July was quite the month! A lot of it was hot, really hot. I felt great for a part of the month due to a drug-induced power surge that carried me through lots of landscaping in the back yard. I read two books that were just exhausting. I went crazy for color and bought more yarn. I cooked, sewed, knitted and planted lots and lots of new plants in my gardens. A great month, July!
Today I drank my morning latte out on the deck and thought about everything that got done last month. There were new birds in the yard (blue jays!) and a small flight of honking geese flew over me as did my watering. Most of the baby bunnies have moved on, and the butterflies of July are gone. The flowering plants are recovering after a short break in the heat last week and I look forward to the late summer blooms. It is now August, but I can sense the looming presence of autumn just over the horizon.
In the yard this morning: a just bathed robin fluffed out and drying on the fence, the very first hydrangea bloom on my shrub, and a woodpecker (!) stabbing for insects in my freshly watered lawn.
So this was the month:
I read two books that were a handful. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is confusing, exhausting, and maybe the best book I have read this year. Think about the Lord of the Rings trilogy set in African antiquity, awash with magic and violence, and you would have this book. Hummingbird Salamander is a cliffhanging ecothriller that also chronicles the trainwreck of the main character along with the impending crash of the planet. Another good book, but one that I feel went too far down the climate change rabbit hole. Neither one of these books is uplifting. Nope, not at all. Worthy reads, but not good entertainment on a blistering hot day.
That’s it. In July I used up 4.75 skeins of yarn. I knitted one chemo hat and 5 PICC line covers. I finished a sweater and a pair of socks. You already know about the books.
I have cast on several new projects, and I’m still feeling pretty ambitious and getting things done, but the prednisone party is definitely over. In my new, dialed down state, I’m slowly knitting on a new cat, crocheting squares for a still undefined purpose, and sending my loom some regular side-eye. The spinning wheel has been put back into a corner but I’m hoping to return to it when the weather cools. I’ve pulled out a quilt project and I need to head on over to YouTube again to learn how to paper piece…
If you have been keeping up with the adventures of Casa Hannah and the CoalBear you know that I have been feeling just freaking wonderful for the last two week and getting more done than at any time in the last two years. I’ve been planting lots of new plants and getting all the gardens into order (for the first time in years because… next door pit bull who has now left the scene… yay… adios, pit bull…), and dragging out lots of things to get working on that have been languishing for years. The garden is starting to produce some color with the perennials now which is awesome as I’m seeing hot pinks and purples. Lavender, bougainvillea, and sage. Perfect!
Um… and then the party came crashing to a halt a few days ago as I started weaning myself off prednisone (marvelous stuff, prednisone!) and I got a little dizzy, and I… fell off the stairs. I literally realized I was going to be airborne at the last second and managed to push off enough to twist around and land on my feet in the living room where I pretty much crashed landed into the couch. Sad outcome. Did you realize that you can actually bruise your lungs? Okay, my lungs are less than pristine, but still… my ribs aren’t too happy, either. There was some talk about my liver… I had to stay indoors over the weekend and go back onto daytime oxygen.
That, however, did not stop me from going down the fiber rabbit hole!!
I’ve been considering how to attack the variegated roving. Should I separate the colors? Do pencil rovings down the length of the larger piece? Just take it off in strips and let the colors end up however? Still thinking about this one, but I am tending towards pencil rovings.
I love, love, love the yarn that I am using for this sweater. Isn’t that the perfect color for summertime knitting? This pattern is racing right along and I’m racing to get it finished because… some new patterns dropped on Ravelry and I am dying to knit one of them.
This is the Lace & Fade Boxy by Joji Locatelli, and that first picture is swiped off the Ravelry page and has her copyright. I have four skeins of a dark grey fingering yarn with smoky/woody tones that I am dying to use for this sweater. My first idea is to knit the entire sweater in the main color (lace and all… ignore the fade, we don’t need no stinking fade because I have four skeins of this color…) and then go back and knit I-cord trim at the neck, bottom, and wrists in that really cool multi yarn. That will look awesome, right? On the other hand, if there is enough yarn, I can do the lace in a fade with the pink yarns. I only have just over 100 yards of each color, so that may not work, but it might look pretty cool. I really am tending towards doing the whole sweater in the solid fingering. I have knitted two boxy sweaters in the past (the Vneck version) and I know them to be comfy layering workhorses in cold weather.
