Friday, December 23, 2016

December 23

Christmas preparations have been going on here at a snail's pace which is unfortunate since Christmas is two days away. But then, what else is new; call it a character defect or just plain procrastination, but I've never really been entirely ready for much of anything in my life.  Apparently I don't know how to function without a mini-crisis.  

 Look it's an undecorated Christmas tree!  In the dining room!

We had a tree from the septic tank renovations at least, a large Black Hills spruce had to be cut down to make room for the mound in November.  Carl plopped the tree in the Quarry to keep it watered until last week when I fished it out before the pond froze solid.  We finally moved it into the customary place by the upstairs staircase and it's three-quarters decorated.  Good enough.  It will do. 

Every year I vow this will be the Christmas I'm going to change my slacking ways but then something always seems to come up.  My hat is off to the Organized People of the world.   

This holiday season I have a legitimate excuse(s) of sorts; I've been wrangling with my health issues and the elders in my care.

I had to take Mom in for a doctor appointment last week; she says she feels fine, but her weight continues to go down.  She's at 94 pounds now.  I told her she can gladly have as much of my weight as she wants, but sadly it doesn't work that way.  Luckily, a friend of ours dropped off an array of garden statuary for Mom to paint.  She's been working on the projects for a few weeks now and almost has the first batch done.

 Mom is still as camera-shy at 96 as ever.  She doesn't realize my cellphone also takes pictures so I sneak photos during my daily visits with her.

 She doesn't want me to cook for her, but I've been bringing Christmas cookies and random assorted meals for her to eat.  She told the doctor she's not hungry but she assures us all she'll keep on eating to make us happy.

The picture below is her painting station setup in her kitchen.  She sits by the east kitchen window for light and has her TV and remote right by her side so she can watch her shows.
A few weeks ago she was painting a park bench for our garden.  For some reason, she decided to add glitter to the design which makes for a shiny park bench and I'm sure some shiny visitors next summer until the glitter wears off. 

 (Joel, our family glitter-phobe, will not be sitting on that park bench any time soon.  David is not fond of glitter either and has often jokingly referred to it as 'the  herpes of the art world.') 

 The glitter is a new interest and all my fault; a few months ago I found her cutting up various shiny candy toffee wrappers with a scissors in an attempt to make her own glitter.  She was having a difficult time making the pieces tiny enough to her liking.  When we took her to Wal-Mart a few months ago, we had her pick out new paint colors and silver and gold glitter, too.  Now that Mom has an abundant supply of glitter at her disposal, everything is sparkly and beautiful.  That's fine, she's having a ball.

On the other hand, Carl's mom is still struggling. 

I took the picture above of my MIL when we were at the hospital waiting for her last wound care appointment for her leg.  She's resigned herself to using a wheelchair because her legs hurt so much.  She has an appointment next Wednesday to see another surgeon.  Her dementia is advancing and we're not sure what the outcome will be yet.  I don't know how we will handle her care; I guess time will tell.

I've been feeling a little better as the days go by; I'd say about forty percent so far.  I still don't know what brought on the bleeding and the extreme low back and pelvic pain, but whatever is, I hope the saying 'this too shall pass' applies.  There were a few days I wore both a back and abdominal brace at the same time.  Ah, the joys of industrial strength elastic and velcro.

I'd made an appointment for this past Tuesday with a surgeon for a consult on a possible hernia but ended up cancelling because the pain migrated away from the site I wanted him to check.  Sad to say, we can't afford to go to the doctor if the pain isn't where it had been.  I have a follow-up appointment in late January with the gynecologist; maybe things will be better by then.  If not, well, our $10K deductible resets January 1.  We'll get a jumpstart on 2017 bills.  

I bought a book 'Heal Pelvic Pain' which contains exercises which seem to be helping quite a bit if I can force myself to do them.  The stretches are quite intense and I'm also quite inflexible, so I find almost all of them to be painful. I think I somehow shrunk my hamstrings, too.  Nothing wants to bend the way its supposed to.  Marble statues are likely more limber than I am, especially since this last bout of mystery pain.  

The book lists eleven different stretches, and each one is meant to be done three times for 30-60 seconds at a time.  In other words, a stretching session takes well over a half hour.  And the instructions also state to do them 2-4 times a day, along with at least a half hour of cardiovascular exercise.  I don't have a job and I'm finding it hard to fit this commitment into my schedule, but I'm doing my best.  I'll do anything to put this pain behind me.

 Carl and I went shopping tonight for some last minute gifts; apparently we're not the only ones who are unprepared, several of the clerks we spoke with were also running around trying to tie up last minute details of their own, too.  See, I'm not the only one.

I had to buy a new ergonomic keyboard for my computer as I've worn out the backspace key on my old one.  (Apparently I make far too many typing mistakes?)  

Anyway, while standing in line at a very crowded Best Buy waiting for Carl to be checked out, I spotted the Perfect Christmas Gift for Joel:   

 I sent Joel the picture and a text:  'Merry Christmas, Joel!  Love, Mom'

A few hours later, his response:

"I hope you got a gift receipt for that phone case."

Aww, phooey.  Maybe David will like it.



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rock, Really?

I'm sitting here tonight writing and alternately watching a Guns 'n Roses concert from 1992.  Axl Rose was all of 29 or 30 then.   (In other words oh-so-young.)    I often wonder how he could belt out tune after tune in concert and still have any kind of voice left by the end of the night.   

And to think he's doing it all over again now at age 54 with back-to-back concerts with GNR and fronting for AC/DC as lead vocalist is truly amazing.  Most of the rock legends have lost their edge after thirty years, but apparently Axl gets better with age.  He's four years younger than me; that fact alone is stunning.  I can't imagine how tired he must be afterward.

