Tuesday, April 22, 2014

VIRGINIA BLUEBELL WOODS



These photos are for everyone, but especially for my English and Scottish readers (including Second Cousin Shirl in Golspie, Scotland), who have posted pictures of their English Bluebell Woods.

Taken by my sister-in-law Dana, these are Virginia Bluebell Woods. The woods are in Virginia, near where Dana and her husband live, and the flowers are indeed Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica.

I am so jealous of Dana's woods, and also of the English Bluebell Woods. I can hardly imagine seeing whole carpets of flowers. This would never happen in North Dakota. The only wildflower carpets you see are tons of dandelions dotting green lawns.

I have managed to grow a plant or two of Virginia bluebells in my garden, and a few grew wild under a tree at the station master's house in the village where I grew up. Maybe I will some day see blue bell woods - either in America or in England/Scotland.

By the way, the dog is Duke, a Wheaten Terrier. He seems to be having a fine time.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

 
Above - Virginia Bluebell Woods
 
Below - English Bluebell Woods
 
 
 
I think the botanical name for English bluebells is hyacinthoides non-scripta. If I am mistaken, please let me know. 
 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Blessed Easter/Ostara

 
 



I'm sitting here writing an Easter post when I should be preparing for hosting Easter dinner. I've had to move the celebration up to this evening, nearly 24 hours earlier than I had planned, because my nephew Mike has to work on Easter. He's a manager at Subway and you might ask, aren't the Subways closed on Easter Sunday? Well, yes they are, unless they're located in a WAL-MART!!

I've boycotted Wal-Mart for years, ever since I read "Take This Job and Shove It" by former ND Senator Byron Dorgan. First Wal-Mart destroyed small-town Main Street USA and shipped jobs overseas, now they are ruining American holidays! I remember when I was a child Sundays were closed down tight as a drum, with nary a shop open. Now I don't mind running to a Lowe's or a garden store on a fine Sunday afternoon, but what's so important to purchase on a holiday that can't wait one more day? Give me a break.

Anyway, I'm in a panic situation. Although I had Good Friday off, I was a couch potato. It was nice to laze around, but now I have to do everything today - finish the rest of my grocery shopping, clean, cook and bake. Yes, I, the famous non-baker, am baking. My friend Lila from the Indigo Blue blog posted an easy pineapple cake recipe on her Facebook that even I can follow. (Mix one 20-oz can crushed pineapple with juice and one angel food cake mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes in a greased 9x13 pan.) For my niece's fiancé, the one person in my family who does not care for pineapple, I bought a cherry kuchen. This should satisfy the taste buds of a good German boy.

I'm switching up the menu a bit. I am cooking a small ham and a turkey breast, but I am not making the traditional mashed potatoes and gravy or baked corn. Instead, I am making my famous French Bistro Potatoes (sliced potatoes, Swiss cheese, heavy cream and garlic!).  My niece will make a salad. My sister, an RN,  has to work today, a grueling 12-hour shift, which is why I volunteered to host, although it is difficult to host special occasions without Dan in the kitchen.

I know I will get everything done - I always do. And when I wake up Easter Sunday morning I will be relieved to know the work is done and I can relax and enjoy the 70 degree temperatures. The one time it was over 70 degrees this spring, I was at work and a cold front blew through by the time I left for home.

I really, really miss Easters when Kristen was home. None of us liked hard-boiled eggs, so I - I mean the Easter Bunny - hid those wonderful candy eggs with the marshmallow-y inside and the hard-sugar coating. I think they might have been Brach's. I believe they have quit making them; I certainly can't find them in Bismarck.

Of course I - I mean the Easter Bunny - also brought Kristen a well-stocked Easter basket. The year our foreign exchange student Valentina  from Venezuela lived with us, the E.B. brought her one too, and she was delighted beyond measure!

My favorite Easter candy is Russell Stover Raspberry Whip Eggs. My sweet daughter sent me a box of them this week. In lieu of candy, which she no longer (or seldom) eats, I sent her an Olive Garden gift card. Who says you always have to be conventional, either in Easter food or Easter gifts?