Then there is the crocheting. I haven’t crocheted in years because of my dodgy wrists, but I loved this bag (Square Scramble Sack) on Ravelry so much I bought the Noro yarn a week ago. Like I need more yarn, right? I had to order the crochet hooks from Amazon and then I was off to YouTube to learn how to make the puff stitch… that first little square has too many puffs in it, but I felt pretty successful and I’m now making a few squares every day that I don’t fall off the stairs.
There are two more sweaters that I want to knit, but I’ve got them on the back burner at the moment because I’m so far down the fiber hole at the moment I am just focusing on working steadily on each project for a few hours each day. Or maybe every other day so I don’t wear out my hip (spinning) or wrists (crochet). So far I’m making progress and I’m recovering from the fall okay at the same time so all is good. Except… the days of prednisone wonder are coming to an end as I feel the energy and the good times fading away. I start the lowest dose tomorrow and after a week it will be over.
Still, if you look at all those pictures that I put into this post, the days of color continue. Yay! My gardens have been returned to some semblance of order, I am making good progress on a number of projects, and I also got some chores done.
Hannah: I was put into the carrier and then put into the car and then taken to the vet and then I got cat-handled and there were some shots and would you believe that the vet said that I was slightly pudgy…
Hannah: Now I have to eat Indoor Cat food and the Mother of Cats has cut back on my cookies. Ugh.
Okay, this is an update on my progress on my goals for the year, but it is also a celebration of how well I feel at the moment and my launch into several projects that are rocking the color right now. Seriously, I am so drawn to colors at the moment that I’m pretty much doing some silly impulse shopping. Who cares. I’m having a good time!!
You want to see the silly impulse shopping and/or pink things first?
I could not leave the local garden center without that pink flamingo for my garden! Hello, it glows in the dark with an LED body. 🙂 What do you think about my Knitting Goddess fabric? Yep. That was a late-night Etsy impulse purchase. I’m thinking that it will make a fabulous project bag. What do you think about that Noro yarn? That will become a crocheted tote bag… I also needed to buy some brightly colored hooks to make the bag, and there may have been another big ball of beautiful yarn that fell into the shopping crate before I checked out, but I’ll never talk about it. My feet are hurting because of the spinning I’m doing, so I had to get those wicked compression socks!!! Yep, I am a total sucker for pink. Well, raspberry pink to be specific, but I will settle for hot pink. Finally, Hannah kept trying to drag off my knitted finger protectors, so I made her and Mateo some little tube-like cat thingies to play with. They like them!
Speaking of color, look at my progress on the spinning for Tour de Fleece.
Can you see that I am making progress? The bobbin on the right is where I am today. I’m almost through the crocus-colored roving (50/50 yak/silk from Greenwood Fiberworks), then I get to start on the variegated roving. I’ve been watching episodes of Vera on BritBox while I spin so I’m actually coming to think of this Tour de Fleece as the Tour de Northumbia… I am happy with the spinning as I think that my drafting is getting easier and the thread that I’m spinning is getting smoother. It may also be slightly larger, but I can live with that!
I don’t want to talk about this book yet because it really is remarkable, and I am changing my opinion about it as I go. It’s like entering a dream world and just experiencing the adventure without worrying too much about what’s going on. In time, I’m sure, I’ll understand what is happening. Maybe. I don’t care. I’m so entranced at the moment I’m reading a couple of hours a day during the heat of the day.
There is color in the garden, too. Look at this:
There is more color in the garden to replace the fading roses. My veronica is finally blooming, and I went back to the garden center to buy more lavender plants. I now have 11 lavenders in the garden… don’t you think that I should get another, so it is an even dozen? The pink yarrow is hard at work. Oh, yeah, there was also a garter snake in the garden today. Not a lot of color, but a ton of fun to see.
So, how much progress has occurred over the last 6 months?
I finished 30 hats and 28 PICC line covers in the first 6 months. I was hoping to get 50 of each done this year, so I am on track.
I have removed 76 skeins of yarn (100g of yarn = a skein) from the stash through knitting and donations. I hope to get 100 skeins out before the end of the year, so I am on track. I did just have a 6-skein slip, but I’m not worried.
The other knitting accomplishments are two sweaters and two pairs of socks.
I finished a quilt and got it hung up on the wall!