I don't really know how I ended up being a heavy metal fan.  Growing up with older parents; Mom was 38 and Dad 45 when I came along, let's just say their music was definitely not rock and roll.  They listened to a lot of talk radio and polkas, with a bit of Eddy Arnold, Dean Martin, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, especially hymns.  

My parents couldn't stand Elvis 'the pelvis' as my father derisively called him, and absolutely detested The Beatles, too.  Truth be told, Elvis was a little old for my taste in the '60's and '70's and since my parents didn't like the Fab Four, I went along with their sentiments.  

"Look at those stupid idiots screaming," my dad commented one night when Ed Sullivan had the Beatles on his show.  "What the hell's wrong with them?  Look at their haircuts!  I've never seen anything so damn dumb."  (Yes, my father was a harsh music critic.)  The Rolling Stones were another Non-Dad Approved Band.

 Being a shy kid enduring a lonely, semi-abused childhood, I spent a lot of time with a tiny AM transistor radio my mother gave me for my thirteenth birthday.  I still have it, even the box it came in; bright pink with one 9 volt battery required.  I would hold the radio while riding my bicycle no-handed up and down the road at night after chores.  I still remember the day I broke the antenna by accident when pushing it back down.  Even though I could still get a signal, I was devastated, I loved that radio; it was my lifeline.  I used to feel so bereft when the stations would sign off at night.  

Does anyone remember the sign off?  

"WXYZ Channel 6 now concludes it's broadcast day. With 50,000 watts of power, WXYZ is owned and operated by........" and then nothing but dead air.  

Doesn't it seem like a lifetime ago?  I guess it was.

I have always loved the night.  In the cover of darkness I could do whatever I wanted and there would be no one to criticize or poke fun of me.  If Dad was home I spent a lot of time outside as I disliked the tension in the house.  I've never feared the darkness, it always felt like an old friend, a cloak for my misery and true self.  I suppose that's why I never shook the nightowl habit even though it's not great for my health.  

But back to rock and roll, the sheer audacity of the music and the anger and misery in the lyrics spoke to me.  I didn't exactly want to  rebel but I was too afraid to let my alter-ego show;  too invested in trying to get good grades and please everyone.  Everyone but me.

But let the chores be done and the sun sink out of sight and I was gone.  Gone on my bike with The Eagles, Bread, Kansas, Van Halen, Aerosmith, AC/DC, KISS, Foreigner, Kansas, Styx, Whitesnake, and Motley Crue singing songs of disobedience and all about life in the fast lane.  As the years rolled by, angry rock stars howled out the rage I dared not express.

I lost touch with music of all kinds when I was raising our sons for about a decade, from 1986 to 1996.   We'd had a very nice stereo system but the woofers (the bass) went out on our JBL speakers.  (Apparently I'd been a bit too zealous with the volume in my earlier years. ) With the advent of raising infants, heavy metal didn't mesh with bedtime, I couldn't hear a baby wail over Steve Perry and Journey or Bon Jovi.  So the stereo was silenced.  

I remember the first time I heard of the band Guns 'n Roses.   Joel was just over a year old and strapped in his car seat in the back.  We were driving home from Christmas shopping and had the radio tuned into a 'cutting edge rock station' at the time.  At the ripe old age of 29, I thought the new rock and roll was 'for the kids'.  I was too old for such nonsense.

 But then the opening guitar strains of 'Sweet Child o' Mine' started up on the car stereo.  And I was hooked.  To this day I listen to GNR every chance I get.   Sometimes I hate when a song replays in my mind, over and over, but I often fall asleep with 'Welcome to the Jungle' or 'Sweet Child' playing in my head.  

My sons introduced me to Metallica, Alice in Chains, Drowning Pool, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, System of a Down, and Slipknot, among many others, oh, and Rammstein.  I don't speak German, but the music speaks to me.

A few years ago, Joel took me to my first live concert.   My second all-time favorite band, Van Halen, was playing in a hayfield.  It was surreal.  I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that night.  Eddie Van Halen plays the guitar like none other.  I'll never forget hearing 'Eruption' played by the master of all guitarists in person.

 I do listen to other artists, too;  but I've never cultivated a taste for country at all.  I know, how un-American.  

'Sweet Child 'o Mine' never fails to bring me comfort.

"She's got a smile it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
It takes me away to that special place
And if I'd stare too long
I'd probably break down and cry."

I'm older now, so much older, but heavy metal is still my music of choice.  Gray-haired grannies aren't supposed to like to head bang, but this one does.

I just wait until the sun goes down, no one is the wiser.  

The darkness is still my friend.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What's Next? Part Three

One thing I wish I could change is the tendency to have my weird health issues appear on holidays and weekends.  Of course, my main wish would be to quit having weird health issues altogether, but if that's impossible to grant, could whoever is in charge please schedule them around doctor's office hours?  The past weekend of waiting to hear results was a long one.

At last I have some positive news; late Monday my new gynecologist's office called to tell me the results of the biopsy were benign.  The ultrasound results were not back yet.  I now have an appointment in six weeks to see the doctor for a follow-up though I can call sooner if need be.  What a relief it was to hear the results were normal, at least for now.  We still have no answers for why this happened in the first place, though the pieces of the puzzle may come together yet at some point down the road.  We'll see what January brings.

Carl's mom is still holding her own.  My father-in-law insisted he could change the bandage on her leg wound after we did it together the first time, and I reluctantly stood down.  I do not want to become the Dictator Daughter-in-law.  This is all new territory and when the roles change, it's very hard.  

You'd think since I've been through this with my mother I'd have better insight into the best way to broach difficult topics, wouldn't you?  But the truth is, I don't.  Every situation is different and with the onset of dementia, the situation can change every minute.  No one ever said this was going to be easy.

