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.)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fall Cleanup Continues

Carl and I put in a good day's work on Friday.  The temperatures were still in the sixties and there was barely enough breeze to turn the Aermotor's blades for most of the early afternoon.   The forecast was for a drastic cool-down with the possibility of snow and 30-45 mph winds as the day wore into night.  

After our noon meal,  I whipped up a batch of 'Nancy's Crockpot Soup' for supper.  The soup, named after my friend Nancy who introduced me to the recipe,  consists of green peppers, carrots, celery, tomatoes, a small head of cabbage, beef bouillon, tomato juice, one pound of browned hamburger and garlic, onion powder, black pepper, chili powder, etc. in varying amounts. I'm not very good at measuring things, I'm a toss and go cook.  Sometimes I add lentils, but today I forgot all about them.  Apparently I'm not so hot at remembering all the ingredients, either.

The slow cooker is always in action around here at least once or twice a week.  It has saved me countless hours in the kitchen and when we've put in a long day in the garden, it's such a comfort to know there's a hot meal ready and waiting for us.  

Friday's mission was to finish clearing out the east hosta bed.  My back was a little better, but still very stiff.  The good news was my sore neck had cleared up considerably, I could actually turn my head to the side a little without wincing in pain.  

As we worked together removing hostas, I was happy to see all the rocks reappearing again.  And I found my shiny mushroom family under the leaves, too.  

 I bought the ceramic mushrooms from a thrift store a few years ago for $3.  I was struck by their realistic, organic shapes; the artist did a wonderful job.

 I left Hosta 'June' standing; the foliage had turned a vibrant shade of gold and it seemed a shame to remove it. 

 As Carl and I made our way through the hosta beds, the Girls followed along, scratching for bugs and tossing the mulch around.  The hens are getting quite old now, but we still get an occasional egg now and then. 
Ebony and Sable

"Did you hear something??"

 It's fun to have them around; they're always working and clucking quietly to each other, a running poultry commentary only they understand.  The two black hens, Ebony and Sable, came to live here together and are the largest and quite tame.   As they age and molt their feathers every year, more tan feathers are becoming prevalent.  Just like me, my hens are going gray.

 Ashley, the gray and black chicken, is an Araucana-cross hen and our oldest hen. Her feathers are finally almost all grown back in for the winter.  A few weeks ago she looked like an escapee from a plucking factory.  She is probably the most intelligent of all the chickens we've owned over the years, but is also the most nervous and wary.  I guesstimate we've had Ashley over eight years already.  

 Our youngest hen is Tina.  I had some fertilized eggs given to me by my friend Sue about five years ago and stuck them under one of my late brooding hens, Francee.  Two of the three eggs turned out to be roosters (and Thanksgiving dinner that year)  and the other one was Tina.  I'm not sure what breed Tina is, she has feathers on top of her head like a Polish chicken, and feathery feet, too.  She is the size of a Bantam, being much smaller than the Ebony and Sable.  She is also quite flighty and does not trust us very much, either.   

 Francee was always jealous of Tina's 'top-notch' and used to pull all the feathers off of poor Tina's head.  When Francee died of old age two years ago, I know Tina was relieved.  She's had a full head of feathers ever since.
 The hens go all over the yard and even out into the fields usually, but today, they stayed close by.  I assume there was either a hawk or other predator lurking; I heard the blue jays making a racket and noticed the hens were under a cedar tree a few feet away from us.  They know enough to take cover, thank goodness.

 We've lost chickens to predators many times.  Ebony and Sable had a sister, Inky, whom we lost to a fox two years ago.  Opossums are also a menace, and raccoons are even worse.  Domestic dogs are also a threat, along with hawks.  A hawk will strike from above, but then cannot carry the hen off because they weigh too much, so it's a senseless loss.  I had a hawk kill a little white bantam hen years ago only to find he/she couldn't lift the carcass more than a foot off the ground.  I came out of the house on the run because I'd seen the incident and chased the hawk carrying his ill gotten gains into the woods across the road.  The hawk was exhausted by the effort of carrying the hen and didn't notice me floundering around in the underbrush at first.  Seemingly startled, he dropped the chicken and flew a few feet away, perching on a log.  I flapped my arms and shooed him off and retrieved my poor little hen.  No meal for you, buddy.  I didn't want him to get used to killing my chickens.
 With winter coming on, the Girls will have to get used to the coop again, but they will come out on any day that is sunny as long as I have a path shoveled.  