I learned how to double knit. Actually, I’m really stoked about how fun it was and I am looking forward to doing some cute projects. (I found that chart online and watched videos to figure out how to do this. Piece of cake, as it turns out!)
I have finished 32 books.
Well, that’s the progress report. My son helped me get my table loom set up for me to use and I’m dreaming of warping the floor loom before the end of the year. (Mateo: that sounds like fun!!) I’m wondering if I can weave something with the yarn that I am spinning now, and I’ve pulled out another quilt kit that has been languishing forever in a cupboard so that I can work on that in my sewing room. I’m entering the last few days on the full dose of prednisone; the dose will be tapered off and stopped over the next two weeks. While I was on prednisone my rheumatologist gradually stepped up my immunosuppressant to a final dose that is double what I was on previously. I feel really good right now and I have huge plans for the rest of the year.
I just love snapdragons! I mean, they have those cute little faces; they do look a little like dragon faces if you use some imagination.
Snapdragons are great plants for me in my gardening efforts. They are really hardy, tolerate dry conditions, and there are new varieties that are small and easy to grow in containers and along the edge of your driveway or garden. The picture above is one that is growing in the margin between my rocked-in area and the driveway; I didn’t plant this guy; it is a volunteer that sprang up from a previous year’s plantings. The original plant was something like this one… a mixture of orange, yellow and pink that changes in the flowers as they age. Pretty cool, huh. I look at the plant and wonder how/why the pigment in the flower is changing over time. BioGeek, right?! It gets even better…
Do you see all of those colors? They are the result of genetic recombination that happened in the original plant’s flowers when the plant reproduced and created the seeds that rose up to produce this array of colors. Some of the offspring have clear-colored flowers (the yellow and the red), while other have the mixed hues and color-changing characteristics of the parent plant.
Notice, I said parent plant. The funky thing about snapdragons is that they self-pollinate and reproduce on their own with the pollen getting to the stamens within the closed flower without any intervention by outside helpers like wind or insects. In fact, they are so hard to open that only a really heavy insect like a bumblebee can open the flower to get to the nectar inside. As the (big old fat) bumblebee climbs into the flower the little hairs on its body pick up pollen. When the bumblebee flies on to another snapdragon and then climbs into that flower it can carry the pollen in with it to cross-pollinate the new plant with the previous one’s pollen.
Bumblebees started showing up in my garden last week, and I would like to believe that they have been busy with the snapdragons too. If you snap open one of the flowers like I did in the picture above, you can see the pollen-carrying anthers above the opening and then waaaay down at the bottom of the flower is the nectar with the ovary. An industrious bumblebee can push open the flower and then muscle its way in to the bottom. Yay! More flower colors are on the way when there is crossbreeding among my plants. Here’s a great blog posting (Ray Cannon’s Nature Notes) showing a bumblebee taking on a snapdragon.
All this brings me to Mendel and classic genetics. Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) was a monk who had a deep interest in the science. He lived in a time when genetics was very poorly understood, and the basic question was “how are traits transmitted to new generations?” Mendel chose a plant that self-pollinated like a snapdragon (pea plants) and controlled the cross-pollination between parent plants with distinctive characteristics like the color of the flower, the height of the plant, or the color of the pea. He cut away the pollen producing structures in the flowers, used little brushes to carry pollen from one plant to another (taking on the role of the bumblebee in snapdragons), and then put little fabric hats over the flowers to prevent any other pollination from occurring. Tedious, right? Anyway, this work led to the essential understanding in basic genetics that we all now know. Some genes are dominant, and others are recessive. You have two copies of each gene (one from your mom, one from your dad), and the inheritance of which copy you got from each parent is random. Here’s an online tutorial of classic genetics maintained by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Good thing that Mendel didn’t choose snapdragons. Snapdragons are a problem for classic genetics because their genes don’t always follow the dominant/recessive inheritance pattern. Instead, some of the colors in snapdragons are both expressed at the same time, and we call that codominant. So…. a red snapdragon crossed with a white snapdragon will produce plants with pink flowers. We now understand how and why that happens, and there are lots of other examples of non-Mendelian genetics like blood type inheritance and tortoiseshell cats. If Mendel had chosen snapdragons to study, he would have floundered around forever, but thanks to him (and pea plants) the first understandings were worked out. Think of how hard that was… no one knew what the genetic material was or had glimpsed a chromosome, but he figured out the process using his pea plant data and some truly exhausting math. Way to go, Mendel!!