But along with my good news yesterday, I received a call from my mother-in-law shortly afterward; her new doctor's office called and asked them to come in for an appointment yesterday afternoon.  According to my MIL, her blood pressure was much better and her leg is healing well.  Thank God for that; I was really worried about her blood pressure and whether or not the wound care was being done on a daily basis.  I was very glad the office called them to make an appointment and another big plus is the new doctor's office is in our little hometown.

My MIL was scheduled to have some circulatory testing done this coming Thursday, and I asked about the appointment.  

"No, I don't have to go back in for anything.  I'm getting better," MIL said.  "My blood pressure was very good, I don't need to see the doctor anymore."

"That's good," I said, but I thought differently, and asked her if I might speak to my FIL.

After talking to him, I found out the circulatory testing is still going to be done and that she will have to go once a week for wound care to the hospital, which was the original plan.   My FIL understands what's going on, which is a blessing.

Dealing with dementia is very difficult.  At times the fog lifts and they can remember everything with stunning clarity, but at other times, events are muddled and confusion abounds on the part of both caregiver and care receiver.   In the midst of all the upset and role-changing, there needs to be respect.  After all, my in-laws have lived eighty-six years of their lives without me telling them what to do.  So who am I to waltz in and turn their world upside down?  No one wants to lose the ability to make their own decisions.  I know I won't either when my time comes.

 As a caregiver, you have to develop a thick skin because at times (ok, most of the time) you're seen as the Bad Guy.  Having a good support system in place is a necessity for your own mental health.  And a sense of humor and irony is also a must.

Sadly, if we live long enough, we will all need help of some kind.    My late uncle always joked, "Treat your kids well because they'll end up picking out your nursing home." 

 My mother had a very hard time adjusting to my taking her car keys when she turned 93.  And she still protests turning over her laundry and other chores, but I think she's come to grudgingly accept it now. At one point we were all helpless infants and our parents cared for us.  Now we have the duty and the honor to repay the favor, though the time may come when I will also have to hand over the reins to someone more qualified.  Until then, we keep on keeping on, one day at a time.  

I want to send a sincere thank you to all of my dear friends, near and far, who have and continue to support me as I stumble around in these uncharted territories.  

Without all of you, I would be lost.

Thank You! 




Monday, December 5, 2016

The Telephone of the Wind

 The Tardig is our silly, irreverent rendition of Dr. Who's TARDIS  (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) phone booth which is a time machine for travel.  When Carl had finished welding the railings together, the similarity to Dr. Who's time machine struck me and off we went for cans of blue paint.   

I'm not a Dr. Who fan, but the idea of a structure which could transport me to another place captivated me. The Tardig is our 'Time and Relative Dimension in Gardening' space.  I often find myself lingering inside the filigreed oak leaf structure, sometimes in tears, sometimes in anger, always in prayer and eventually in peace. With all the worry swirling around me this season, I spent some time there today.

I did not know there was a similar place in another garden far away until this past September when I heard about The Phone of the WindI was washing clothes with my Maytag wringer washer and happened to have tuned into 'This American Life' on my cellphone,  old technology merged with the new.  The podcast was entitled 'One Last Thing Before I Go'  .  

This is an incredibly touching story about a gardener in Japan who has an abandoned phone booth in his garden complete with a telephone which is not connected to anything.  He refers to the structure in Japanese by a lovely name which translates as the 'Phone of the Wind'. 
People come from all over the country to use the Telephone of the Wind.  The audio is heart-breaking.   Even though I do not speak Japanese, the sound of grief, longing and anguish is universal and needs no translation.  

  "Hello?  Mom?  Where are you?  It's so cold, but you're not getting cold, are you?  Come back soon, everyone is waiting for you, OK?  Eat something, anything, just be alive, somewhere, anywhere.  I'll build a house for us.  I'm so lonely."

As I hauled my laundry out of the basement and hung it on the line to dry in the sun, I was wiping away my tears with the back of my hand.  Eventually I had to sit down and sob.  I could picture each and every one of the mourners reaching out for one last word with those they loved and tragically lost in the tsunami over five years ago.  
"Sometimes I don't know what I'm living for.....without all of you, it is meaningless.  I want to hear your reply, but I can't hear anything.  I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I couldn't save you."

The  holidays come and go and the group gathered around the table ebbs and flows as our loved ones leave us and new ones join the family. 

How often I take for granted the time I have left with loved ones.   Carl has a voicemail on his phone from his late brother, Larry.  He cannot bring himself to erase it.   My mother is a little more confused as each day dawns, but I can still reach her, touch her, kiss her, embrace her.  Someday soon we will part.

 May I cherish each day.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

What's Next? Part Two............

Didn't I preface Part One with the command to never ask the question, 'What's Next?'  Let me check on that......yep, I sure did.  So then why didn't I heed my own warning?  Here I go again, airing more of the linens which should never see the light of day in polite company.

First, a little background on the week just past:  After working in the garden here on Tuesday, I paid an impromptu visit to Carl's folks.  They only live a country block away, approximately a mile,  and we are separated by a large woods and several private property lines.  My eighty-seven year old mother-in-law (MIL) has been having some health issues for years, primarily with painful feet.  She'd finally consented to using a walker in the last six months which should have been a clue to how bad she's feeling. 

The family  found out on Thanksgiving Day that my FIL had taken her to the emergency room the night before with swelling in her legs which she said was cellulitis. We were all alarmed but she assured everyone the swelling was only temporary and the prescribed antibiotics would fix everything.  I was a bit skeptical, though.  The swelling did not look good, but then, swelling rarely does.  

When I went to see my in-laws on Tuesday, it was clear she wasn't getting any better.  The antibiotics weren't going to be a fix after all.  With many phone calls, a new doctor and plan for treatment was lined up for Thursday which, coincidentally, was the same day (one hour apart) as my gynecological appointment.  Great.  The timing was awful, but what can you do?  I didn't want to cancel my procedures, I can't live in this Worry Limbo Land of mine forever, either.  