Anyway, back to the cleanup; Carl and I were working on the east side of the Lane bed, removing hosta and daylily foliage and recent dandelions.  A car approached from the east and slowly turned into the lane driveway.  At first I thought the driver was looking for a place to turn around, but he kept coming and turned off his ignition.  Neither of us had ever seen the elderly man before.

"Hello! Well, it's nice to see two youngsters working in the garden together," the man said.  "Why does she have kneepads and you don't?  I take it she's the boss of this outfit?" 

Carl looked at me and smiled, "Yes, she's the boss."

"I thought so!  Oh, well, you can't win 'em all, can you?  You'd better get all your work done today, the weather's going to turn, you know," he said.  "Are you still working? Or are you retired?" our visitor asked Carl.

Carl told him he was still working; retirement is still a few years off yet. 

"Ok, well, that's ok.  Say, I'm looking for any abandoned homes or farms to buy around here.   Do you know of any reasonably priced ones?  Who did you vote for?  And just how high are your property taxes?  Do you make a fair amount of money at your job?  Over 50K?  Or more, or less?  What did you say the taxes were?" 

The questions were fast-paced and intense and since we weren't forthcoming with exact amounts or direct answers, he launched into telling us about his life.  His story was interesting but hard to follow; it began with his childhood in Poland, and moved to high school, through the military and a gruesome story about the Korean War, followed up with his after- military service high-paying careers, well-paid semi-retirement gigs, and a teaching degree as a professor right up to his retirement.  And then he transitioned with a flourish back to his present situation; questioning two random gardeners about their tax burdens, income and voting preferences.

  Somewhere in the half hour conversation, he restarted his car's engine again, only to turn it off when he remembered something he wanted to say.  He teased Carl about his weight and told me I fed him too much fatty food and then told a joke about two old people who died and went to heaven only to find you can golf, live in a grand home and eat anything you want with no consequences, so the husband is mad at his wife because she made him eat bran muffins and low cal foods for decades which in turn, delayed him getting to Heaven.  

Then he restarted his car, only to shut it off again when he remembered that in between, he'd worked in Alaska selling land and for the state as a field inspector where he was paid over $50 grand a year to dig a rectangle of soil out of a site and mark it down on a piece of paper.  They wanted him to move out of state and he wasn't willing, so he went back to Poland to teach where they wanted him to only speak English instead of his native tongue.  He thought that was curious, but he did as they asked.  Somewhere in the murky timeline he ended up back in America teaching psychology.  

  Wait, why was he talking to us again?  Oh, yeah, he was looking for old, abandoned, hopefully cheap farms or houses to buy in the area for a relative who is divorced with three children and can't make a go of it on $17 bucks an hour and pay on a mortgage at the same time since her Obamacare health insurance doubled from what it cost last year. 

"Hey, you never said who you voted for," he said.  "But I guess, you're the boss here?"

 During this most interesting discourse, I'd been half-kneeling, half-sitting on my milking stool and my back was starting to ache more than ever.  I had to get up and stretch.  

"So, do you know of anything around here for sale?" he asked, shutting off his car one more time.

I told him where he could find some houses for sale and after giving us two of his professorial business cards (one had written on the bottom, 'I specialize in Bull'), he bid us a good day and backed down the lane to the road.  

"Hey, if this works out, I might be your neighbor!  Have a good day!"  

We both waved goodbye.  

Well, that was different.  You never know what will happen when we go out to work in the garden.  We've met some very interesting people over the years. 'Chubby' Carl and his equally 'fluffy' wife went back to the task at hand, clearing the garden.

Just before sunset the wind began to pick up drastically, scattering leaves and loose pots all over the yard.  The Girls headed on the run for their coop.

The cloud bank to the east reminded me of summer, but the temperature was dropping quickly.  I think this will be the last time we see those type of clouds until next spring.
Carl hooked the Oldsmobile up to the trailer and hauled the load of plant material to the compost pile while I picked up the tools, shut the barn door and locked the chicken coop.

