Snapshots from the Garden

The monsoon arrived right on schedule a couple of weeks ago here in Colorado. The days are now cooler, we get rainy days every week, and almost every afternoon there are thunderstorms. Some of the storms have really been memorable: serious rain, with thunder and hail. The cats have been staying inside, and the closet is getting quite a workout as they shelter in place waiting for the thunderstorms to pass.

Cat in the Closet
Is it over yet?

Yet, every thunderstorm has its silver lining. After struggling through the heat of July, the yard has burst back into bloom, and with the flowers and water I’m seeing more wildlife. Flocks of birds congregate in the back, and squirrels have been chasing each other across the roof, through the trees, and along the fence, and insects are everywhere. This morning was warm and sunny, so the cats and I returned to the yard. Here are some of the highlights.

Butterfly
The butterfly bush is now covered with blooms, and the butterflies have arrived. I think that this is a Painted Lady
Yarrow
The yarrow that I planted early this summer is now putting out new blooms.

Squirrel

Squash
My acorn squash survived the hail storms okay, but the plant lost most of its leaves. I’m hoping that the squash will make it to maturity.
Cat drinking from water
The outdoor water dish for the cats was full of fresh water. Yellow Boy moved right in.

I spent the morning drinking my latte, pulling weeds, and tending to plants that were damaged in the storms. By noon the clouds were piling up again over the mountains so the cats and I packed up and went back into the house. As I write this post the thunder is sounding, the rain is on the way, and MacKenzie is back in the closet.

Knitting time!

 

 

The Scleroderma Chronicles: Days of Wonder

The last time I chatted about my systemic sclerosis status I had just seen my doctors and I was doing great. I had sustained very little additional damage to my lungs and heart, I was taking a new supplement (tart cherry) that was an anti-inflammatory that my doctors thought I could tolerate, and I just flat out felt great. I could walk without pain, I had energy and I woke up most mornings feeling *normal* which was pretty darn amazing.

At the end of June I headed off to the clinic for my usual blood tests, joked with the man who draws my blood every 60 days, and bought myself a Starbucks on the way home to celebrate another successful outing. Two days later I was wondering why my blood results hadn’t been posted to the online portal. I was outside drinking my morning latte with the cats and the roses when the call came; my liver results were fine, but my kidney function had dropped dramatically. Oops. No more tart cherry for me!

Maine Coon cat with a bob tail.
Yellow Boy hanging out with my squash plants. Amazingly, he did not run away when the call came.

That’s when the days of wonder began. Wonder as in: “I wonder what will happen next?”, “I wonder what this is?”, “I wonder if I should call this into the doctor?” , and “Good grief, what now? I wonder when this will end?”

As soon as I went off of the tart cherry extract icky symptoms came back with a vengeance along with some new ones. It’s like they all made new friends while they were gone and couldn’t wait to show them off. Here’s what has been happening over the three weeks.

  • I woke up one morning with pitting edema in my arms and face. I looked like a chipmunk. I also had shooting nerve pain in one side of my face. Fabulous.
  • Two days later the edema was gone, but my knees hurt so bad they woke me up at 4am, and that was it for the night. Ugh! They also had swollen lumps on them!! In desperation I smeared medical marijuana cream (from a neighbor – this is Colorado and we have this stuff!) on them to see if that would help. The pain shut off within moments! I need to get me some of this stuff!!
  • The next day I slept through the night, but when I woke up in the morning the skin across my knees was so tight that I couldn’t bend them until I warmed things up with a heating pad. They itched and were warm to the touch. Maybe marijuana cream isn’t such a good idea after all. I’m losing patience, I tell the cats, who have piled onto my legs too since there is a heating pad in use… When will these cats learn how to make a morning latte?
  • Shooting pains start in my lower abdomen the day after my knees stop hurting. Diverticulitis, says the internet. Seriously! I wonder if I should call this in? I wonder if I should see that gastroenterologist after all…

Over the next several days I experienced scary low blood pressure episodes, chest pain, fevers, itching, more joint pain, and to top things off I started losing my balance and falling over without warning a few days ago.