 Carl's sister wasn't able to go with her parents to their appointment due to an appointment of her own, so my BIL drove them in.  My FIL does still drive and insists he could do it; truth be told, we're all anxious.  Maybe he could, but I'm thirty years younger and I am not crazy about the heavy traffic.  He's 86 and has a very sick wife; let us young whippersnappers do the driving.  

Back to my situation; Carl drove me to my Ob/Gyn appointment and it went as well as can be expected.  After a bit of a chat, the doctor bid me drop my lower quadrant garments and don my sheet and she'd be right with me. At least the exam and endometrial biopsy was quick; lying on my back I searched for a spot on the ceiling to stare at so I could practice my Lamaze breathing.

"Hey!  You're tough!" the doctor said.   Those Lamaze classes were worth the money after all.  I actually managed not to flinch and slam my knees back together.  That's an accomplishment, right?  Ok, it's not something you can brag about in mixed company, but still.  It's something.

"Ok, I've got the samples I need and I'll be sending these in for screening.  Are you busy today?  Would you be able to come back in for an ultrasound in about an hour?" the doctor asked.

We agreed and wandered across the street from the gynecologist's office to the hospitals.   First we decided to check and see where my MIL's wound care appointment was going to be. The two hospitals are attached but not affiliated. They share common walls but not driveways; this was where I'd made my mistake back in February when I took Mom in to the ER, I saw an 'Emergency' sign and didn't realize I was at the wrong hospital until she was admitted.  I was stressed out and just wanted to get her help.  

Navigating in the hospital(s) is just as confusing for me, even Carl was turned around a few times, but we finally figured out where we needed to go for his mother.  We still had an hour and a half before my ultrasound, so we checked out the cafeteria in the first hospital for lunch.  Carl and I are very shy about new restaurants and the big lunchroom was intimidating.  We were almost lured in, but changed our minds at the last second because the food didn't smell very appetizing.  We decided to try the other hospital next door.  After a maze of hallways and elevators and a lot of walking, we took the plunge and ordered some food.  (I know, we're really pitiful, aren't we?)  

We took a seat by the window and looked down at the street below while we ate.  Carl was busy watching a crane installing some AC/heating equipment next door.  I wasn't feeling great but not any worse for wear which was good.  (I'd read some hum-dinger hair-raising stories on websites about endometrial biopsies; again, careful when Googling things, your results may vary.)  

We sat and chatted awhile and watched to see where we were supposed to place our trays and dirty dishes when we were done.  Observational skills are important, look and learn.  Aha, that's where they go, dishes done, off we went back down the elevators, through the halls across the street to the gynecologist's office. 

After a very short wait, the ultrasound technician summoned me and I was off to yet another procedure which is best left to the imagination.  At least it wasn't painful, just awkward.  The tech didn't say anything as she scrolled around on the computer screen, clicking on images and taking measurements.  I didn't say much either, I mean, she had me in a compromising position, but I did ask her how many older women she sees on a daily basis.  

"A lot," she said.

"Do the issues ever end with us women?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so.  Sometimes it really does seem like we got the short end of the deal, doesn't it?" 

"Yes, no shortage of worries, that's for sure," I said.

Shortly afterward it was over.  After I dressed again, the tech took Carl and I through the maze of hallways and showed us the door. Just as we were leaving, the technician said, "Doctor will be calling you in a few days with the results.  Don't worry too much," and she smiled reassuringly.   (I'll take that as a sign she didn't see anything too far out of the ordinary.  Hey, a girl can hope, can't she?)

We decided to leave our car parked in the doctor's office lot and walked back across the street to the hospitals again.  We arrived just in time to find Carl's folks heading into her appointment with the nurse.

The nurse was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of people she had to deal with when we got to the exam room.  Carl opted to stand and my FIL and I were seated.  When my MIL's legs were exposed, Carl and I were both shocked.  This was definitely more than a case of sore feet.  Her legs were terribly swollen and dark red with an open wound on her left calf muscle.  

Sitting in the exam room viewing the extent of what she's been suffering, it was hard to believe she could have gone this long without saying something.   But unfortunately, she has always had a strong tendency to deny things she doesn't want to face.  We have never had a close relationship, but my heart hurt seeing her condition.   

When the doctor came in, the verdict eventually turned out to be a lack of circulation to the lower extremities.  There was no diagnosis given yet, but MIL has been set up with an appointment to test for circulation and heart issues this coming Thursday.  Her blood pressure is sky-high and she is at risk of a stroke, but they want the infection cleared up first if they can.

The doctor also said, "It is time for her to move to assisted living."  Neither of my in-laws seemed to grasp the seriousness of the situation or what the doctor was proposing.  My FIL is still working as an ornamental iron craftsman and even yet, still taking on jobs for people.  He doesn't hear very well, so I don't know if he heard what the doctor said or not.  I didn't say a word, but Carl's eyes met mine across the exam room.  Now what? 

The first matter to tend to is the open wound.  The doctor asked who would be in charge of overseeing the wound care since the bandages need to be changed every twenty-four hours, and then looked directly at me.  

I admit I wasn't ready for this; I take care of my own ninety-six year old mother every day, which also includes her finances, shopping, laundry, and house maintenance, though she does still handle her own hygiene for the most part and cooking.   Can I take on another one?  Or two??

Then I panicked and thought who knows what's going on with my own health since an hour before I'd just crawled off the exam table myself, but.....what do you say?   

My FIL said he could handle it, but he's eighty-six years old.  I said we'd figure out something and paid extra-close attention when they showed us how.  My MIL's leg is causing her a great deal of pain; again, I was shocked she was able to endure it as long as she did. She was sent home with a huge bag of wound supplies, gauze and special bandages and back home she went.