The last warm sunset of the year was glorious:

When we came in the house the delicious aroma of the soup was all we needed for encouragement to shuck out of our filthy work clothes and get cleaned up for supper.  

Thank goodness for crock pots.  (And Nancy's recipe.)


Appreciating the Weather

The weather has been amazing for November.  According to the  forecast, we'd better appreciate what we have now for big changes are on the horizon.  Snow and wind and all manner of wintry wildness is on the way for Friday night.  

But there are still a few flowers in bloom the week before Thanksgiving.

My homegrown variety of Gaura AAS 'Sparkle White' from Parks Seed

  Every time I walk by the gauras, I smile.  There are remnants of summer still remaining.

After last weekend's demolition of the back yard, I've been wandering around in a bit of a stupor.  Don't get me wrong, I'm really glad the septic installation is over, but putting everything back together again is going to take some time.  I've got this sense of urgency and futility battling each other all at once.  

"You need to do something with this lawn!" my Urgent Mind says, "It's going to snow soon and you won't have anything done.  It looks like you started to put a road through the back yard and then ran out of funding."

"What do you want me to do, it's too late to plant grass, and besides, the entire area will settle," answers my Futile/Reasonable Mind, "Calm down, it will be here in the spring."

 Yeah, that's right, I have a split personality AND I talk to myself.  I feel sorry for Carl, don't you?

Speaking of Carl, he and I spent all day Sunday putting slabs of hay down on the newly constructed mound system.  We're hoping to ward off having the mound freeze solid over the winter months especially since the ground is bare.  We had some old baled hay out in the Back Eight that we're using for insulation.

Carl cut the plastic wrap for me and I'd back the forklift teeth under the bale and haul it home.

We hauled six or seven bales (I lost count) and spread them out one slab at a time on the mound.   If time permits, we will spread out some more; I don't think it will hurt.  In the spring we'll have to rake the hay off and then plant grass seed, or we might rake the seed into the grass; we'll have to see what happens over winter.


 We worked until darkness fell on Sunday night.  Carl took the tractor home as the moon started to rise, but I stayed behind to spread the last bale of hay out in the moonlight.  I noticed my back was a tad tight while I was working with the slabs of hay, but shrugged the pain off as a passing thing. 

I've been feeling rather lousy the last few weeks; I've got so many random issues going on that if it wasn't me going through the misery, I'd be tempted to call myself a hypochondriac.

You may or may not recall last fall, winter and spring I dealt with annoying tailbone pain and ended up being referred to four separate doctors.  End result? All four of them found nothing wrong.  This wild goose chase cost us a fortune; what a waste of time.  Finally in late spring the pain in the derriere subsided enough so I could sit for more than five minutes, but I do have to be careful not to aggravate it.  

 Then we had umpteen garden walks and visitors again this year and I did fairly well health-wise, at least I didn't tip over when I was giving tours or anything.  But the last week in August I stupidly became dehydrated while cutting hay with the bush hog in the Back Eight.  I knew I should have taken breaks in the hot weather but neglected to.   The end result of my silliness was a monumental bladder infection.  After obtaining antibiotics, I was cured of the infection but the symptoms raged on for another two months. Talk about misery; I did an internet search looking for cures and came across supplements quercitin and bromelain and also marshmallow root which seemed to help quite a bit.  (No, you can't just chow down on 'Jet Puffed' 'Smores' along with a Hershey bar, that would be too much fun.)                      

In September I'd been started on a IV protocol which is in trial status for chronic Lyme disease.  Chronic migraines and scintillating scotomas abounded last fall and winter, but I can thankfully say I haven't had a headache or bladder issues since my third treatment.  Halfway through my round of IV's though, the trial was ended pending restructuring of the study.    I am waiting for notification of my next treatments hopefully in the very near future.  

Since the weather has been so nice and I know we are on borrowed time, I spent Monday clearing out the rest of the plant material in front of the gazebo and around the garage.  Carl came home and we were happily working together on the project when something went wrong.  

I was trying to yank a moonflower root out of the ground and had turned sideways to talk to Carl when sudden pain shot through my lower back.  I dropped the moonflower stem and went down on my hands and knees, hoping I was experiencing a muscle spasm which might pass if I did some gentle 'cat and dog' stretches.  No such luck.  When I got to my feet I had to walk bent over on my way to the house.  Raising my left foot caused immediate pain and I couldn't straighten up fully.  Doing the dishes later on that night I felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. 

