Back Again!

26 03 2011

Getting sick of me yet? Maybe it’s the gorgeous weather, maybe my massive procrastination is coming to a head as I put off a dozen critical tasks in favor of taking pictures and writing about the yard. Whatever the reason for my creative spurt, it has inspired this post, at least three more to follow, and a recipe for the long neglected recipe section of this blog.

Let’s start off with a smile:

La-Napolera

Former park visitors gave AJ this “No Pooping” sign, because he raved about it so much. My focus is on the cactus, but the squatting dog does upstage the subject. Do try to remember the cactus; as it will feature in a future post.

If plants could talk (and surf the internet) some of mine might have been miffed for being left out of the garden showcase post. If they could express emotions like pride and motivation, Oregano would win the prize. This plant is a real over-achiever, and is competing with the Mint for who can take over theirs and all neighboring containers.

Oregano

Purslane strives to shed its reputation as a weed, by being packed full of nutrition and by displaying plump, fleshy leaves and dainty, colorful flowers. This is my secret weapon should the Zombie Apocalypse happen in my lifetime. A person would be hard-pressed to starve with as much Purslane as we have around here.

Purslane

AJ is the tree enthusiast. He is cultivating Avocados, Papayas, Mangoes, and this Ponytail Palm that his mom has been growing for us.

Ponytail-Palm-Etc.

When she and Mark visited in January, they went to Rock City Gardens in Vero Beach and found this mature Ponytail Palm. We look forward to the day we can lounge in the shade of our own grown-up, primordial-looking tree that isn’t really a palm and stores water in its foot.

Ponytail-Karen

This Pigeon Pea is also supposed to be a tree. It is stunted after surviving the winter. I won’t plant it in the ground, because it is an heirloom, of sorts, and I don’t want it to pick up the dreaded nematodes. All of the potted plants are going with us when we move, and we hope to leave unwanted stowaways behind.

Pigeon-Pea

Amaranth or Callaloo is everywhere. The volunteers have popped up from seeds left by the one and only batch of these that I planted. Welcome weeds, they are, though. I call them “Secret Super Lettuce”, because they grow in the worst conditions, laugh at nematodes and have tasty leaves, great for salad or on a sandwich when real lettuce has long since gone bitter. They are also great as cooked greens.

Amaranth

Chives limped through winter. They seem overjoyed with the warm weather and are preparing some lovely, fuzzy, lavender flowers for a future post.

Chives

The Back 40 was getting primed for a feature. That was until AJ got rambunctious with the lawnmower! I told him to check with me before doing yard work back there. I had some great clumps of Gaillardia and Seaside Oxeye Daisies, which were doing nicely, and promising to bloom soon. I also had a little watermelon plant, that was thinking about growing up soon. So much for that. I came home, yesterday, to find that he chopped them down, as well as the Spiderworts I was harboring.

At least he left the Crookneck Squash. I would have been pretty crabby to find that mowed down!

Crookneck-2

Crookneck

With everything blooming, I had begun to wonder when the insects would show up. Activity is beginning to pick up. I’m starting to see my favorite beneficial insects, some that are more popular with me than most gardeners, and signs of the more rotten little critters who think I have been working on their own private buffet all winter!

Stick around to find out who they are.

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Smokey the Silly (Indoor/Outdoor) Cat

25 03 2011

Notice anything different about this photo? That’s right…Smokey is on the couch! Charming cat that he is, he has endeared himself to AJ, thus achieving indoor privileges. He is only allowed daytime, supervised visits; but he makes the best of them.

Couch-Cat-Smokey

Some day, when we get a video camera, I will record some of his antics as he plays with scraps of wood and runs up trees. For now, I will share the pictures of one of his latest naps. We call this a “Soft Spot”. After a long night out on the town, he bolts through the door and looks around for a soft spot. We place towels and throws over the furniture in an attempt to “cat proof”. Strange cat that he is, Smokey prefers to drape himself over something uncomfortable, and unprotected instead.

Smokey-Couch-Arm-Crasher-Re

Whatever works for his cat self. He just seems grateful to be allowed inside.

Smokey Couch Arm Crasher





Life is Precious

24 03 2011

On February 21, 2004, AJ and I walked into a podunk wedding chapel in St. Marys, Georgia, and made our vows. No matter whether the production is flamboyant or low-key, most of us go into the institution with the expectation that we will grow old together.