We walked hand in hand out of the hospital, ugh, what a day.  One thing I realized I've done wrong in my life is not appreciating every day.  As we drove home in the gathering darkness, I saw a young girl walking down a sidewalk, looking bored.  I thought back to how many times I've taken boring days for granted not realizing how lucky I was not to be sick or worried (or worried sick.)

I don't know how this is all going to turn out.  To say I'm overwhelmed is an understatement, everything is up in the air at this point.  How do you make sure your elderly loved ones are adequately taken care of and make the right choices for them and yourself?  

After all in February 2016,  I was told to put my own mother in a home, too, but in the end, even with all the paperwork in hand and with my toe in the admissions office of the nursing home, I backed out and took my mother back to her own house.  Of course, that was no easy decision either, but installing the cameras in Mom's house did give me more peace of mind.  There are no guarantees we did the 'right thing', who even knows what the right thing is?  Every situation is different and can change at any time. 

When it comes to my mother, I'm her only surviving child, so the responsibility and decisions are solely mine.  Mom isn't dealing with open wounds, thank goodness, but her short-term memory is worsening.  I really don't have anything concrete in place when the next emergency comes along, but I do have some contact numbers for her and people I can call.  Sort of.  Ok, I admit it, I'm not totally prepared for every possible crisis.  Is anyone?

At least with Carl's parents there are still two children to share the burden, though we are the ones who live a mere mile away.  Carl's sister and brother-in-law met us at Carl's folk's house on Friday because I wanted them to see how bad MIL's leg is.  With my FIL at my side, we managed to change the dressing, but I know it was painful for her.  My FIL told me he knows he can handle the next changes by himself. Oh, the guilt. 

Their family is reeling from the sudden loss of Carl's brother, Larry, only a little over a month ago and now this.....there's apparently no shortage of misery to go around.  

All we can do is take it one day at a time.  My Al-Anon training prepared me to break it down to one minute at a time if necessary.  

You can do almost anything for one minute, right?   That is, as long as you remember to keep breathing.  

  (I think I should sign up for a Lamaze refresher course.)






Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rounding Up the Garden

 The regular gun deer season for 2016 finally ended this past Sunday.  I'm always glad when it's over because then I can feel relatively safe working in the garden and wandering out in the Back Eight for my walks.  

We're surrounded by woods here and hunters abound.  I don't need to catch a stray bullet since I already have enough health problems, ha.  I believe black powder season is possibly still open, but I'm not as leery of those hunters.  They have to take a much more careful aim since they only get one shot at a time.  I'm counting on them not seeing me as a target. 

Even though we've had a reprieve with our warm fall weather, I'm still behind on cleaning up the garden. Of course, it didn't help matters any when I decided to alternately coerce, coax and cajole Carl into remodeling the Pachyberm which we were working on right up until the septic construction a few weeks ago.
Carl moving a rock into place in October
We've given up on the remodeling for the year; it will still be there in the spring.  Carl helped me wrap the dwarf crab apple trees for the winter on Tuesday afternoon and we stood on top the Pachyberm ruefully eying the unfinished project.  Truth be told, we were both happy with the results so far, so that's encouraging.  Nothing like a pile of big rocks to make my heart happy.

Last week gun deer season was in full swing, and I couldn't find my blaze orange jackets anywhere.  (Turned out they were in Joel's trunk, in case you were wondering.  We'd gone cross-country skiing last winter on a recreational trail during hunting season.)

 Last week Tuesday my sore back started to loosen up some, but not enough to make bending over comfortable since I was still wearing my back brace.  I had a bunch of ornmental grasses that needed taking down and one last hosta bed to tackle.  

Gauging my creaky back situation,  I asked Carl to help me start my Stihl weed whacker.  Normally I don't use the trimmer to remove hosta foliage.  My main reason for such avoidance of technology is the metal name tags I have on each plant, or, well, used to have.  Many of my hostas are now anonymous due to their 'Hi My Name Is' badges being flung ten feet away by a weirdo wielding a whacker.  (Meaning me.) 

Carl was a bit hesitant to arm me with my power tool since I was just starting to walk better, but I assured him I'd go slow and take it easy.  Heck, I won't do all that much.  Just a few things.  Carl looked at me and shrugged, yeah, right, just a few things, sure...  He knows me too well.

It was quite cold out that day, and damp, so I donned long underwear.  Since I couldn't find my blaze orange at the time and there were hunters all over the place, I decided to top my heavy winter jacket with my lightweight red hooded sweatshirt so I'd be seen by any stalking hunters.  I know, as if deer make as much racket as I do, but hey, safety first.  (The weed whacker sounds exactly like a chainsaw, in other words, loud.)

Unbeknownst to me, I had someone stalking me with a camera.  (I thought Carl had left since he had an appointment.)

Wait, that's not a hosta bed, that's 'Annabelle' hydrangea.  Oh, well, the stalks are down now.

Ok, let's see what else I can destroy around the joint:
No, you cannot weed whack the Mugho pine even though it has a case of scale at the moment. 

I did give the idea some serious thought though.

Ooops, my 'deer in the headlights' look, heh, heh, didn't see you there, Carl...never mind, I'll leave the tree alone.

In the end, I whacked down the 'Karl Foerster' grasses in the Formal garden, a bunch of sedums and assorted miscanthus by the Escarpment, and way more hostas than I intended to.  I was all over the yard with my weapon of destruction.  I don't regret it even though I had to go back and do a lot of raking, at least things are moving along a little faster.  But yes, I did make a mess.

Wasn't I the one who complained about the hens making a mess in the garden?  Hmmm....classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.   Sorry Girls, you're forgiven.

The temperatures still seem to be hovering near or around forty-something for a few more days, so with any luck I'll get some more stuff done outside yet.  

Work is good for what ails you. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What's Next?

Never throw up your hands in frustration and ask, "What's next?!" 
 I mean it.  
Truly, don't do it.  
You'll regret it.  
I sure do.