As to Easter itself, I am ambiguous. I was raised as a Lutheran but I seem to have lost my religion along the way. Another blogging friend of mine, Mary from Moontides, calls herself a Christopagan. That seems to me to be a good description for myself. I try live my life by the teachings  of Jesus Christ, but also have pagan leanings, a nod to my Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English Celtic roots. (And though not Celtic, my Viking ancestors were certainly pagan.)

This is also the season of Ostara, the pagan celebration of spring and the goddess Eostre or Ostara. So in ending, I wish you a blessed Easter and/or Ostara.




Sunday, March 30, 2014

MOVING ON - OR SEEDS OF A NEW BEGINNING





The wheel of the year is turning - slowly, yes, but inexorably.  I feel it in a rejuvenation in my soul, in my spirit, in my body. It was a dreadful winter, with the introduction of a nasty new word into our collective vocabularies: Polar Vortex. The cold continues to plague us beyond the normal highs and lows for this time of year.

But I find that it is not the occasional warmer weather that invigorates me, but rather the return of the light.

No longer is it dark when I drive to work or when I arrive home. In fact, it's light until about 8 p.m. in our Northern Climes. It is in the return of longer days that I feel there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel (pun intended).

There are no leaves or green grass, but the snow is gone. There are no flowers, but I can hear the crows cawing. There is no working in the garden yet, but there are those rare days when coats need not be worn.

As with every other winter I have lived through since I was an adult, I mentally hibernated through winter. Of course I functioned on the surface - working and eating, interacting with friends and relatives, cleaning my house, taking care of my dog and even doing some enjoyable activities. However, it was all conducted on the surface. Deep down below, in Persephone's world, it was still all darkness.

But this year there was also another feeling that kept me inanimate, frozen - dead even -  until the arrival of spring (meteorological spring at least). Dan passed away last March 23, just three days after the equinox. I somehow felt that I had to surpass that monumental milestone of the one-year anniversary of his death to move completely on.

This year I have gone through so much and done so many things I'd never done before. I wasn't one of those widows who could not balance her own checkbook, for god's sake, but I relied on Dan for a lot of things.

This year I fought for and won all of the benefits and payments due me and was, I think, a good steward of the insurance funds left to me. I pay my bills on time and have some savings. I had essential repairs done to the house so I can sell it for a good price if I get to that point. I prepped my car for winter and warmed it up every frigid morning. I nursed it along through its problems until it needed to be put out its misery. I purchased a new (used) car, albeit with the invaluable help of my niece and her fiancĂ©.

In the midst of all the other turmoil, I fought hard for my jeopardized job and kept it. I attempted to have surgery, found out that I had ITP (low blood platelets), went through a lot of tests and treatment over the summer, including a bone marrow biopsy, and finally had hernia surgery at the very end of September.

I learned in January that my platelet count is normal, and though my doctor was not quite ready to declare that I am in spontaneous remission, he may do so in July.

But of all the things I endured and accomplished this past year, this is the absolute most important: I think I have finally worked through all of the anger I had toward Dan and the whole situation. More and more, my memories are not of that sick, emaciated, mean and angry man, but of the other, happy and sweet young man of our courtship, early marriage and birth of our daughter.

Time to move on toward springtime - to new garden projects, to getting a new roof on the garage, to sorting and decluttering, to cleaning and painting. In short, to sowing seeds, both literally and figuratively.    

Saturday, December 28, 2013

GRACIE LOU WHO


 
 
Christmas Eve, while waiting for dinner to be ready at my sister's house, we were gathered around the table watching that Christmas classic, "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas."
 
Okay, I admit that this is NOT one of my favorite Christmas movies. I don't care for Jim Carrey at all, and I find Whoville quite bizarre. But I mention it because Kristen asked me - because I often call Gracie "Gracie Lou" - if I ever called her "Gracie Lou Who". I admit, I do like this name very much and henceforth she will often be called Gracie Lou Who. That's in addition to Scooby Doo, Lucy Lou and Lulu, all derived from nonsensical pet talk.
 
