Biology Brain

When I taught high school biology I had a sign over the door of my classroom that said “Biology is Life”. (I also had a poster with a picture of Charles Darwin and a caption that said “AP Biology: Adapt, Migrate or Die”, but that is another story…) Anyway, I thought my sign over the door was cute. And true.

This week I finally took on the task of weeding out my flower beds and getting them ready for the new year. Really, a simple and somewhat rewarding task, but for me an afternoon of rich classroom memories and an endless rush of biological trivia. It was so much fun, in fact, I thought I’d take all of you on a short trip through my garden. Ready? Here we go!

Unweeded Garden
What a disaster! This garden has several little tea roses, a beautiful English rose, and some nice perennials. Ugh. Mostly I see dandelions
Flower and Bee
Clever camera: it focused on the grass instead of the flower. (and my biology brain reminds me that the grass is a monocot and the dandelion is a dicot. Thanks bio buddy…) Oh, well. You can still make out the bee in the flower, can’t you? We think of dandelions as pests in our gardens (well, I do!), but they are actually early blooming plants and an important source of food for bees and 
Ladybug
my personal favorite (after bumblebees) the ladybug. Later on the youngsters from this beetle will help keep my aphid population on the roses under control, so that makes dandelions a good thing,
Dandelion Puff
I know that they are good for the wildlife, but I still have to get rid of these darn plants so my roses can shine. Look at this puffball of seeds (dandelions use wind as a dispersal strategy chants my brain… The seeds can survive up to 5 years and help the plant population survive fires…)
Dandelion root
and the root! I’ve been told that the root as also an adaptation to help the plant survive prairie fires. Don’t know about that one, but we all know we need to get the root out or the plant will come back. (That root is a tap root . Thanks biology brain…)
Pill Bug
Oh, wow. A pill bug! I love these guys. I would teach my AP Biology class how to make potato traps and assigned them the homework of catching 10 bugs over a weekend so they could design experiments using them in little choice chambers. The students learned how to design controlled experiments, drew conclusions about animal behavior, and the bugs had a fun outing and all the potato they could eat. It was fun, really. (Arthropods, crustaceans really, says the ever intrusive biology brain.) Over the years so many bugs were released in the flower beds at the front of the high school a robust population could be counted on to bail out any student team that forgot to do their homework.
Earthworms
Exactly the same type of thing happened at my house where yearly infusions of classroom earthworms established many happy garden occupants. (Annelids, says the brain. If you accidentally cut them with the shovel they will probably make it, but not as two new worms. ) My students loved to name and race their worms. If you put them in your hand you can feel the little bristles on their tummies (Setae! Thanks, brain.) The bristles anchor the worm as it pushes forward in the soil. Kind of like wax on cross country skies…
Rose Seeds
The English rose has a mature rose-hip with seeds in it. Look at these guys. I wonder if I can get them to sprout and grow. (…the seed is really a baby plant and the food it needs to grow. The food part of the seed is double fertilized so it has more copies of the roses’s chromosomes than the rose plant does. Roses, unlike humans, can have different chromosome numbers… shut up biology brain. Enough!!)
Finished Rose Garden
The weeding is done. You can actually see the rose plants OK now. They all came through the winter in good shape and are putting out new growth.  The largest rose is my Princess Alexandra of Kent rose, and it has started growing the first buds. All is looking good. Time to mulch, feed (plants need the elements in fertilizer to make more proteins and to copy the DNA in their cells so they can divide… yep, the brain is still going…) and get to work on the other jungles gardens.

Rich with life, details and memories, my gardens are once again growing.

Biology is life!!

Rocking the Week #4

It is March in Colorado, which means we are in the midst of endless weather adventure. This last week we experienced a march of weather fronts that came through the state with wind, wind, and more wind. It was sunny but still miserable for cats and people.

Cat
It was so windy the cats were afraid to go outside. I finally made Morgan a little fort by hanging a blanket over the patio table and chairs: he stayed in his fort most of the day Tuesday! Here he is under the table sitting on a chair under the blanket.

I was pretty miserable myself. Usually my joints are OK, but this week all of my tendons took to hurting. Gee, there are a lot of tendons in a human body! Not only did my hands and wrists hurt, but so did my knees, hips, feet… well, pretty much if it moves, it hurt. I finally had to resort to pain killers and spent a lot of time in bed this week.