Days of wonder, indeed. Nothing lasts; it appears that I’m on a roller-coaster of symptoms that will provide my summer thrills and scares until the ride ends (hopefully soon!). My repeat blood work showed that my kidney function had improved, and my rheumatologist isn’t saying scary things to me any more. My blood pressure is again stable, the chest pain and edema are gone, my balance is restored, and the pain in my face has vanished.

Cinco de Mayo rose.
This is one of the roses in my garden. It is called “Cinco de Mayo“, and I planted it in memory of my mother, who loved roses, who died on May 5th many years ago, and who remains the benchmark for all time for patience, grace and courage in the face of adversity.  Of course this rose has been blooming beautifully during these days of wonder.

This could be a really bad time, but I’ve discovered that it is best to just go with the flow and to focus on the ridiculous side of all of this; lumps on my knees, my chipmunk face, and falling over without warning. Really, don’t you just want to bust out laughing at the thought of all that? Thank heavens I didn’t develop a rash! It is also important to notice all the wonder around me. The beauty of my garden and the flowers, the days in bed reading new books, great dinners produced in the crock pot, the antics of the cats, and the joy of putting together a new knitting project. Wonder is endless, easy to find, and costs nothing. Okay, let’s be honest. Binge watching shows on Netflix helps too.

Today I feel a little dizzy, but much better. Hopefully I’m coming to the end of the tart cherry withdrawal. That’s right. Best to stay positive and cheerful.

I wonder what will happen tomorrow?

MacKenzie Speaks: a little this, a little that…

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

Handsome Cat
Have you been missing me?

The Mother of Cats and I have been very busy. May is always one of our favorite months as we can finally move back out into the yard to begin summer living in earnest. Here’s a little update on all that we have been up to:

Flowers
The Mother of Cats cleaned the garage and then went out and bought all of these flowers for Yellow Boy and me…
Roses and flowers
but then she put them all into the front yard! I’m not allowed in the front yard. These are at the front window
Flowers
…and these wax begonias and the alyssum are along the front walk. I love laying down in alyssum; don’t you? Why doesn’t she let me out front!! I think that it is high time that I threw a cat tantrum. She just doesn’t know how lucky she is!! Lots of people would just kill to have an alyssum-loving cat like me!
Cat and toys
Or I could just sadly dig around in my toy basket. Sniff. I’m not sure she loves me…
Necklace
As soon as she got those flower into the ground it rained. Serves her right!! We stayed inside and made this little cat toy necklace together out of some stitch markers she made last week. See all of my cat fur in the picture? Funny, she didn’t add it to my basket the way I thought she would…
Bricked Garden
After days of rain it was time to move into the back. Do you remember Darwin’s Garden and the evil purple spiky flower? The plant that took over the garden and killed all of the other plants? I totally thought that old purple had won the fight, but look at what the Mother of Cats did to it… she dropped almost 800 pounds of brick on top of the plant, covering the whole garden, and then moved our garden swing on top. Hey. This is nicer anyway because now we’re in the shade!
Cat in swinging chair
Ha ha, purple plant! We win!
Rose Cuttings
She even took some cuttings from the Darwin rose before she dropped the bricks. They are going to a new Darwin’s Garden.
Cat
While we were out moving bricks (hey, I wanted to help. Why does she get upset when I’m in her way?) the cat next door came to visit. I don’t like him. I call him Enemy Cat. The Mother of Cats calls him Dobby after some Harry Potter character. Whatever.
Cat
I still keep my eye on him when he visits. He lives with the dogs next door, and if I get too close to him they bark. Hey. They have some nerve. This is MY YARD!!
Weeds
The Mother of Cats finally poked him with the hose and chased him of. I like her style! We moved on to weed another flower bed. This garden has 5 rose bushes in it. Can you see them?
Flowers
Oh, there they are!
Cat
There’s more gardens to weed, but the Mother of Cats has to buy more soil and flowers… That means we get to hang out in the swinging chair. That’s better anyway, because that way she spends more attention to me. Except when she tries to knit out here. I put a stop to that right away. Outside is for cats!!!