I'm in a not so good place again.  And I'm waiting on a doctor's appointment this coming Thursday to help me figure out what's happening.  I don't want to go into the nitty-gritty, not for prime time details, but I don't know of any other way to put it.  

Maybe I should back up this story a little bit.  I've been having all sorts of bladder and back issues, and a lot of pain here, there and everywhere, mostly in my, ahem, ok, I'll say it, boob region. 

So imagine my surprise after six years of menopause to find myself back in the feminine hygiene products department of our local grocery store searching in vain for a 'wingless' variety of sanitary napkin.  This is the department I had been marching through with nary a glance for those same six years.  Nope, I had no need of any winged or wingless versions any longer.  No, sirree.

Until Thanksgiving Day.  We had gone to Thanksgiving dinner at a niece's house and had fun, but I was feeling a little off.  When we got home, I found out why.

I was so stunned.  I think if one of my ears had fallen off I would have been less surprised.  And then the fear sank in.  Oh, no.  This isn't good.  This can't be good.  This is definitely NOT good. 

Of course, being a holiday, there was no use calling a doctor and on Friday my hormone doctor's office is not open.  Luckily, we celebrated a belated Thanksgiving here with Joel, Abby, Audrey, David, Ann and Mom here for dinner on Friday which helped keep my mind off my woes.  Hard to find time to worry while cooking, cleaning and having fun with family. 

But the next two days I sat in my anxiety stew, simmering away at a low boil.  Saturday was particularly bad, all my fears came to a head and I was a wreck.  I didn't know what to do.  I often have what I call 'rat in a maze' syndrome when presented with a problem; my mind tries to find a way out of the situation.  Try as I might, there was no solution or explanation at hand.

And then you know what I did.  I hit good ol' Google.  Oh, Google.  How I love you.  And how you scare me.  Let me count the ways...

I found during my panicked research that I'm not alone in having this happen at my age, which calmed me down a little, but it is definitely not normal.  Every site I visited strongly urged a visit to a doctor as soon as possible.

So then I started thinking about my doctor options and panicked yet again.  I knew my GP would probably refer me to my gynecologist. I had seen my Ob/gyn a year ago and gotten an all clear from her, but the appointment had not been pleasant.  I'd been questioned about my choice of medications for thyroid and about hormone replacement therapy options my current doctor had prescribed.  And when I answered those questions, I was told I was being bamboozled.  And I caught her nurse rolling her eyes in disdain.  Long story short, I felt belittled.  I'd pretty much decided I wouldn't return to the practice.

So now that it's a certainty I will need the services of an Ob/Gyn, I was stumped. Where should I go? 

 My next move was to call my amazing network of friends and request their top doc recommendations.  I will say I felt relief talking about my fears; every one of the ladies I spoke with is concerned for me, but kept reassuring me I shouldn't jump to worst case scenarios.  After the phone calls, I was much calmer.  Why borrow trouble when trouble comes along soon enough, right?

Monday morning dawned dark and drizzly, matching my mood.  I was still in my pajamas when I made the first call to the hopeful new Ob/Gyn's office.  I asked to speak to her nurse and was captivated by how helpful and hopeful she was, a true gem.  But, she cautioned, the doctor in question was now part-time and my first appointment could not be until January 23.  As in 2017.  As in too far away.  Oh, no.

"Would you want to try to get in with one of the other doctors in the practice?" she asked.

I was sad about losing the best doctor candidate, but agreed.  After going through the scheduling for the other eight doctors, the earliest I could get in with another doctor was December 23.  Wow, that's still four weeks.  Four weeks for my mind to run around in the Rat Maze.  

I sighed, picked up the phone and dialed the number of my current Ob/Gyn.  I asked to speak to her nurse and was immediately sorry I did.  The nurse was more or less in 'I told you so' mode, reviewing my last visit and their recommendations which I had apparently not followed.   I did have many changes made to my medications in the following year's time but not enough to satisfy this nurse. In short, after a round of questions and answers, her attitude was basically, 'Now you find yourself in a mess, surprise, surprise.   What do you want us to do about it?'  

Ok, she didn't say that, but it was sarcastically implied.

I felt so chastised.  I didn't have much to say in my defense. I felt like I should say, 'Ok, I brought all of this on myself,  I'm sorry to trouble you.'  

"We can see you on Friday, Dec. 2," she said, unexpectedly.

"Ok, thank you," I said and hung up.  I was walking up to Mom's for her morning meds at the time and the drizzle camouflaged my traitorous tears.  

I walked right past Mom's, oblivious to the raw wind and spitting rain.  The more I thought about going to see the hostile doctor, the more I started to panic.  I put a call into the doctor's office who prescribes my hormones and was told they'd get back to me.

I turned around and walked back to Mom's.  Right away she could tell something was up. I didn't want to tell her; she doesn't need anything to worry about.  She took her medication and regarded me with worried eyes, "I know something's wrong, what is it?"

Right at that moment my cellphone rang, and I told her I'd be right back.  My phone cannot hold a signal in her house, so I had to take it outside.  It was my hormone doctor's office calling.  I outlined my problem and also the two appointments I had at my disposal; which one do I take?  The later one with my preferred doctor or this Friday with the hostile one?  

The nurse sympathized with me about the hostility, but urged me to take the earlier appointment.  My heart sank, but I know she was right.  Before I went back in, I called my dear daughter-in-law, Abby, for the second time that morning and paced around in circles outlining my concerns.  Two heads are definitely better than one at a time like this, especially when my head isn't hitting on all cylinders.

Our call was cut short by another call from my hormone doctor's nurse saying she'd spoken with the doctor again and yes, please do take the earliest possible appointment.  And just a suggestion: if I wasn't happy with my current Ob/Gyn, maybe my general practitioner would see me for an exam?  Well, maybe.....

