The Scleroderma Chronicles: Safe House

You know, I kind of view myself as a happy camper. I have more things (ahem… knitting projects) going then I can get finished on any given day or week, books lined up to read, and a “to-do” list that I’m slowly working my way through. Hey, people, I fixed the loose tiles on my kitchen floor last week!! My cat MacKenzie is my constant sidekick throughout the day as I knit, work in the garden, read in bed, and even with me (underfoot, demanding cookies) while I’m cooking. Even on the bad days when I’m pretty much down for the count, I manage small victories. There is just one problem with this picture.

Look at these beautiful coneflowers I just added to the garden. I’m hoping to lure some butterflies into the yard. Every garden should have butterflies, don’t you think?

I just don’t fit in the world all that well anymore. In my home, living the life that I’ve created for myself, it is really easy to forget how much I have adapted to accommodate the limitations of my scleroderma, Sjogren’s, and fibromyalgia. Once I go anywhere else reality hits me hard. Every trip out of my house is going to come at a cost. Here are the worst of the offenders that will lay me low.

Air Conditioning I know that almost everyone in the world is grateful for air conditioning in the summertime, but for me it is a royal nightmare. The shock of walking into a refrigerated building on a hot summer day will trigger an immediate Raynaud’s attack. I pull on long sleeves and fingerless mitts as soon as I get into the building, but my lungs know what’s up and I have trouble breathing. The airflow makes my eyes burn; I’ve been reduced to wearing my sunglasses indoors to protect my eyes. Don’t even get me started on the refrigerated cases churning out cold air; you haven’t lived until you’ve had to pull up the hood of your sweatshirt and the sleeves down over your hands so you can score some butter and eggs.  If that wasn’t enough, there are also usually…

Scented Products Almost all buildings use scented cleaning products and sells additional items with scents. Candles. Lotions. Laundry soap. The scented bathrooms are a nightmare. If I’m not already in trouble with my breathing I will be if I have to walk down the laundry detergent aisle at the grocery store: I also start to itch and my face swells. Why do these chemicals even exist? They can’t be good for anyone!

Restaurants These are a special kind of hell for me. All the drinks come cold and with ice, and the entrees are served piping hot. There are other landmines that I need to avoid: salt, lactose, fiber.  I have to carefully select something that is very soft and that will behave itself in my gastroparesis stomach. I can’t have spicy food. I can’t eat fresh veggies. Actually, to be safe, some of this food should go through a blender… I actually once soaked a cut up sandwich in soup so I could eat it…

Walking I am trying really hard to meet my walking goals every day, but I stretch those steps out over the day. A trip to run errands can be just exhausting if I’m on my feet for a couple of hours at a time. I need to always carry water, be aware of the location of bathrooms, and have places where I can sit down if I need to.

Sunshine It makes me sick! Enough said.

Ready for another picture? These paper wasps are building a nest right on the edge of my deck! MacKenzie and I are not amused. Still, it kind of shows how the outside world is full of dangers…

Recently I had a tough talk with myself about pruning down my outings and being more strategic about how I expend my energy. I need fewer outings, and my destinations need to be closer to home. I need to live online. I need to in a safe environment as much as I can to manage my diseases.

My home is my safe house. I have no air conditioning and I minimize air flow. I keep the temperature in the mid 70’s in the day so that my joints and lungs will be happy. I cook all of my own food, I don’t own any salt at all, and everything that I drink is room temperature. Fruits and veggies go through the blender to become smoothies. Every product that comes into the house is scent free. I’m always close to a bathroom or a soft surface to crash onto for a quick recovery if I get dizzy. My stairs have wrought iron rails that I use effectively on bad joint days. Flourishing in my safe house I sometimes forget how sick I am because, well, I have fewer problems.

I planted this yarrow last year in a flowerbed that has killed almost everything planted into it. Not this yarrow!! The secret of gardening, and living with serious chronic illness, is to keep on trying new things, and to match your needs to your environment. Or, in my case, make your environment match your needs.

Tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment so I listed up some symptoms and issues that I need to ask her about. It is quite a list now that I look at it, and it kind of underscores how chronic illness can trick you into thinking that things that would normally send you screaming into urgent care are “just another day of scleroderma.” Shortness of breath is an almost daily thing. When I glance into the mirror these days I sometimes notice that my face is blue. One hip keeps failing me; okay, I actually have to lift that leg to get into the car. My joints swell so much that I can’t sleep at night.

But I am good, here in my little safe house with my gardens and cat.

Tomorrow my doctor and I will attack some of these scleroderma/Sjogren’s issues. I kind of think that lung testing and a MRI of my hip are in the future, and that there may be follow-up with my pulmonologist. I’ve been gathering up my energy in preparation for these outings into a world that is dangerous for me, knowing that after each outing my garden swing, knitting and latest book will be waiting for me. With a room temperature ice tea.

And a cat!

It is good to have a safe house.