So, when I see my snapdragons, I am transported once again to my biology classroom and those early genetics lessons with students. I am connected to the world of science and the legacy given to me by Mendel and others. Why are my flowers a mixture of pink, yellow, and orange? Hmmm…. maybe there is more than one pigment gene at work at the same time, and the amount of pigment being produced is changed as the plant ages? Is this some funky combination of red and yellow genes? I kind of think so, since I now have plants with clear red and yellow flowers: they must have two copies of either the red or yellow gene. Is there another gene kicking in to modulate the amount of pigment produced as the flower ages? What about the pigments that I can’t see, but are there for the bees to see? This is so cool, and I just love snapdragons!!!!
This isn’t just a garden, but a genetics experiment that I’ve been running for a few years now.
The monsoon has arrived in Colorado! This monsoon is not bringing any rain my way, but it is carrying in cooler air and gentle breezes through the day. Suddenly I am spending lots of time outside. I’ve worked in the gardens every single evening for a couple of hours and the gardens are actually starting to look like… gardens! Okay, I have to admit, there is still lots of work to get done, but I’m so happy to see tidy weeded gardens with lovely rose bushes without a throng of weeds around them.
In the late afternoons, when it is still a little too sunny to work in the gardens, but nice for sitting outside because my swinging garden seat is in the shade, I move out to read with the wildlife. Look at the great pictures I got this week!
My yard is a playground for a group of juvenile squirrels who are always entertaining. There are huge swallowtail butterflies and tiny birds in the yard, but those guys haven’t stopped long enough for me to get a photo yet. The robin is a regular at my little birdbath, and the first bumblebees of the year showed up to sample some of my flowers. My favorite rose bush, the Princess Alexandra of Kent, now has 15 blooms going. My back gardens are filled with new plantings, and the lavender and yarrow are just a few days away from the first blooms. I’m really enjoying my time outside reading, and then I think about the book while I pull weeds and put the gardens into order.
Lessons in Chemistry: A Novel by Bonnie Garmus has been on my mind a lot this last week. The story is of Elizabeth Zott, an intrepid individualist woman who is a scientist by nature and calling, challenged by her gender and the time in which she lived.
I just love the Elizabeth Zott character. I understand and identify with her so much. Elizabeth is a chemist/scientist trying to do research into an original area of chemistry that intersects with biology. Did I mention that it is the 50s? Oh. Elizabeth has a lot of obstacles to overcome: women are expected to be homemakers, and misogyny and gender stereotypes are everywhere. Other women gossip about her and sabotage her. Men steal her work and take credit for it. She loses her job and ends up doing a cooking show on television.
Where she teaches cooking as lessons in chemistry to produce the best, most wonderful dishes ever. Women love her show, take lecture notes through the programs, cook the meals, and learn to think differently about their abilities, their role in society, and their individual worth. The book is wonderful. The book is about keeping an open mind, questioning everything, collecting data, and thinking for oneself. Also, there is a dog who is a major character in the story and who has a wonderful voice and viewpoint of his own.
So why does this book connect so much to me? Well… I grew up in the 50s and 60s. I entered college as a chemistry major (but once I discovered molecular biology, which is kind of biological chemistry, I was gone…). We kind of forget how things used to be for women, but I do remember how things were.
A small list of events from that time:
The men talking out front after church each Sunday sure were critical of women drivers. Like, women shouldn’t be allowed to drive. They were serious!
A woman at my church had cancer. Her husband, who was in charge of her health care, had that information concealed from her.
My high school counselor told me that I would make a great nurse because I was so smart, I could support doctors in making their diagnoses, helping them with their careers. I decided that maybe I should be a doctor…
My chemistry advisor in college told me that women were just taking away a slot from a man and that the education was wasted on them because they would just become housewives. Umm… I had just made the Dean’s List…
I interviewed for my first research lab job after college. I had to answer a lot of questions about my husband, his career plans, and whether we would be having another child. I think that I got the job because my husband needed me to support the family while he finished college.
Working at my lab bench late one afternoon I overheard the head of the lab discussing the research of one of the postdoctoral fellows, a woman. They were denigrating her work while, at the same time, talking about how they could clean it up for publishing. They published her research under their own names later that year.