NYPD RED 4
Hello books! I polished off the last two books in this series of murder action/thriller books. These are fast reads and aren’t literary masterpieces (the authors did not spend great blocks of time agonizing over the correct descriptive phrases to use…), but they were just the ticket for me. All right, they were actually kind of silly and predictable, sort of like a racy (and totally unrealistic) detective show on television, but exactly the type of mindless escapism that I needed with sore knees and aching hands.
Cat and book
MacKenzie spent the whole time laying on my legs while I was reading. He’s kind of like a purring, foot-kneading heating pad. What a good cat he is!!
Rose
Thursday I crawled out to the grocery store and found this wonderful little rose bush there while I was loading the cart with the essentials of life: chocolate, soup and guacamole dip. Hey, my knees hurt!!
Pantry Disaster
Cheered up by the roses I took on a little job: look at this disaster of a pantry. There was no room to put away my new bag of corn chips for the guacamole! Clearly a crisis.
Cleaned Pantry
Look what I accomplished in a half hour! OK, there were three bags of trash to take out. I really don’t think that I should eat food that is over 10 years old, do you?
Soup bowl pot holder
Friday it snowed 6 inches and oddly enough my hands felt better. Time to be productive: I made myself some cute soup bowl pot holders to use in the microwave. These are the most useful little items ever. My hands don’t grip well in the best of times, and this week they were really unhappy. These holders allow me to handle the hot bowls of soup with zero risk of accidents! The pattern was online and really easy to sew. I made two holders in about 90 minutes using fabric and batting from my stash. The pattern is from Seams Happy and can be located here.
Knitting
Last night I returned to knitting and made some progress on my “Waiting for Rain” shawl Look at that short row lace! It is much easier than it looks.
Lace
and look at how nice my new stitch markers look on the lace!
Robin in tree
Now it is Saturday, the snow is almost melted away, and the sky is blue and sunny. Look closely at the left end of the tree branch. No, not the white patch of snow, the other end of the branches. Can you almost see the beak? That my friend is the FIRST ROBIN OF SPRING! He was on the ground when I first saw him, but for some crazy reason he flew as I stalked crept up to try to get the picture. Still, I can absolutely verify that he is a robin. 

That’s right, it is now spring. We are in for weeks of chaotic weather, but the plants will be coming back to life, the birds will be arriving soon, and I can’t help but be happy. Today my hands feel fine, I’m going to heat up some soup for dinner using my new bowl holders,  and then I have a beautiful shawl to knit.

It turns out that this was a pretty good week after all.

The Golden Hour

It’s here! It’s here! The most wonderful time of the autoimmune disease year. Fall colors, cooler (but not cold) temperatures, sunshine levels that won’t make me sick, pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, and wood smoke. Pumpkins and autumn squash soup. New yarns at the yarn store and patterns for warm sweaters. Ugg boots!! Without fail I have a surge of joy and energy at this time of year. Just like the golden hour in photography, that time in the evening when everything is softened and has a glow of light to it, this is my golden hour of the year.

Sunset
Look at this sunset! I took the picture while sitting at the stoplight. Doesn’t it make you happy? The golden hour is the hour before this as the sun was just dipping down towards the mountains in the west. Here is Colorado it makes the Rocky Mountains look softer and plush; there are sunbeams and everything looks wonderful.

What’s wrong with the rest of the year you ask? Well, let me tell you: winter is a beautiful time of year, but for a person with systemic sclerosis and Raynaud’s disease, it is a miserable battle to keep extremities warm an opportunity to rock the wool socks, shawls and fingerless mitts. This year I plan to roll out some exceptionally warm longish sweaters; I have the yarn all ready to go. I have patterns for fingerless mitts that will go up to my elbows. I bought fleece Cuddle Duds. I am really going to try to handle the cold better this year; last year I rolled out of winter with more severe symptoms than I had in the fall.

Rose
Look how great this rose looked last spring. It should be a wonderful time of year for me, but…

Spring is a time of gardening, hope and struggle for me as I try to get the garden’s flowers (and roses!!) going while slowly accepting that new debilitating symptoms that I thought were related to the war against cold, but which remained in the balmy days of April and May, were actually real things. Darn! No wool sock or hand warmer will fix my problems… by the time I make appointments or call for help it is already summer.