At that moment, Mom was outside looking for me.  I went back in with Mom and finally came clean about the whole thing.  In a way, I think she was quite relieved.  She doesn't understand much of it, (who does?) however, she was glad to hear the truth.  

I walked home from Mom's by twelve thirty and found myself becoming more despondent again.  Gads, do I really want to see the hostile doc?  How do I know if her evaluation will be non-biased?  This just didn't feel right.

In the midst of all of this agonizing I called my dear friend, Nancy, who listened and sympathized with me and kept me from falling completely off the Cliff of Hope.  Ann, of course, is also my lifeline and we went back and forth with all sorts of 'what if' scenarios.  My dear friends Terry and Patti have also been a great help to me, too.  And of course, Joel and Abby and David, who support me in all of this.  I am so deeply grateful to them all.

Finally I plucked up the courage to call my GP's nurse.  She was very kind and said no, he wouldn't perform any exams, but would be glad to refer me to an Ob/Gyn.  Should she see what appointments would be available?  Oh, yes, please!

I was back on the phone with Nancy, commiserating and debating some more when the nurse called me back.  I now have an appointment with another Ob/Gyn for Thursday, December 1.   I thanked her warmly for all her help. 

For some reason, a sense of calm came over me after the call. Nothing had changed about my predicament, but at least I wasn't dreading facing an angry doctor.  I mean, the new doctor can't despise me already, can she?  We haven't even met.  Give her some time to get to know me. 

I don't know what will happen next.  I'm not completely terrified, just around the edges.   But my friends caution me not to think of worst case scenarios, but darn, they have a way of creeping in.  I'm not a fan of the waiting game.  

In high school whenever I had to give a speech, I would always volunteer to go first so I could get it over with.  It was always such a relief to have my turn behind me.  I would gladly be the first in line at the doctor's office to get this over with, but Thursday isn't too far off any more.   I just need to think positive and get some work done around here tomorrow.  The last few days have been a waste.  

Worry is a bad habit.  How's that saying go?  'Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but you don't get anywhere'.   

It's time to get out of my rocking chair and get on with life. 

(I can't sit for very long anyway due to my back, so I guess I should look for another quote?)

"Yesterday.  All my troubles seemed so far away."  How true....we need to appreciate all the days, don't we?

Wish me luck.  I truly need it.



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

About Chickens and Gardening...

Last night I tackled the teeny little hosta bed right behind the house, cleaning it out for the winter.  This isn't even a 'bed' per se, it's more of a place to plunk plants up against the foundation so I don't have to weed whack right up to the concrete.  The plants are used as a dust ruffle more or less.  

The north side of the house is a harsh environment for the hostas I plopped in there, most of them are splits off of my favorites found elsewhere in the garden.  The shade situation is perfect for the plants, but I often forget to water them under the eaves and most of our summer rainfall doesn't come from the north. 

But the harshest abuse the unfortunate hostas suffer is the Girls.  I thought I'd write a little more about life with chickens just in case anyone decides they'd like to add some poultry to their garden.

 When there's still snow on the ground, the first place that melts is right up against the house foundation and that's where the Girls go to play in the dirt.  They dig holes and wreak havoc on the plants, exposing all the roots. And yet, I can't begrudge them the opportunity to get dirt between their toes.  I feel the same way after a long winter.

 Our hens are free-range from the first frost of fall to June 1 when they are confined to their large pen so I can have my mulch in place for five seconds in the garden.  

We've had chickens here for many years.  I grew up with around fifty chickens on the farm every year; we raised them from chicks which Mom butchered in the fall for meat. Those chickens were Leghorns, a medium-sized white breed, very flighty and nervous. 

 Now I keep a small flock, rarely more than five hens at a time, and they are pets, only leaving the farm when they die of old age.  Most of them are rescue chickens from 4H projects gone bad or someone tiring of taking care of them.  Many of them have been other people's pets or were too old and  tough for the stew pot, so they ended up here with us.  They lay eggs randomly, mostly one or two a day, but enough for us.  

Every year I debate how long I'll keep chickens; I know all of ours are getting up there in age.  Winter is the hardest time, but with a heated dog water bowl and ample feed, they do just fine in the coop.  On the coldest nights they have a heat lamp.  The worst part is shoveling snow every day to get to them. 

Visitors here often fantasize about having free-range chickens, thinking it would be an amazing thing to do, but if they aren't familiar with poultry, there are a few things they might not realize.  
 Gardening with Chickens Factoids 

 #1: Chickens scratch.  It's what they do.  I had a visitor ask me why I didn't buy a breed of chicken that didn't scratch.  Huh, a chicken that doesn't scratch?   I don't know of any.  Couldn't they be trained to stop scratching?  Can you train a fish to stop swimming?  Nope, it's what they do.  If you don't want things dug up, including your prized vegetables and petunias, don't get a chicken.

   Below are pictures of the Girls in Action this afternoon, though it's hard to see, if you look closely, you can see leaves piling up behind them.  They take two steps forward, and then scratch backwards, moving the mulch or ground cover off of an area and quickly check to see if something moves. 

 Flying leaves.........
 See the leaves flying up in the air?  Yup, they'll do the same thing with mulch.  I have to go and unbury my hostas in the spring due to their exuberant work ethic.  But they also prey on slugs, snails and all manner of insects, including woodticks, which helps me immensely. 

#2: When they're done working over an area, all of the mulch will be in piles on the lawn.  Sadly they won't return the favor and scratch the mulch back into the flower beds.  Nope.  

#3: When you put the mulch back, they will return to remove it again.  (Immediately.)  The same thing goes for any seedlings which will be scratched out (and possibly eaten, depending on what the plant is.)