Next week we are going to put up the loom and start weaving. Woohoo!! You haven’t lived until you have put a warp on a loom with the Mother of Cats! This is more fun than a Christmas tree. Yarn chomping is tame compared with the fun of rolling in the warp!

Stay tuned. Next week should be a big one.

I’m such a good boy.

Can I have some cookies now?

^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats: I also finished up every single WIP last month and completed the latest round of doctor visits and testing, but those will be new posts. I’m still trying to catch MacKenzie sleeping in the empty WIP basket. Every time I get up to get the camera he thinks I’m handing out cookies and comes running… rotten spoiled cat…

The Cat Days of Summer

It is still hot here and things are really slowing down. Most of the plants in the garden have stopped blooming and the cats are on strike under the largest bushes in the yard trying to stay cool. Smoke from western USA wildfires have made the air quality where I live less than optimal so I’ve been staying indoors as much as possible; this is easy because… Olympics! Prime knitting weather!! Today I’m watching volleyball (Serbia vs. USA. Go USA!!) and cranking away on the Antarktis shawl. Okay, that’s enough detail. Here are the pictures. 🙂

Close-up of Knitting
I’m loving the colors of my Antarktis shawl
Shawl
Here’s a shot that better shows my progress. I’m now at about the halfway point.
Cowl
I’m about half way through the Hawkshaw cowl too. I love, love, love this yarn from Spincycle Yarns.
Butterfly bush
My butterfly bush has finally started to bloom, about the only color in the entire yard. Not that any butterflies are bothering to come see the bush in the heat. Even the grass has stopped growing. Mostly it is managing to stay alive. Mostly.
Cat
The cats are too hot to chase any butterflies, anyway. Yellow Boy sleeps spread out on the damp ground under a shady bush.
Cat
Yellow Boy: I can haz matted fur…

That right. This cat grows new balls of matted fur daily. I’ve been shaving him when they get really bad, but he can get a little scary while this is going on (growling makes me nervous, and then there are those teeth!) so we do what we can. Last night I got almost everything off except some lumps of fur on his chest. This should be an Olympic event! I wonder who would get scored… me or the cat? We could call it single-handed cat clipping. Points are deducted if you resort to using a foot or sustain a scratch.

Cat
MacKenzie: I have superior fur: no fur mats for me!

Last week I went to see my primary care physician and she ordered me the oxygen-to-go equipment and changed my blood pressure meds. Now my heart rate is up, my blood pressure is down, and my oxygen levels are better. I feel pretty good and have stopped the daytime oxygen. OK, I take the support tank with me when I leave the house, but things are still better. It’s a win!!

So that’s the cat days of summer. Olympics, heat, matted cat fur, oxygen level checks, and knitting marathons.

I’m on the home stretch of the Antarktis shawl. Time to decide which shawl to knit next.

 

 

Road Trip: My Sister Knits

Every Wednesday I go to a local yarn store to knit with a group of ladies who have become my friends. Okay, let’s be honest, they are one of my main support systems. I love the ladies in this group, and last week we all headed out on a road trip to the yarn stores of Fort Collins, Colorado. We visited three stores and treated ourselves to a fun lunch. It was a great (if a little exhausting) time, and it is always exciting to explore new yarn shops, but one store in particular was a huge hit with me.