Ugh! Summer! I was a teacher, and summer was that wonderful time of renewal and rebuilding that kept me going year after year. Now summers are so fraught that they seem to pass in a blur of lawn watering and visits to Kaiser. Really, I am just a mess all summer long. Here’s the highlights of this year:

  • Summer started with me just a few weeks into the drug methotrexate (which I got after making a call for help in early May…) I was losing hair and taking it easy two days a week because of the drug’s side effects. Still, by juggling the drug schedule I was able to work a summer camp teaching kids how to spin and felt fiber. So fun. The camp was only 2.5 hours a day so it was perfect.
  • In July I developed rare bone complications from the drug (well, don’t I feel special!) and ended up at an acute diagnostic facility. That was the end of the methotrexate.
  • Icky symptoms reappeared with a vengeance. I had to wait a few weeks before I could start the new drug. It’s called purgatory drug holiday .
  • UTI strikes. Seriously!! Antibiotics, barfing and yogurt happened.
  • Rheumatology appointment: he starts me on CellCept with some reservations about whether my gut (which basically hates me…) can handle it.
  • I start the pills.  Woohoo! No problems except after two days…
  • …UTI strikes again. Oops! I stopped the CellCept, gobbled antibiotics and yogurt, and skipped the barfing. Take that you ill-behaved gut!!
  • Started CellCept again the next week. Hello heartburn, my old friend.  Middle of the night vomiting and belly pain?  Nope, nope, nope. My gut has definitely vetoed this drug! I didn’t even make it a week before I emailed my rheumatologist to ask for something else from the land of pharmacological wonders.
  • Well, what do you know. There is another version of the CellCept that is a time release version that I should be able to stomach (see what I did there?). My rheumatologist and I had an email chat and he ordered it up for me.
  • …and the insurance declined to approve it. What?!! I wanted to send my gut on over to have a chat with them. Two visits to the pharmacy, two phone calls and an invocation of the gastroenterologist did the trick. I scored the pills on the last Friday in September. Yep. That was the end of summer and it is now time for the golden hour.

I started the time-released version of CellCept 10 days ago. You know, I think that I feel better already. My knees have stopped hurting! I seem to have more energy. I think that there is less edema in my arms. I have started cleaning out cupboards and stuff. I am happy.

Maple leaves
Look at these leaves! This is the maple tree in my back yard.

This is my year of systemic sclerosis (scleroderma): cold, pain, hope, struggle, persistence, and wonder. And this, my friends, is the best part of the whole dang year. I am full of joy with every red leaf and pumpkin that I see. I know that the snow is coming, but what the heck.

Today, today I am in the golden hour.

The Pinks of September

I love this time of the year. It is cool overnight and then heats right up during the day. The leaves of the trees are just starting to turn and there are birds flocking in their branches. Something is happening with the light: it is bright, but coming in at a lower angle that is the first hint of the southern winter sun to come. Mostly my garden is done blooming and this is when I decide which plants I want to save and bring inside for the winter.

One thing is for sure. The indoor plants this year will be pink bloomers. I did plant some other colors. I was rocking the orange and yellow in June, but those guys have quit for the year. There was a lot of lavender and purple for awhile, but now there is mostly pink.

Pink daisy.
I have four pots of flowers blooming on my deck by the lounger. The one that is doing the best is that pink daisy. Hmm… I’ve never kept a plant like this inside over the winter. I wonder how it will do?
Lantana.
This lantana is actually three years old. It hangs out with the orchids by a window under a grow light all winter. The leaves drop when it goes back outside in the spring, but it always recovers. It sure is blooming now, so it’s coming back inside for another winter. Look how cheerful it is! Perfect for the gloomy days to come.
Lantana
I also have four of these pink lantana plants in pots in my front yard. I’m torn about trying to save all of them. It doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of money for grow lights, but they sure are nice plants… I really miss the greenhouse that I used to have connected to my classroom in situations like this.
Geranium
This geranium is coming to live in my bedroom over the winter for sure. The plant is actually 5 years old and had grown leggy and over 3 feet tall while living inside. I took it back out this year, laid the long branches across the table and let nature take its course. The old leaves all bleached and died in the sun while the plant sprouted lots of new leaves down low on the stems; I cut all the long upper stems off and this is what was left. It started blooming late last month and really looks healthy now.
Baby geranium plants.
Out of curiosity I dipped sections of the cut-back stems in rooting hormone to see if I could start some cuttings. It worked!! Gosh, I really need that greenhouse again. I guess I’ll check the price of grow lights that I can add to the shelves in the craft room. These plants will look great along the front walk next spring.
Roses
Even the pink roses are outdoing themselves. My orange roses haven’t a bloom anywhere on them. These Home Run roses, however…