Well, that’s enough to give you a glimpse of what it was like for women as they struggled for equal opportunities, standards, and pay. We’ve come a long way, but the fight goes on. What I especially loved about science is that it helped level the playing field and encouraged independent, out-of-the box thinking.
Which brings me back to the book. Elizabeth reads to the dog and teaches him hundreds of words. Elizabeth allows her daughter to read just about anything that she can get her hands on (a reading philosophy that I also benefited from), and teaches her cooking show viewers to take a few minutes to savor their accomplishments. Elizabeth rows with men. Elizabeth moves through the world, astonishingly self-confident, striving always to extend the envelope of her knowledge, fearlessly challenging the status quo, viewing everything through the lens of science.
I kind of think that Elizabeth Zott is my hero!
And science. Always, science.
Cooking may be chemistry, but biology is life.
This is me, sitting in my garden, thinking about life.
Okay, I need to be complete upfront about this: this is a crossover post. It is going to be a total amalgamation of the Scleroderma Chronicles and The BioGeek Memoirs because I just couldn’t come up with anyway to make them separate posts. Hey, I’m a biogeek with scleroderma. It was bound to happen eventually…
So, let’s get this ball rolling by talking about bean plants. That makes a lot of sense, right? When I was a biology teacher struggling to make plants interesting and to help students understand experimental design, I came up with the genius idea of letting the students design an experiment looking at the effect of fertilizer concentration on the growth of bean plants. The students had solutions with different concentrations of Miracle Gro fertilizer available to them, and then they had to struggle with planting and growing 6 bean plants while holding all the other variables constant. The plants grew, the students measured their growth, and then they charted the growth to make decisions about the best fertilizer amount.
I had the hot idea of using an Excel spreadsheet to display the student data to the whole class. That worked great! I then combined the data from all 5 classes together and… it was a huge mess. The plants were all different heights depending on which class was collecting the data. The students weren’t making any errors; the bean plants were raising and lowering their leaves each day in circadian rhythm. Depending on the time of day, the plants were a different height. Oh. Plants can move!
Sunflowers have been on my mind a lot recently. Beautiful sunflowers, whose faces turn throughout the day to follow the sun. My cousin grew enormous sunflowers one year that towered over the other plants in the garden. Sunflowers are the symbol of Ukraine. The sweater that I am knitting right now is in the colors of a field of sunflowers with their faces in the sun.
There are enormous fields of sunflowers near the airport in Denver that are just spectacular in the late summer. Early one morning in late August,2014, I drove past them on my way to my first appointment with a rheumatologist; my primary care physician had referred me to a specialist after some concerning bloodwork results. I was pretty sure that this morning was going to be a turning point in my life, and I was nervous and kind of fighting off tears. Behind me the rising sun poured light onto the glowing faces of sunflowers ahead of me as far as I could see; the sight was just thrilling, and I settled right down. An hour later the rheumatologist explained that I had limited systemic sclerosis (a form of scleroderma) and Sjogren’s disease. I was prescribed medication, sent for more testing, and told to stay off the internet. I looked for the sunflowers as I drove home that afternoon, but I couldn’t see them; the fields were too far from me as I drove east. Still, just knowing they were there sort of helped. Sunflowers. They were kind of a symbol of hope and the promise that I could handle anything.
Are you ready for this? The sunflower has been chosen as a symbol for scleroderma by Scleroderma Australia. Shine like a Sunflower is their campaign this June to bring scleroderma into the light of awareness.
Why a sunflower? Well, like sunflowers, we scleroderma people follow the sun. Strong sunlight is actually a problem, but the warmth… bring on the warmth! For the last few weeks, I have been recovering from surgery and waiting for my biopsy results. I have been sitting outside on my deck out of the direct sun, soaking up the heat and light. Day by day, I have been improving and no longer need daytime oxygen support. My cardiologist has restarted the medication that was halted while I was in the hospital, and it hasn’t even caused a bump in my recovery. Heat and sunlight are really making a difference.
My biopsy results arrived on the first day of June. I have developed a type of interstitial lung disease that presents as hypersensitivity pneumonia. I also have the characteristics of what the report called a vascular/collagen autoimmune disease, which is pretty much a descriptor for scleroderma. Yep. What my pulmonologist prepared me for. This is interstitial lung disease associated with system sclerosis (SSc-ILD) and I am going to get started on an increased dosage of immunosuppressants and a new drug to prevent scarring in my lungs called OFEV. This drug is really new; it has been developed in the years since my diagnosis, and now it is here just when I need it.
