's a chronic  disease, fight it and keep it too weak  to fight back and spread its tentacles into other organs.

So my body has become a war zone in the war against cancer. I am the head of  my own little kingdom that has been invaded by a formidable enemy and have had to call in some troops from outside to help wage this war. The surgeons,  radiologists, oncologist, and I discuss and plan the strategies; the nurses, medical techs, phlebotomists, pharmacists and  others behind the scenes prepare and administer the weapons.

There have been advances, retreats, skirmishes and all out battles as different chemo combinations have been tried out. I received a surgically implanted port that could be used to infuse the drugs and also the contrast dye for CT scans. I  received eight  chemo treatments using a combination of FOLFOX and Avastin.  Although these drugs  can cause some nasty side effects, I was very fortunate to have escaped the worst of them and  they did seem to  work on shrinking the tumors.  Next I went to 28 radiation treatments while simultaneously hooked up  to a 5-FU chemo pump that delivered chemo 24 hours a day 5 days a week. That shrank the rectal tumor but the liver tumor was growing, and was joined by several tiny spots that were too small to diagnose as  cancerous. Emphasis  shifted to the liver and another chemo combination was tried with limited success. Finally, we began using a targeted therapy of Irinotecan (Camptosar) and Cetuximab (Erbitux) that has been shown to be effective in stage four  colorectal cancer.  Finally,the  liver tumor was small enough to be treated with radio frequency ablation.  The liver surgeon performed the ablation in August.  I came away  from the procedure with  five little incisions and was told he had gone in eight times and had also burned out the small lesions, just to be on the safe side. The procedure left me quite sore; it took a couple of days at home before I was able to stand completely upright!

Meanwhile, a fibrin sheaf had formed around the port's catheter and it had to be removed.  The new port was  implanted  on Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, by a vascular surgeon, who ran the catheter from the port, over my collarbone and directly into my jugular vein. In the process, my lung got nicked resulting in a pneumothorax, or  partially collapsed lung, so a chest tube was inserted and I was admitted to the hospital and told I would probably be there a few days. Determined not to spend Thanksgiving in the hospital, I worked like crazy with my yoga breathing exercises to try to  assist the chest tube in re-inflating  my lung.  It all seemed to work, the tube was removed the next day and I was discharged on Wednesday night at 7PM so we were able to spend Thanksgiving day   with our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter at their house as  planned.

Since then,  I've been back on the cycle of receiving an infusion of the Erbitux and  Camptosar every other Wednesday.  Before those drugs are infused I receive several other drugs, including steroids, antihistamines, anti diarrhea drugs  and a couple more to  prevent  side-effects. Today was one of those Wednesdays and I received the 18th  treatment with this  combination. After three or four hours in the infusion chair, I definitely feel the battle fatigue almost as soon as the nurses unhook me and tell me I'm good to go. My speech is slurred, I'm wobbly on my feet. I hit the bed as soon as we get home and sleep off and on all afternoon, waking up to eat a little, drink fluids and suck on ice chips to prevent dehydration. Other than that, I'm pretty much useless all day and poor Mr. G  acts as my minion. ๐Ÿ˜„ I hope these drugs are continuing to work.  We'll know more after next Wednesday, when a CT scan  is scheduled. Whatever shows up on the scan will determine  whether to continue the current regimen or to develop a new strategy. Cancer is wily and relentless, and may win in the end, but we've kept  the enemy at bay for nearly two years and I have no intention of going down without a fight, battle weariness notwithstanding!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Lazy Rainy Day

Today was election day.   We didn't realize there was an election until we saw something on the  Internet about a special election in our county, so we read up on  it.  Turns out  we were voting on  whether to renew an existing $100 million property tax that pays for programs  in the county's  twelve school districts that  are not adequately funded by state and federal dollars.  The measure passed overwhelmingly, but  voter turnout was abysmally low.  Although there are over 440,000 registered voters in the county, less than 27,000 or about 6% of them  turned out to vote today.

It rained  early this morning, but we were able to get to the polling place and back home while  there was a break in the weather.  Once home, though, it rained steadily almost all day. I can remember, when I was much younger, hearing older people complain about their joints in rainy weather. Now that I'm  an older person myself, I know only too well exactly what they were talking about! It's a good thing I did  the laundry  and finished shampooing the living room rug yesterday because I don't think my aching joints would have agreed to do it today.  I'm not sure they  wouldn't have complained loudly during yoga class last night either, if it had been rainy and damp yesterday. So instead of   doing all the things I'd planned, we  turned on the electric fireplace to ward off the damp and chill, and I charged up my Kindle Fire,  read a few chapters  in one of Sara Paretsky's V I Warshawski novels, then watched an episode of Midsomer Murders. Lest you think I lollygagged all day,  I did do  something constructive:  I cooked a lovely supper of  baked cod topped drizzled with white wine and topped shredded cheese and thin slices of lemon and tomato.  Baked potato and  sauteed asparagus went with it. Later, I made a  cherry topped cheesecake pie, but that's for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is  chemo treatment day so even though the weatherman says we will have a lovely day with  sunny skies most of my day will be spent in a windowless room at the clinic while tethered to an infusion pump. Then I'll come  home and sleep the rest of the day.  I do plan to  soak up as much of that sunshine as possible as we ride to and from the  clinic, and  there's a  nice big window in the bedroom for the sun to stream in.   I am looking forward to seeing the sun!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunday Signs of Spring

It's been one of those lazy Sundays, and believe it or not, I don't have much to say or write about. I could go on a political rant but I'll spare you that and  post some of the pics I took today on my little garden walk-about  as I was looking for signs of spring. I'm happy to report that I found some!