My Sister Knits is located in the carriage house behind a lovely home on a street shaded with mature trees. We drove by twice before we figured out that there was a discrete sign under a tree out front; the low profile might be due to its presence in a residential section of the city. I really don’t know about that, but it is totally worth the extra time to locate it! To get to the shop you walk through a bright and inviting gate to the side of the house and…

Yard
you enter the sweetest yard with brick patios and walkways, tables and benches for knitting, sparkly lights and lovely plantings. I was struck with envy.
chickens
Then there were the chickens… these pampered chicks have this lovely house for their coop, and the metal and wire structure to the right (which is much larger than shown in the photo) is their courtyard. So cute! I want chickens for my yard too. I want these trees and the decorations, and maybe that birdbath while we’re at it. Do you think a bee hive would be over the top? I got great ideas for my yard before I even made it to the yarn shop!
My Sister Knits
Oh, there it is. The store is located in a converted carriage house that used to be a two car garage with upstairs storage and an office used by the previous owner. Now it is a lovely yarn shop. Let’s go in…
Yarn
OK, the shop isn’t huge, but everything that is there is JUST PERFECT!! Seriously, I wanted everything. Yarn that is hard to find, too wonderful to ignore, and in a great selection of colors. I felt like I had gone to heaven!
Shop Owner
and I met Julie, who is the most positive and helpful owner you could hope for. No wonder her shop is so appealing.
Yarn
Upstairs you find all the fingering yarn…Madelinetosh and Hedgehog Fibres in every color and weight you could wish for, along with knitted samples, patterns, and cute kit packaging. There were other yarn brands, too, but I never made it that far. 🙂 This table had kits to make Melanie Berg’s On the Spice Market Shawl along with kits for the shawls you can see. You know I bought the yarn to made one of these shawls… There was a Stephen West The Doodler hanging on the wall, with every color of Hedgehog Fibers yarn lurking nearby just waiting for you to put together a three yarn combination… The shop has a license to sell Ravelry patterns, so anything you wanted, they printed it for you and you were in business.

So I got silly and bought yarn. I bought some of the kits that were shown, the yarn for some shawl patterns that have been waiting patiently in my Ravelry shopping cart, and some yarn that was too beautiful to just leave sitting on the rack. I have put together the kits to make seven new shawls (lucky seven… can you feel a new post coming on?), and launched into some small projects that are rich in color and learning. Here is the one that I started first.

Yarn kit
Downstairs on a high shelf these little kits were on display: brioche knit cowls. Hey, I always wanted to learn how to knit brioche…
Brioche cowl
Look Mom! I can knit brioche!! Look at how nice these two colors go together. Even the little stitch marker came with the kit. This is the Hawkshaw Cowl by Kate Burge and Rachel Price. That yarn is a single worsted weight merino yarn. Yum!
I-Cord Cast O
I even learned how to do the i cord cast on that Julie recommended I use. Thank you You Tube!

Today it is cool, overcast and threatening to rain. The Olympics starts tonight, and I have lots of yarn on hand and visions of shawls dancing in my head. Forecast: major knitting.

What a great road trip!

 

 

Darwin’s Bane

I have been battling this ill-behaved plant (with kind of cute flowers) for years now. It has resisted efforts to pull (or dig) it out, and it is just taking over the garden with my Charles Darwin rose. Finally I published its picture and asked for help in identifying it.

Plant
The plant grows like crazy…
Purple blooms
…and the flowers are kind of cute.  Too bad it is invasive. Bad plant, bad!!

My friend Deb recognized it: it is Campanula rapunculoide. Oops. This is a case of good news, bad news. The mystery is solved, which is good news, right? The bad news is that this plant was imported from Siberia and is now regarded to be an invasive weed. Siberia?! Fabulous. There is nothing like an extreme environment to encourage the evolution of wicked adaptations. Wikipedia (the link above) describes it as “an extremely invasive weed” and notes that “eliminating it is nearly impossible”. Oh, no. I took to the internet to see what else I could find.

Hardy plants for hardy souls posted an article about this plant. It is described as “the evil twin” of a better behaved plant, ladybells.  Born to Garden just comes out and calls it “one evil plant”.  Evil. Ugh.