I also have a pot of tea roses that will move indoors. Guess what color they are? Everything that is coming inside is pink. Not exactly the color that I had planned for my winter-time flowers, but these are the ones that will be making the big move. It is just too hard to let the garden go over the winter; I always cling to as much as I can for those months of snow shoveling and gloomy afternoons.

Wait what am I talking about? Winter is the months of spinning yarn, knitting like crazy and baking yummy breads and indoor blooms. Instead of knitting outside in my garden I will be working among my garden plants inside.

Gosh, I really like this time of year. Maybe I can get a deal on the grow lights. 🙂

 

 

Return to the Garden: Hello Slugs, I’m Back!!

Summer heat has arrived, I’m feeling better, and it is definitely past time to attend to the needs of the garden. Yesterday I weeded out front in the shade of the morning and then mowed that lawn in the evening (well, I actually mowed only half of the lawn. A neighbor then arrived and took the mower away from me to finish things up. I love my neighbors!!) Look at what has been happening out front while I was engaged in an indoor scleroderma-induced slug-fest.

Rose Bush.
My new roses (Hot Cocoa) that I planted a couple of months ago burst into bloom!
Roses
This is what the blooms look like as they open. I bought these roses as they are recommended for my location (Colorado, USA) even though I wasn’t completely sure about the color. I’m really pleased with the dusty orange color now.. Look how healthy those leaves look! Let’s hope the grasshoppers don’t notice…
Ice Plant in Bloom.
The ice plant that I planted along the front walk has also gone into overdrive.  The color made me so happy I didn’t even mind pulling the weeds!

This morning I moved into the back yard with the cats to see what I could accomplish in a couple hours of coolness and shade before the afternoon heats up. Oh dear, it is somewhat of a jungle, and the cats have been running wild.

Cat in Grass.
Guess I need to mow this lawn too. See how intently MacKenzie is looking upward? He’s watching the squirrel the cats had treed earlier this morning after chasing it all over the yard.
Cat nesting in plants.
Yellow Boy has been busy building nests in several locations in the yard and the garden.
Cat in Yarrow.
The yarrow he’s nesting in is all over the garden and I need to rip most of it out. He was so cute I just let him have it today. Wait a minute… I think yarrow can be used to dye wool. Maybe I shouldn’t rip this out yet…
Pincushion flower
My pincushion plants have spread like crazy and the blooms are looking good! Please ignore the grass in the photo. That’s what I did and I feel much better for it. 🙂
Napping Cat
MacKenzie has also staked out a nice shady location to nap in near the cat mint. He is my good boy: he’s sleeping on dirt and not in the middle of a plant.  🙂

Things are looking much better than I thought they would. I weeded like crazy, filled up two garbage sacks, and then planted some new flower seeds in one garden where a rose died over the winter. By then the day was heating up and I was starting to feel a little dizzy again. Time to head back into the house to rest up for afternoon knitting and lawn mowing later.

The best part of the morning? I didn’t see a single slug!!

Resolution Roses

On New Year’s Eve I made some resolutions. I’ve been keeping up with most of them, but there were a few that were one time deals that had to wait for the right time of the year. Now that spring is here it is time for me to address one of the big ones. The roses at the front of my house are just awful. They were really nice roses for several years, and then they got a dose of bleach when my house was painted, and the extreme rainfall of the last two years was too much for them to handle.  They struggled and what did manage to grow was munched by every passing insect. Ugh!