June is Scleroderma Awareness Month. Here in the US the theme of the campaign is Know Scleroderma. Oh, I know scleroderma, and so do some of you through my blog. Let’s put scleroderma aside for the time being and go back to sunflowers. And science. Remember that this post started with a little story about doing a science experiment with bean plants and my students? As simple as that was in my classroom, the heart of that process, curiosity, scientific experimentation, and data manipulation, is serving me well now. Ironically, new therapies and treatment approaches are being developed because of the lung scarring caused by Covid-19. Science. It rocks!
This afternoon I am once again outside in the warmth and light, knitting on my new sweater in the colors of sunflowers against the sky, admiring my beautiful newly planted sunflowers. They have their little faces angled to the southwest, following the sun as it starts to dip towards the Rocky Mountains.
Beautiful, tough, follow-the-sun sunflowers, reminding me to also follow the sun and to shine when I can. They remain a symbol of hope and a promise that I can handle anything.
Shine like a Sunflower.
June is Scleroderma Awareness Month. You can learn more about scleroderma at these links.
This month passed in a hurry. I spent most of a week in the hospital, and then the rest of the month recovering from the surgery. I haven’t been exactly frisky for the whole month, but I have been making some progress on several projects.
Doesn’t Hannah look pleased with her box? The house is pretty much full of boxes at the moment as I have been making use of all the shopping services that cropped up during the height of the pandemic. I’m getting everything that I need with little effort and Hannah and Mateo are having the best time ever. From their prospective it has been a really great month!
I worked on a sweater and community knitting this month. I really pushed and got the body of my Goldenfern sweater done early in the month and then immediately lost it on sleeve island. Poor sweater. It languished for the rest of the month in its knitting tub while I knitted chemo hat after chemo hat with a few PICC line covers thrown in for variety.
I know that this is the end of month report for May, but I want to acknowledge that now that we are in a new month, I have pulled myself together and taken that sweater off of sleeve island. I made some good progress over the last couple of days, and I finally got to the colorwork section of the sleeve today.
I also made a couple of more passes through the yarn stash culling out yarn that I will never use and throwing out scraps. (So hard to do; I deserve a gold star!!) Altogether, I knit 6 chemo hats this month (Barley Light by Tin Can Knits), 5 PICC line covers, and used up or removed 38 skeins of yarn from the stash. I think that I deserve more than one gold star for the destash efforts this month… I am kind of thinking that I will get more than 100 skeins out of the stash, and to be truthful, things are looking a lot more tidy in the stash room.
Everything is growing like crazy now. The roses all made it through the late season snowstorm and there are buds everywhere but very few blooms. The snapdragons, however, are blooming their little flower hearts out.
With absolutely no effort on my part these snapdragons have spread through the front gardens (and rocked landscaping…) and have brought lots of early color in reds, oranges, pinks and yellows. There is a BioGeek story here, but I will save it for another day. 🙂
I managed to read 5 books in May. Not great, considering that I was a slug for most of the month, but I’m still on track to make my Goodreads challenge goal of 50 books this year.
I’m reading the most amazing book right now.
I read A Visit from the Goon Squad, so I had some idea of what I was getting into with this book. The book is organized like a series of short stories about people who are connected to each other. There are a lot of names flying past, and there are also embedded themes within the stories, so there is a lot to keep track of. I am creating a flow chart showing the linkages and themes as I read which is helping me immensely. How I long for a book group!
So, here’s the simple backbone of the book: what if there was an electronic, open forum vehicle that let you store all of your memories? Think of this like Facebook on steroids where it is open to the world and people can access and search other people and memories. What would such a thing do to us; what would we lose, and what would we gain?
The people and themes that I am meeting as I read the book are engaging and I’m really enjoying myself. Also, I am going to need some really big chart paper to map out all of the interconnections the way things are going as I read.
My mother was a great lover of roses. One of my earliest memories was of an ongoing battle she had with the family dog and a newly planted rose bush. My mom planted the rose bush in a garden along one side of the house. The dog dug it up. My mom replanted the rose bush, and the dog, a boxer mix, dug it up again.
My mother, not one to give up easily, spanked the dog with the rose bush and replanted it.