 I noticed while filling the bird feeder today that the  buds on the dogwood tree (Cornus florida) are getting fuller and beginning to open ever so slightly, showing  specks of white, so  it won't be long now before the dogwood is covered with blossoms.   The dogwood is  beautiful all year, but especially so in spring when it's covered with delicate white flowers that seem to shimmer in the sunlight.
At the edge of the front yard, near the street, the spirea is  beginning to  bloom with clusters of lovely white  flowers.
Next to the house, the forsythia seems reluctant to bloom.  There are some flowers scattered along its branches, but they are few and far between. It may be in mourning for  its relative in the neighbor's yard who put on  a  wonderful sunshiny  show every spring.  The poor  thing was mercilessly hacked down by a  road working crew last summer. Even though it  looks to be straggling and struggling, the few blooms on our bush are nice little golden flecks of   color on dreary days.
I was surprised to see a little wild violet bobbing its head  under the forsythia.   Many people   view  wild violets as weeds but I rather like them and they were one of my mother's favorite flowers.
 The white azalea is blooming., but very sparsely so far and the leaves don't look at all healthy, so I'll have to try to find out what the problem is and attempt to bring it back to health.
The variegated vinca ground  cover is also beginning to bloom.  I was afraid Mr G had pulled most of it up when he  was tackling the poison ivy that  had sprung up in the flower bed last year, but there it was- with its periwinkle blue flowers  dotted about among the white-edged green leaves.
                                                    As Shelley wrote:
 "And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Berries, Birds, and Beautiful Days

Yesterday and today have been beautiful days! The nights have been quite cold but  the sun has been shining, warming up the daylight hours.

Yesterday I spent  a delightful hour at the Alys Stephens Center  on the UAB campus attending  a Coffee Concert performance by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. I love the informality of the morning coffee concerts and the fact that I have a wonderful seat in the Dress Circle with hardly any other occupied seats around me. My seat is so close to the orchestra that the bass  players are  only a few feet away. I also have a side view of the conductor and can see his facial expressions as he wields his baton energetically. Yesterday's   concert featured Haydn's Symphony  No. 102 in B-flat major, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and Britten's Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes" which I didn't enjoy quite as much, although the audience  gave the conductor and the orchestra a standing ovation. The fourth and  final interlude was Storm: Presto con fuoco. Presto con fuoco means  very fast with fire- and the  orchestra, under the baton of Carlos Izcaray, did play with fire, and with feeling.

Today I did something more mundane:  I  shampooed half  the living room carpet, with plans to finish the other half tomorrow, then I spent some time in the sunshine  potting up some of the seedlings. Some of them, especially the arugula, may have to be re-seeded- the seedlings were  quite spindly and didn't look at all healthy, but they may surprise me and thrive in spite of theirs puny appearance.

Yesterday  I read an article about cedar waxwings that had died as a result of  gorging themselves on nandina berries.  I' read earlier about how invasive nandina is, so much so that it is causing  problems for native plants, but  this was the first I'd heard about their toxicity  to birds.  We have several nandina bushes in the yard that we transplanted from the woods behind the house, where they are  plentiful.  I  enjoy the  bright red berries and use them in  arrangements at Christmas,  and they are  providing some protection from the weather on the north side of the  greenhouse, but we  certainly don't want to contribute to wiping out flocks of lovely birds, so we'll dig them up or cut them down in a month or so.  Meanwhile, Mr. G went out and cut off all the berries and put them in the trash. If the waxwings do stop by they'll find  slim pickings in our yard this year. We haven't seen  many waxwings this year but last year they  flocked to our big holly tree outside the kitchen window. The tree was absolutely loaded with  lovely big berries, but in no time at all those  little gluttons ate every berry on it, leaving us not a single holly berry.
 There are  no red berries on it this year, but I did notice a few green berries so maybe we'll have some to use in  Christmas arrangements this year. A smaller holly bush in the front yard has tiny flowers now.  I'd always thought it was a male bush since it never produced  berries but now I'm not so sure and it may be   developing berries, too.  But if it is a male maybe it will produce enough pollen to keep the female trees and bushes busy producing fruit.  Bushes loaded with bright red berries are a very welcome sight on dark, dreary, cold winter days.