Return to the Garden

Spring was challenging this year. It was colder and wetter than usual, with lots of windy, stormy days. I wasn’t able to get out to work with the roses as I usually did in past years, but I did manage to pull up the worst of the weeds and dumped some Miracle Gro on the front flowers one day. Really, there was some rose neglect going on, for sure.

I guess the Miracle Go, cool days, and all that moisture was what the front flower bed needed. The miniature snapdragons came back from last year and I’m pretty sure that there are more plants than I put into the ground, so some are seedlings. The roses look better than I’ve ever seen before!
Hot Cocoa roses.

When I went shopping for the front roses I looked to see what was available and then checked the list of recommended roses for Colorado published by Colorado State University on  the nice little pdf in the above link that gave hints for successful planting.  These roses, picked to go with my house, are called Hot Cocoa. They are floribundas,  so there should be more blooms following these beauties.

The roses in the back garden were finally rescued from the overgrowth of weeds one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and look what emerged!

The Princess Alexandra of Kent rose is producing the largest blooms that I’ve ever seen on this plant!

This rose bush, Princess Alexandra of Kent, has never looked this good before. The blooms are so big the plant is having trouble supporting them, and this rose bush never got fertilizer. It has to be the cool, wet spring.

MacKenzie and I have been working diligently in 30 minute increments to get weeds out of gardens, and the most astounding discovery has been what happened to a virtually unloved rose along the back fence. Seriously, this is a rose that “went wild” when the original grafted rose died and the roots took over. I kept cutting back the runners, pulling it out of the ground, whacking it back into a reasonable rose size, and basically losing the battle with this rose that is determined to live.

Please allow me to present the “One Rose to Rule Them All” that has taken over the back garden.

That is all one rose plant that has grown immensely in the prime rose growth conditions of the last couple of months. I have now surrendered to fate, pulled the rose all back and attached the canes to two trellises and the top of my garden swing. Clearly, this rose will be growing down the fence in the years to come.

Did you notice the rotting seat to the swinging garden chair? Ugh. It is all nasty and sagging these days and clearly needed to be replaced. This week I cut the seat off and went to work to replace it with something that will allow me to return to my garden where I can read and knit in the presence of the One Rose to Rule Them All and the other flowers that are flourishing this year.

I warped up the seat of the chair with 20 lb clothesline that was advertised as “sag-resistant” and “easy to knot” after detaching the frame of the seat from the swing.
I cut lengths of line to do the weaving and knotted each line to the frame after weaving it through the weft.

I made sure that the seat was really taut so that it wouldn’t sag when I sat in the swinging chair. I reattached the seat to the frame and then lashed on another clothesline as “warp” across the seat back and then called it quits. If I need to weave in more pieces of line I can do it later, but I’m thinking that just the warp across the back will be enough to make the swinging chair function the way I want it to.

Ta-daa! It is done, the seat is absolutely perfect (not even a little sag!), and I am back into my garden.

Did you notice the weeds? Sigh. It is endless, truly it is. I’m resolved to not overdo things and will continue to work my way through the gardens, little by little, 30 minutes at a time, and day by day my yard and the gardens are looking better.

Between weeding sessions I will be hanging out in my garden swing, knitting away, with my beautiful roses. My cat MacKenzie will be sleeping in his garden, and hopefully the dog next door will be behaving herself.

This week the heat finally arrived and we hit the 90’s. My scleroderma joints are happy with the warmer weather, I continue to flourish with the new drug changes, and I can finally knit outside again. Yippee! The lavender plants and yarrow are covered with buds, and I have lots of perennials that need to be freed from the weeds.

I am back in my garden people! Life is good.

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…

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…).

 

Darwin’s Garden

Over the last two weeks I have had a crazy case of synchronicity going on. Several random events, totally unrelated, unsolicited, but absolutely linking to a theme of… genetics! Bet you didn’t see that one coming. If you are a total geek of the biology type (me!!) it has been a couple of fun weeks. Here’s what went down.

The Gene
One of my favorite authors published his new book. Hello summer reading!!

I’ve been spending my mornings outside in my garden swing reading and drinking a latte with the cats. It has just become the best part of the day for me. Two weeks ago the book of the mornings was this one, and I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying the narrative that weaves genes, history, evolution and personal experiences linked to the author’s genetic heritage together. A wonderful book. A topic that is close to my heart after years of teaching cells, genes and evolution to many, many students. Everyone, in my mind, should know enough genetics to navigate safely through life. While I was reading this picture arrived in my phone:

White squirrel
Yep. That is a white squirrel for sure!

I sometimes get calls from friends and neighbors who have biology tales to share. This picture came from someone who was excited about the “albino” squirrel hanging around his home. It has been running through the trees and chasing another squirrel along the fence so I told him it was probably not an albino, but a white squirrel as it seemed to have good eyesight. He didn’t understand that there is a difference, and therefore sent a picture to provide proof. We got on the phone and finally ironed it out with a little Wikipedia help and some genetics review. Now he’s waiting to see what color the pups will be. It’s an urban experiment!!