It even gets better. There is an online article that describes this plant as “The Zombie Weed“. Zombies! As in “you can never kill it” zombies. As in “do you think we need a flamethrower…?” As it turns out, even a flamethrower wouldn’t be enough; if I burned all the plants, the roots deep in the ground would live on, and on, and on, sending up new shoots for practically forever . Zombies.

Flowers
I pulled up every leaf  and stalk that I could get my hands on. Evidently the plant has extremely hardy roots and tubers underground (made to survive in Siberia, this one…) and I will never get all of it.  I can slow it down, however. I raked the soil with a claw tool and pulled out a lot of root material, but evidently the root system goes down a few feet.

Evidently this sweet little plant will take over the lawn, is resistant to weedkillers and is just plain a bad ass plant. Great. In evolution terms, Darwin would describe it as extremely fit. Ripley would tell me that I should just take off and nuke it from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). It looks like my roses are in big trouble here.

That's right!
I told you my money was on the purple spiky plant! As it turns out Darwin’s Bane was a good name after all.

You know, I think that I will make a bricked area for my swinging garden chair where that garden is now. The Darwin rose can start living in a pot. I wanted to make a little more room in that part of the yard, anyway. I’ll put in shrubs like catmint and butterfly bush where I don’t brick; they will grow over this evil, zombie-licious plant and steal its light.

Adapt, migrate or die Campanula rapunculoides.  

Life in Darwin’s Garden can be tough.

 

 

MacKenzie Speaks: Abandoned in the Yard

The Mother of Cats has been so boring lately… all she does is spin yarn! The spinning wheel doesn’t like me to mess with it, so my brother and I have been left outside to entertain ourselves.  Alone. In the gardens. It is so hot even the bugs are hiding…

Cat
It could be worse I guess. While she’s inside I have unlimited access to the swinging garden chair. 🙂

My brother Yellow Boy has been sleeping in Darwin’s Garden under the butterfly bush. He’s counting the days until it blooms and the butterflies arrive.

Yellow cat
Was that a butterfly?

The Mother of Cats did take some breaks to work in the gardens. Lots and lots of weeds have been pulled. Some new flowers got planted. She accidentally sprayed Yellow Boy with water. I think it was an accident.

Purple blooms
The purple spiky plant in Darwin’s Garden finally bloomed this week.  Someone, please, tell her the name of this plant!! I don’t think “Darwin’s Bane” is a good name. 
Angelica
She ripped out more of the purple plants and moved over some of this pink angelica. Good luck angelica. Only the strong survive in Darwin’s Garden.

Finally she got the spinning done. Hey, she has been spinning that dog! We have been shoved outside so she could spend time with dog hair? Abandoned for a DOG!! What is up with that!!

I have to admit that this yarn smells pretty interesting.
I do have to admit that this yarn smells pretty interesting…
Yarn
…and the final product (she calls it PuppyPaca) looks pretty good.
Oh. It's pretty comfy. Maybe dogs aren't that bad after all...
Oh. It’s actually pretty comfy. Maybe dogs aren’t that bad after all…

The finished yarn was taken to her friend Deb today and we were left alone again. What is up with all this feline neglect? When will I get the doggy yarn back to sleep on? There was a hailstorm while she was gone and Yellow Boy wailed (not a brave one, that boy) and hid under the bed. The purple plants in Darwin’s Garden all got knocked down…

That's right!
…but she doesn’t call it Darwin’s Garden for nothing. My money is still on the purple spiky plant. Tough luck angelica. 

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

  • The PuppyPaca is a 50/50 blend of dog down and alpaca. You can learn more about the yarn in this earlier post about Jake and the project to make some yarn from his fur. The final yarn (460 yards) is approximately sport weight. Deb plans to knit a small shawl.
  • If you know the name of Darwin’s Bane, please let me know!!
  • No cats whatsoever were harmed during this week (well, Yellow Boy did get a bath…).