As we signed the marriage certificate, I had visions of future family celebrations, camping trips and waking up in 40 years to gaze beyond the wrinkled landscapes of each others’ faces and into cataract-clouded eyes.

As our 7th anniversary approached, all of those dreams seemed to be at risk of slipping away.

When we first met, I noticed an unusual mole on AJ’s back. I described it to him, and decided to keep an eye on it. Having recently experienced a minor basal cell carcinoma, I had a heightened awareness for all things that hinted of skin cancer; especially the dreaded, deadly Melanoma.

The years passed. We built a life together. The infatuation ripened into love and dedication to each other and our future. We got responsible and started getting medical checkups. When AJ got into the VA program, they completed an extensive physical. Although the funny mole had not changed, I asked him to have the doctor look at it. He forgot, but the doctor found it on his own. It was measured and put under observation.

Months later, AJ got around to a follow-up visit. He came back with the news that the mole had gotten bigger, and that there was another growth on his arm that concerned the doctor. A biopsy was scheduled. I had to work, so his mom, Karen, and her significant other, Mark, came for a visit and took him to his appointment. His mother was concerned, because she is a two-time cancer survivor, and the disease runs in the family. Perhaps it was denial, perhaps I had too many other things on my mind; for whatever reason, the thoughts of the biopsy were relegated to the back of my mind, and I continued on with the assumption that we would grow old together.

The days came and passed, with no word from the clinic. I had planned a trip to Jacksonville for my stepmother, Judith’s, birthday and to see my dear best friends and my darling goddaughter, Madeline.

As I was sitting on Judith’s couch, getting ready to take her to dinner, I got a call from AJ. The doctor had just called him. The story he got was that the spot on his back was melanoma and that the one on his arm was even worse. There was also something about his blood “not looking right”. So there I was, three hours away, getting ready to help celebrate a birthday and having to deal with news that the rest of my life was about to drastically change. I went numb (just like you always hear). The words were coming from my mouth, but it felt as though I was floating outside of myself, observing everything in slow motion. I tried to put on a happy face for the dear woman, who is still mourning the loss of her own life partner, my father.

Although I had only just gotten there, I felt compelled to get back into the truck and go straight home. AJ assured me that he was OK (which I later learned was not really true), and that I should stay. The rest of the trip was darkened with the black cloud of a future without my beloved.

When I got home, things were strange. AJ was subdued. His spirit was muffled. We went about our lives like robots programmed to audit bars and clean house and live a human life. I would have been a rusty robot, though; because I was on the brink of tears at all times. As soon as I found myself alone, my face was drenched. We acted like regular people (only nicer to each other than normal), but my eyes were puffy and red most of the time. I’m sure some customers suspected that I was dipping into illicit substances.

The doctor had called on a Thursday with the results. The appointment, to have his stitches removed, was on the following Monday afternoon. Every hour felt like a week. Somehow, we managed to get our work completed. I also managed to whip myself into a frenzy by scouring the internet for information about melanoma. My own skin cancer scare had disturbed me, but the thought of being left without my husband was worse than the thought of dying, myself.

The prognosis for metastasized melanoma is not good. Treatments are virtually ineffective, and the survival rate is six months to a year. Unless you are independently wealthy, the best hope is to get accepted into a study. I researched this, as well as natural cures. There is some good research indicating that chemotherapy with Dandelion root extract could be effective, and that even consuming the substance might help fight off cancer. I eyed my two Dandelion plants and wondered how many treatments I could squeeze from them.

I planned out how I would nurse him through his last days. I even fantasized about taking him out to our sandbar on the lagoon, when the end was near, and helping him float on to the next realm in the least painful way possible. I even considered taking that trip with him. Mostly, I just reeled at the thought of spending the rest of my life alone.

Who would I do everything with? How would I get my work done? Who would I go to when I was happy or angry or sad? How would I stay warm when winter cold crept into my bed? What would I do when things broke? I have always been grateful to be married to my best friend, but I never realized how hopeless and helpless I would feel without him.

I suddenly felt motivated to complete the most mundane and tedious tasks. Everything that I have been putting off became acutely important. I imagined that I would soon be in no state of mind to do anything, and that I should get busy while I still could. It was as though the timer on my life was about to run out, and I wasn’t ready.

We were noticeably more kind and loving towards each other during those days. It felt as though nothing external mattered any more, and that our parting memories should not be polluted with bickering or taking each other for granted.