After the call I put the book away to start on a little gardening. What garden was next on my list? The one that I call Darwin’s Garden!

Overgrown Garden
That poor little rose bush that is getting swarmed by other plants is my Charles Darwin rose. 

As coincidence would have it, I had just read about Darwin in the book. Time to start weeding! Looks to me like survival of the fittest is a little out of control at the moment…

Plant
I call this Darwin’s Garden because of the rose, but also because there is a lot of natural selection going on. I move plants from other locations to this one and basically let them fight it out. The clear winner is this plant, and I have no clue what it is!! It is spreading everywhere, has tall spikes and little purple flowers that will emerge soon. When I started weeding a lot of this plant got ripped out!
Groundcover
Well, look at this. This ground cover type plant has been growing underneath the spiky plant; I don’t like it all that much, but the plant said “whatever… this is Darwin’s Garden, bitch!” I let it stay; with an attitude like that it deserves a chance. I also found snapdragons, columbines, roses, and some iris. There is a butterfly bush that is swarming some rose plants, but I decided to let them just fight it out for now. 
Johnny Jump-ups
These Johnny Jump-ups have been growing in the rock border by my driveway out front. Since they are escapees from the flower container they belong in I decided to dig them out and move them.
Rooting Hormone
I dipped the roots into this rooting hormone and then popped them into Darwin’s Garden. Let’s see if they can take on the purple spike plant! Maybe they can slap the ground cover plant while they are at it…
Flower in new location
Here they are a week later in the garden. Transplant was successful.

Here’s the next crazy coincidence: that rooting hormone is a type of auxin, which was first discovered by none other than Charles Darwin!! No wonder the transplant to Darwin’s Garden went off without a hitch. Every single one of the plants I moved made it.

Rose
This week things are looking a lot better in the garden. The Charles Darwin rose even bloomed.

Last week I worked at Camp Macusani (which is a whole other post) so the garden suffered a little. Tomorrow morning I will return to the garden swing, my book, and Darwin’s Garden. I’m thinking of moving some angelica that is out of control in there too… Maybe the purple spike plants will be blooming so I can post a picture. If anyone recognizes them, please let me know what they are… Right now I’m calling them Darwin’s Bane.

I’m finally up to the part of the book where we’re getting ready to start genetic engineering. For a biogeek with a molecular biology degree, this is heaven. I can’t wait to see what Dr. Mukherjee is going to say next.

Summer is for geeks!

 

Outdoor operations

The weather has really warmed up and stabilized this week; sun, heat and no thunderstorms; just what I needed to make my aching muscles and joints behave themselves. This week has been a good one and I took to the backyard for most of the afternoons. There’s a lot that can be accomplished outside. Let me take you on a little tour of my days.

That's right!
MacKenzie: when she says that she took operations outside what she really means is that I was forced to share the swinging garden chair with her. Does she not understand, June is for cats?!!

The shade of my locust tree covers the lawn swing and a couple of the gardens. What could be better for a person with a latte and an incredibly good book?

The City of MIrrors
The aforementioned book…

I’ve been consumed with the Justin Cronin novel, The City of Mirrors. Oh, my goodness. What a well-written, tightly-crafted book to spend the summer afternoons with. I read the first two books in this series and I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted to dive into a book of over 700 pages to learn the fate of mankind in their battle against the Zombie apocalypse, but the reviews made me take the leap and I pushed the “buy” button on my NOOK. Good decision. I keep highlighting passages that are just so wonderful I want to savor them later. I usually race through good books but this is one that I am stretching out so the experience will continue. The perfect June book.

After an hour of reading the knitting begins. Check out my progress on the Solaris shawl (by Melanie Berg).

 

Shawl
I’ve gotten through the first two color inserts in the shawl. To get a different color in the short row section I pulled off some yarn until I was at a new section. Fast, easy, simple.
Colors in ball of yarn
and I still have some great (crazy) colors in the ball to use. Project details are here.

I’ve also taken some weeding breaks. The little roses in my tea rose garden are now blooming, and I have gotten the weeds pulled out of another couple of patches. There are a lot of weeds, but everything is getting ready to bloom so I’m pretty motivated to keep at it.

Rose
The bloom on this tea rose is just great; really big for such a small plant.  This was one of those little roses that are sold at the grocery store. I put them out in the garden when they look a little worn out and they winter just fine here in the Denver area.
Mess
Here was today’s project. Do you see the rose plant in there?
Rose
Oh, there it is!!

Towards the late afternoon as things really warm up I water the flowers and gardens and head inside for food, the news and more knitting (bet that was a shock, huh!) Even the cats are ready to come in by that point. OK, they get kitty treats for coming in, but they would probably come in anyway… especially since I just watered all of their favorite plant nests. 🙂

Outdoor operations have ended for the day.

Tomorrow I am going to attack another garden!

Have a great weekend everyone!!