That bush did really well and was covered with blooms every year. I can’t remember the color for sure, but I think that they were red. Our dog was so well behaved in the garden for the rest of her life that the story of the rose bush battle took on the stuff of legend. Look at that rose bush, my sister would say. Mom once spanked the dog with that bush!!
Later in her life my mom grew tea roses in her garden that were also the stuff of legend. These shrubs were huge; at least 4 feet high and the producers of really showy blooms; people occasionally knocked on my mom’s door to ask what type of rose they were. I once asked my mom what she did to get her roses to grow and bloom so well. I expected to hear some complicated formula to produce fabulous blooms that featured bone meal, wood ashes, and who knows what else… Nope. It was a really, really easy routine. Feed the roses Miracle Gro fertilizer every week, prune them once a month, and if they didn’t respond satisfactorily rip the shrub out and go buy another one. My mom, an agent of evolution in her rose garden. Who knew her success was partly due to ruthless natural selection? That earlier incident with the dog should have tipped us off!
Now I grow roses. I feed them Miracle Gro, prune them after each blooming, protect them from early frosts, mulch them with care. They are doing well, but not as well as my mom’s did. I tell myself that is because I live in a different climate from the one where she grew her show-stopping roses, but the truth is she had quite a gift for rose growing. Anyway, here are my favorites.
The pink rose on the left is Princess Alexandra of Kent, the yellow rose is Charles Darwin, and the one on the right is Hot Cocoa. I just love the English roses for their shape and scent, but they don’t do that well in my climate. The Hot Cocoa rose is hardier and handles the heat and low humidity better. Anyway, don’t they look nice?
Wait. I have more roses!
These roses are more like the wild ones that grow in our mountains. The one on the left is a Home Run, and the one on the right is a Cinco de Mayo rose. I love these guys; simple, hard-working and favorites with the bees. They handle the climate here well and flourish in the long dry summers.
I do have more roses, but you get the idea. There are rose bushes along the driveway, at the front of the house, in all the flower beds in the back yard, and even in pots in the house. You can never have too many roses is kind of a motto of mine.
I grow the roses for myself, but I also grow them for my mom and the other rose growers in my family. My aunt grew roses too and had a huge climber that I envy to this day. For all I know rose growing has been going on for generations in my family. Every single rose shrub, each rose bloom, is a link to the past and a promise of beauty in the future. You can never go wrong with a rose.
My mom died one year early in May after a long battle with cancer. A few days after the funeral was Mother’s Day, and in her memory I planted six red floribunda roses in my front flower bed. Those roses, bright red Showbiz roses, bloomed like my mom herself was taking care of them.
One day someone knocked on my door to ask what they were.
In 2010 my school district sent me to Baltimore, Maryland for a couple of weeks to get the training for an upcoming course that the district was offering. It was great! I met a lot of new friends, got the training that I needed, ate yummy food, and went to Washington, D.C. for the weekend. Okay, the National Mall is a little overwhelming. I only had the one day to visit as many sites as I could. The Vietnam Memorial. The World War II Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument (hey… the White House is right over to the right…). The National Archives. The Smithsonian Museum. THE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM!!!
You know that I had to go into the Smithsonian.
I didn’t have a lot of time once I got into the museum, but they had an exhibit about Charles Darwin and the Evolution of Evolution. Wow. There was no way this little BioGeek and teacher of biology was going to miss that! We only had an hour but of course I raced through the exhibit getting what I could out of it and then into the giftshop for a couple of mementos.
Let’s take a closer look at the necklace that I had to buy as soon as I saw it.
Oh, my goodness. I just loved June bugs when I was a kid. We would find them clinging to the side of the big elm tree in the backyard. Bright, iridescent green, big and slow moving, they were easy for us to catch and haul around. We used to tie a thread around their bodies and let them fly in a circle around us. You could sport them on your shirt as shiny and unique jewelry. They were quite the find when I was a little kid.
I don’t think that my parents were as excited about the June bugs as we were. The larvae are major pests as they mature in the ground, chomping down on any roots or organic materials that they can get their little mouthparts onto and damaging the lawn. Then there were the adult beetles. Um… my mother grew this big patch of boysenberry bushes that we harvested fruit from all summer. She would send us out with little pails to pick (and eat) the berries that she turned into endless jars of jam and countless cobblers. She loved her berries. So did the June bugs. I kind of think that’s why we could always find one in our yard on hot June days.