My gloves where I left them. 

 I went to bed and hoped to wake up all better on Tuesday, but sadly, that wasn't the case.  I tore the house apart looking for Carl's back brace, but it was nowhere to be found.  

During my quest for the missing back brace, I came across a waist shaper that a lady had sold me when I bought the fancy dress for Joel's wedding.  I never wore the contraption, known as a Squeem (hey, I didn't make that up) until yesterday.  It took me about fifteen minutes to figure out which end was up and another five minutes to figure out how to hook all the hooks without unhooking the hooks that were already hooked.  Did you get that?  The secret is to start at the bottom, in case you're having trouble with your Squeem.  Hey, I'm here to help.  The sucker is really like a long-line corset-y girdle and is just as fun to wear as it is to squeem yourself into.   Truth be told, I did feel a little relief with the extra support, though.

With my loins suitably girded, I decided to take it easy and spent the afternoon putting greenery in the driveway pots and urns.  As long as I stayed upright I didn't feel too bad, and walking (slowly) was actually pain-relieving.  Getting in and out of a car was not, however.  I sorta shuffle-walked up to Mom's for her medication dosing. 
More spray-painted hydrangeas and greenery
I went to bed on Tuesday night thinking surely I'd feel better on Wednesday, but once again, there wasn't much of a change.  Being down on the ground didn't seem to aggravate my back too much, so I spent most of Wednesday clearing out the hosta borders along the road and by the Tardig.

After four hours on my knees I'd had enough.  Getting up and down was starting to take a toll, too.  I was starting to limp quite badly on my way to the house at sunset.

In a shocking turn of events, Carl made supper and did the dishes for me while I took an Epsom salt bath.  I felt a little better after the good hot soak, but was glad to end the day.  Surely Thursday I'd wake up and feel better.  

When I woke up on Thursday morning, the left side of my neck was horribly stiff.   I couldn't turn my head at all and my back was even worse.  Since the weather was going to be nice, Carl had taken vacation and kindly went to Mom's with her medication for me.  We decided to go shopping for a new back brace since I couldn't face another day of Squeeming, so off to Green bay we went.  I limped to the pharmacy aisles and selected ibuprofen, Aspercreme, Icy Hot and a nice back brace with velcro adjustment straps.  

"How are you today?" the cheery checkout clerk inquired.  

"Oh, I'm good," I winced as I helped Carl put the items on the belt.

As she ran each item under the scanner, I think she knew I was a liar.

Carl had me push the cart and I slowly meandered out of the store and into the parking lot.  Each step was a doozy as I carefully plodded along.  As soon as were in the car I whipped open the back brace package and with Carl's help, adjusted the straps.  Phew, much more comfortable than the Squeem.

We took the scenic route home and eventually found ourselves out in the garden after dinner.  I was in no shape to do much; I moseyed around getting shovels for Carl and other assorted go-fering, and finally did some work on my hands and knees.  The weather was a balmy, gorgeous almost 70 degrees, it's heart-breakingly perfect to work in, but guilty me should have gotten far more done than I accomplished today.   

Sometimes I have a tendency to get down in the dumps.  On Tuesday I had a crying jag come out of nowhere, right in the middle of trying to squish myself into my Squeem.  I haven't cried like that in a long, long time and even though it didn't help my looks any, I did feel better afterward.  Chronic pain and worry wear me out; it's a good thing there is a pressure relief valve. After the storm passed, I started to giggle, what a sight I must have been lying on the floor half in and half out of the girdle torture device, if it wasn't so painful, it would be hilarious.  Trying to get up off the floor was a hoot, too. 

Abby sent me a picture of Audrey last night; I cannot tell you how much seeing her beautiful face cheered me up:

 Look at her, all snuggly in her cow pajamas.....awwwww, such a Love!

I was able to make supper tonight and even did the dishes on my own, so maybe now I'm on the mend?  I did call my doctor today and he had some words of wisdom for me, too; I'm hopeful this is just a temporary setback. 

We'll see how tomorrow goes, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  One change is for certain, the forecast is calling for 34 degrees on Friday night.  Winter, here we come.........