#4: You will soon grow tired of the Mulch Moving/Plant Destruction Game and confine your pets to a large pen for the growing season where you will deliver your daily weeds to them on an hourly basis and they will turn the compost for you.

#5: When the first hard frost arrives, they will return to the gardens, remove all your mulch and search out slugs, grasshoppers, and wood ticks until June 1st rolls around again.  If I had a pedometer on my chickens, I bet I'd be stunned to see the mileage; they are all over the property.

#6: Free-range chicken eggs are unbelievably tasty.  The yolks are such a deep color of yellow, almost orange, in contrast to store bought.  Our two big black hens lay eggs so large they do not fit into even a jumbo carton.  Winter is usually a downtime for egg laying unless you have lights in the coop, I guess.  I miss the eggs, but it's ok if they stop laying, too.  

#7: Chickens provide fertilizer along with eggs.  But much of the fertilizer they provide will be right on the same garden paths you walk on.  Heads up, watch your step, chicken bombs abound.  They're merely trying to keep you nimble, can't have a clumsy gardener stumbling around.  And you can bet your visitors will not be happy to find their best shoes ruined, either. 

#8: Roosters crow and drive the hens constantly.  And some can become mean.  I only keep Girls.  Girls are nice and quiet and friendly and won't try to stick you with their leg spurs or attack you when your back is turned.  

#9.  Chickens are NOT for everyone. If you plant tomatoes in your garden, don't be angry when the plants don't produce strawberries.  

(Case in point: I had one visitor tell me his neighbor had recently purchased a flock of free-range chickens because he thought they looked cute in the garden.  The man became enraged when the chickens started scratching in his expensive 'dyed-to-match his house siding mulch', scattering it out onto the lawn.  After a week of chasing them around he went and got his .22 and killed every chicken he caught scratching in the wood chips.  Eventually they were all dead.  He told his neighbor he was going to replace those stupid chickens with non-scratching chickens. 

He'll have to find some chicken statues, because there is no such thing.

#10.  Chickens are wonderful, but they're work.   You will need to feed them a good quality laying mash, corn, scratch grains and table scraps, yes, they will eat just about anything, including meat!) and water.  You will need to clean up after them, you will need to protect them from predators, namely raccoon, hawks, opossum, fox and weasels, and worst of all, dogs.

A note about dogs: they will kill your chickens in record time.  Chickens run when they see a dog; a dog is by nature prey-driven and when prey runs, the dog chases.  Sadly, a frenzy of killing will ensue. I'll never forget the day the Girls were squawking frantically and I ran to find two stray German Shepherds in the yard, one in the coop itself, chasing terrified hens from perch to perch.  Luckily some of the Girls flew up onto the garage roof but one was already dead.  I chased the dogs off with a shovel and went and buried my poor hen.

 I trained our late Shih Tzus not to harm the chickens. Hard to believe, but even a ten pound dog can kill a chicken quite easily.  First I slowly walked Teddy, and later Pudding, on a short leash, allowing them to sniff the chickens from a distance, but when they showed signs of wanting to chase, I brought the leash up even shorter and sternly told them 'NO!'  

This lesson had to be repeated at least a dozen times, each time with a little longer leash until the dogs got the idea.   Once my dogs realized that the chickens were off-limits, they all peacefully coexisted, walking past each other without a second glance.   

 I do enjoy the Girls; they're with me all day long in the garden and have amazing vocalizations.  They've often warned me of stray dogs or cats and the approach of people with the sounds they make.  When there's nothing to fear their quiet clucking and chattering is very soothing to my soul. 

 Below, Ebony works on a small patch of interesting ground: 

 Do you see the blur that is her foot throwing the leaves out of the way?

  I do worry about them, though, especially if we're not home. They are vulnerable to all the varmints I've listed and a few more I haven't.  Chickens will put themselves to bed at dusk; once they know where their coop is, they will return there every night.  

But the sad part is chickens are blind in the dark, so if say, a raccoon or opossum enters the coop at night, the chickens are defenseless.  If we leave in the late afternoon, we try to lure the Girls in with a treat of a piece of bread or meat and lock up them up, but it usually won't work if it's broad daylight.  We're always on tenterhooks when we're gone after dark since you never know what you'll find when you go to lock the coop.  

A month ago I went out to lock the coop just as darkness was falling.  The Girls were up on their roost, all seemed fine until I noticed the hanging feeder was swinging to and fro.  I aimed my cellphone's flashlight into the coop and sure enough, trying his best to hide in the corner was a large opossum.  
We'd accidentally locked up the coop a few years ago with an opossum inside. When I came out in the morning I was shocked by the sight of two dead hens and an ugly varmint lurking in a nesting box.  Ugh, what a shame.  

This time I yelled for Carl to come to the rescue.  I've done some reading about opossums and apparently, they are woodtick vacuum cleaners.  I guess they groom themselves obsessively like cats and can attract and destroy an amazing amount of ticks.  For that reason, and that reason alone, I've declared a moratorium on the usual death sentence for being a chicken coop intruder.  Carl went in the coop with a long stick and chased the opossum out.  Surprisingly, they apparently have short memories, because two days later he/she was back again. Carl gave him a resounding whack on the back and off he scurried.  He hasn't been back since.  

Chickens are also smarter than people think, and if you want some fantastic aerobic exercise, try to catch one.  They can run close to nine miles an hour (per a web search, I haven't actually clocked one) and know just when to zig when you zag.  If all else fails, they can fly to a fairly high perch to avoid you, too, but their flights are short-lived.  The best tactic for capture is to wait until after dark.  
But never underestimate the power of a treat; our hens will come when I call them and are always looking for a tasty morsel.  Sometimes you can persuade them to go in their coop if you're patient.  Any fast moves on your part, though, and you've lost.

 I guess that's about it for my experience with chickens over the years.  

Winter's coming, they'd better get their work done soon!  

(At least I'm not the only one.)