We were angry with the doctor for phoning in such bad news and leaving a long weekend to dwell on it. I was angry with myself for not insisting that he have the mole looked at seven years ago. I was frustrated with him for not taking it more seriously.

On Monday afternoon, we found ourselves sitting in front of the nurse, who was expecting to remove the stitches from the biopsy. He chided us for having taken out the stitches and used the extra time to check the home blood pressure machine against the one in the clinic. We were agitated with having to wait for a consultation, and the fact that the nurse was more concerned with missing stitches than talking to us about how long AJ had to live. We explained the phone call from the doctor and how we were anxious to hear the official results. In my mind I was screaming “What is wrong with you? My husband has a death sentence. Who cares about stitches and blood pressure?!”

The nurse nonchalantly pulled up the records on the computer, and stated that it was melanoma in-situ (which I had already learned was the earliest and least dangerous stage). He continued to explain that the growth they had removed from AJ’s arm was completely benign.

We both let out a long breath, that we must have been holding for days, and barraged the nurse with questions about how the story from the doctor could have been so different from what he was telling us.

Relieved, and with a regained perspective, we left the VA clinic and stepped into the bright Florida sunshine. The black cloud was gone and we both shared an unspoken vow to be more thankful for what we have.

An excision was scheduled to make sure that they had gotten all of the cancer. The surgeon assured us that it was as close to harmless as melanoma can be, and that it is a type of slow growing melanoma that many people have for decades without incident.

He removed a chunk of AJ’s back that was the size of a human thumb. I think it would have been OK, had not the nurse shown it to him! It was a painful episode, and I let him milk it for every ounce of coddling.

The remaining scar is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.

mela-no-more

When we came home from the results of the biopsy, on what had become one of the happiest days of my life, AJ got drunk, played the stereo loud and ticked off the neighbors.

All is good though. AJ is alive, and so is our dream of being two old farts together!






…in with the new

19 03 2011

When you live the simple life (read: cheap) small improvements make a huge difference.

We don’t have smart phones, nice clothes or super-fancy anything, but certain luxuries have greatly improved our quality of life.

First, it was a new stereo receiver to replace the one that had a horrible high-pitched hum. Then, a 32″ flat screen Hitachi LCD TV to replace the failing hand-me-down we were previously going blind trying to watch. (Bear with me on this. I am really working to justify this TV.) Truth is that he got it for less than half of what it is currently selling for today.

32" Hitachi Flat Screen LCD Ultravision

A reverse osmosis filter to get the salt, chlorine and other impurities out of our water.

Reverse-Osmosis

AJ’s mom got us a fire ring for Christmas. We’ve already had a number of memorable nights sitting (and drinking) around the fire; including the one night where his mom (after a Chardonnay infusion) demonstrated her best Yoga moves on the concrete patio. That night has gone down in history as the “Up-dog, Down-dog night”.

Fire-Ring

One of our best purchases has been the RV. This fifth-wheel has served us well over the past six years; allowing us to live in affordable comfort as we worked through a difficult financial period in our history of marriage.

A quick note for those of you who don’t know AJ, personally. His purchasing habits border on the obsessive. When a buying opportunity breaches the horizon he goes into research mode. For days, weeks, even months, he wades through the internet, interviews anyone who may have knowledge of the product and explores various retail outlets offering said item.

This painstaking deliberation is both inspiring and agonizing to observe. By the time the money leaves our bank account, he is qualified to teach a college course on the item we are buying.

Smaller purchases, such as flip-flops or an oil filter, might only take a week of research. A larger purchase, like a car, can take up to a year (as was the case with our “new” car). The beauty of this is that he always manages to find the best value. Many of our belongings have actually appreciated since acquisition, and a good number more have held their value over time.

I can say, with confidence, that our 2008 Toyota Camry is right up there with the RV. The money spent on fuel and maintenance, due to our commutes to Orlando, was burning up our wallet. This car is modern, comfortable, looks and smells like it just drove off the showroom floor, and has a unique interior that is the envy of the members of the Camry forum (which has replaced the Mercedes forum as AJ’s most visited website). Oh, and it saves us so much money on fuel, that it almost pays for itself.

Not exactly sure how he did this, but the first few miles he drove on this particular trip, he got 56.7 mpg. The actual average is around 40 mpg.

Mileage

Hybrid

Camry-Side

Camry-Front

That’s it for the new stuff that has recently improved our quality of life. I’ll be back very soon to talk about what we went through when we thought one of those lives was about to end prematurely.