Sad rose garden.
Ugh! This is what the rose garden looks like now. Sure, I can weed it and put in some bedding plants, but the roses just aren’t doing well anymore. Time for them to go!

I have changed my landscaping around the house and had new rain gutter installed. It is now time for me to rip these roses out and to replant them with some others that are hardy, full of blooms and resistant to insects.

Off to my favorite nursery I went to look at roses. Here’s what I was looking for.

Decoration on house.
My house is pointed a creamy white with gold trim. I have rust colored gingerbread trim and this happy sun above my kitchen window. I decided I wanted floribunda roses that were deep rusty orange.
Roses.
These roses are called Hot Cocoa and are hardy and disease resistant. I’m hoping that the insects won’t find them as tasty as the earlier roses. They should bloom for most of the summer and the flowers will be deep smoky orange. 
Roses
After 2 hours of digging and ruthless weeding, I finally got the new roses placed in the flower bed.
Rose in the ground.
Here’s one of the new plants in the ground after a good soaking. The graft point on the bushes are about 3 inches below the ground to help the plants survive our winters.

The weather here in Colorado will be warm all week except for a couple of day of rain. These guys should have a nice week to make a good start. Welcome to your new home little guys!

And don’t play nice with the grasshoppers!!

 

Resolutions for 2015

Well, this is it. There are only a couple of hours left for the year. The end of a really busy year, and I have no idea what exactly was  accomplished over the last 12 months. Well, I did read a lot of books and did a lot of knitting, but since I didn’t keep track of things, I don’t exactly have any numbers. I do have a memory of a quilt that I made for my younger son, and then there was the enormous landscaping project along the house, but seriously, the year is just a blur.

This year I would like to set some goals and then measure my progress. With the best of intentions, here is what I’m planning for in 2015.

Sock Books
Seriously, how many sock books does one knitter need? Wait… that’s not a fair question.

Knitting

  • I’m going to go through my sock books and select a different sock to make each month. Then I will knit the sock! Seriously, I will get this done.
  • I will knit the socks with the STASH YARN!!!
  • I will make a really serious effort to record my projects in Ravelry.
  • I tend to make multiple items of the same pattern, so I will also start a spreadsheet to list my knitted items. Ha! Next year I will know exactly how many baby booties I actually made.
Spinning Wheel
Here’s my beautiful Schacht wheel. Poor baby, the flyer is in pieces and it actually has a loose screw.

Spinning

  • I dropped my spinning wheel. Parts fell off. I finally sucked it up and told Maggie Casey of Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins (Boulder, Colorado) that I had hurt my baby. She told me (3 months ago) to bring it in and she would fix it. I will for sure absolutely without fail take it in this month!! next month before summer.
  • I’m struggling with the spinning wheel because I bought 5 ounces of Paco-Vicuna roving to spin. Wow! This stuff is soft beyond belief. I’m afraid to spin it. If the wheel is broken, I can’t be expected to spin it, can I? All right. I’m a big person. I will without fail get this fiber spun before the end of the year.
  • The Paco-Vicuna is from a local grower, Jefferson Farms. The name of the animal is Gulliver. I promise to call them up before the year is over and I will go visit Gulliver. Won’t that be a fun post!
Paco Vicuna fiber
This fiber is so soft I am scared to spin it. I need to settle on a project first, I think.

Books

  • Goodreads says I read 25 books this year. That can’t be right!! I know that I am reading more than that.  Therefore I resolve to list every book that I read at Goodreads this year.
  • I will even review every some of the books that I read.
  • Maybe I should start a spreadsheet while I am at it.
  • I would love to read 100 books this year. Ha! Really, it will be fun!
Home Run Roses
Here are the Home Run on the day I planted them. The shrubs are now 2.5 feet tall and covered with blooms after two years of growth.

Roses

  • The roses at the front of the house, Showbiz, look just terrible these days. Mainly they serve as food for wandering insects. Maybe I shouldn’t have dosed them with bleach while painting the house two years ago. They have never been the same again…
  • I am going to rip those roses out and replant with some roses that are hardy, full of blooms and resistant to insects. The Home Run roses at the side of the yard look great. Maybe I will get some of those for the front.

That’s it. There is only an hour left to the year. Goodbye, goodbye 2014.

Happy New Year everyone!!