In her later years my mom grew a big patch of berries along the fence of her yard. Instead of June beetles she battled gophers in her yard; the gophers tunneled through the yard and build a minor mountain under the spreading canes of the berry plants. My eldest son became a berry picker himself and took glee in chasing the gophers with my mom, wielding a garden hose in battle as the gophers practically laughed at them. She still managed to produce several cases of berry jam each summer, but I’m pretty sure that she would have swapped the gophers for June bugs in a heartbeat.
Today I live in Colorado and there isn’t a June bug in sight. It gets too cold here in the winter to grow boysenberries and I have to resort to buying blackberries at the summer fruit stands. I still have that cobbler recipe that my mom used (it came from a flour bag in the 50’s), and every year I make blackberry cobbler and think that maybe I should make some jam, too.
Why did I have to buy the June bug necklace? After all, it has been never worn, but is still treasured.
Because the second I saw it that hot June day in Washington, D.C. I was instantly transported back to my childhood, picking boysenberries, covered in scratches and berry juice, playing with June bugs in the summer heat of a Southern California day.
p.s. Do you feel the urge to make your own berry cobbler? I blogged about it here.
Hi. I bet you were looking for another animal, weren’t you? Plants need some love too, you know.
Yarrow is a plant that does really well in the climate where I live; actually, it is a plant that is native to Colorado and can be found in many other biomes. It has kind of lacy leaves and produces large flat blooming clusters filled with tiny white (or colored) flowers. The plants that I have in my garden have been produced for the popular market and are nice and showy. The flowers are large, last most of the summer, and draw a lot of pollinators like bees, moths and butterflies. They mostly play nice with the other plants (okay, they have a habit over overgrowing the smaller perennials, so I have to ruthlessly weed out the plants that are out of bounds), and I like the lacy green plant as much as the flowers.
The first yarrow I ever noticed was a bunch that was planted along the curb in a busy intersection. This plant received no care, didn’t seem to get additional water beyond precipitation and splashes from the street, and looks fantastic. It was covered in huge yellow blooms that kept their color for most of the summer. Every single summer the plant put out more blooms and got bigger over the years: a perennial for sure. Hmm… what a great plant, I thought. Of course, I put some yellow yarrow in the garden.
Then I bought a spinning wheel. Then I found someone who had a flock of sheep and beautiful fleeces for sale. In just a few months I had spun my way through that first white fleece (a sheep named Bob) and had all of that yarn to dye. I took a natural dye workshop from Maggie Casey at Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins in Boulder, Colorado. What a fun (but smelly) day that was!
We made several dyes and learned how to get them to “bite” onto the yarn with mordants (think of mordants as linking chemicals that attach the dye molecule to the protein of the wool) like alum and iron. I loved the indigo dye vat that I made that day and got lots of blue yarns from it. There was a nice golden yellow from onion skins, a raspberry from brazilwood, and a sage green dye extracted from yarrow using iron nails for the mordant.
That sock, a genuine homespun, naturally dyed, hand knit item, has been my go-to boot sock for a couple of decades and was for a time my “interview” sock when asked to show a sample of my work to clients that I knitted for. Faded, but still going, it has been living in my car as part of the winter travel kit.
Back to the dyeing! Oh, boy. That yarrow was a smelly mess as we boiled the stems, leaves and flowers on the stove out on the porch. Seriously, this stuff could be medicine. Oh, wait. It can be medicine! Yarrow was known by early healers as a plant that could be used to stop bleeding and has lots of different names, some of which refer to this ability to staunch blood like nosebleed plant or woundwort. Luckily none of us were bleeding that day; we strained the vegetable matter (and nails) out of the boiled yarrow mess pot, added back in our skeins of yarn, and simmered gently until we had a nice sage green color.
That yarn became socks that I gave away to a coworker. The love for yarrow remained and I added white yarrow to my garden years later, and a couple of summers after that a wonderful purplish-pink yarrow joined the party.
The pink is my favorite. The plant is spreading out and taking over the whole garden that I planted it in (hang in there, lavender, you can stand up for yourself!). It blooms like crazy all summer and I keep thinking that I should cut the flowers to preserve them. I never have used the plants for dye, but I still have a lot of white yarn that would love to get some color going.
Beautiful yarrow, evoking forever the memory of that great Saturday dyeing yarn from a sheep named Bob in Maggie’s driveway. What could be better?