This past fall I got a new (thrift shop) couch. With my previous couch, Gracie was able to walk across the top of the couch. The first time my niece's boyfriend saw her do this, he exclaimed, "What is she, a mountain goat?"
 
Due to its curved shape, the back of this couch is a bit more difficult to navigate, but Gracie does manage to walk across it, and also to lie on its back, as you can see by this photo taken by Kristen on Tuesday.
 
Unbelievably, Gracie preferred sleeping on this perch, the dining room floor, my bed, or "her" chair, to sleeping on her brand new Christmas present, a beautiful big doggie bed with blue corduroy bottom and beige fleece top. As the old saying goes, you can lead a dog to her new bed, but you can't make her sleep on it.
 
Imagine my delight this evening when she went to her bed, sniffed it thoroughly, gingerly stepped into it, circled three time and snuggled down for a long winter's nap.
 
Merry Christmas, Gracie Lou Who.



Saturday, December 21, 2013

THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT



 
 
 
Especially for you, Leanne, a green-robed Father Christmas
 
Two people in the past week have commented here to wonder where I am. I think they meant, "Are you still alive?"
 
I am still here. My surgery went very well and my recovery went smoothly. My surgeon was able to do everything laparoscopically. I can now bend over and kneel down without pain and nausea. I can even sneeze without pain again!
 
My deck is built, my roof has new shingles and gutters were finally installed. These (including the surgery) were my big projects for the year and they are all accomplished. Of course, now I'm planning projects for next year, mostly for the yard.
 
This may end up being my one and only Christmas post. A few months ago I had thought about not having Christmas at all. With Dan being gone, I know it will not be the same. He loved Christmas!
Kristen had even invited me out to stay with her in Virginia, thinking we would be less sad, but I told her that it will be sad anywhere we are, and I didn't want to board Gracie.
 
I finally decided to observe the holidays in the full-blown way I always have. I decided that to not celebrate this most wonderful time of the year would not be fair to Kristen or to my sister's family.
 
I did break down and buy an artificial tree after 40 years of buying real trees with Dan. Although I miss the evergreen scent, I don't have to deal with a dried-out tree and needles everywhere. The tree is pre-lit with tiny white lights, which is good, because the bubble lights Dan and I always used - as a tribute to our 1950s childhoods - were becoming harder and harder to find, and the ones we had mostly quit bubbling.
 
I also did not want to drag out the 30 years of ornaments we had accumulated since our house fire in 1982, so I bought ornaments reflecting my love of nature - birds, butterflies and dragonflies.
 
Thing have not all been hunky dory in the past few weeks. We had an ice storm two weeks ago and I fell and sprained my hand. At least I was not one of the many, many Bismarck residents who ended up in the emergency room with broken bones.
 
I have also had terrible trouble with my car not starting in this awful cold. But finally - after many dollars spent,  with new battery, engine heater fixed, new plugs and points, it is ready to withstand those -20 mornings we've already experienced this season.
 
Even after this horrible, horrible year of 2013, life is full of blessings, the main one right now being the fact that Kristen flies in Monday morning! I am warm and fed and loved and gainfully employed, and will soon be celebrating Christmas with my family.
 
So Best Solstice, Yule and Christmas Wishes to all of you and hopes for 2014 to be the best ever.



Sunday, September 8, 2013

I'M STILL HERE

 
 
 

I haven't posted since July and thought it was about time I brought you up to date.

On Friday I found out that I can finally have my hernia surgery. I was supposed to have it on May 17, but in pre-op lab tests that morning they found out that my blood platelet count was very low and canceled my surgery because I would have bled to death during the operation (platelets help with the clotting of blood.)

It has been an interesting summer as they tried to find out what was the matter with me. While I was still at the hospital, they ran some tests which revealed that I had very, very low levels of Vitamin B-12, which can affect platelet production. I began having Vitamin-B injections - daily at first, and then weekly. After a month, my doctor, who is an oncologist/hematologist, said that my Vitamin B-12 count was normal but my platelet count wasn't, so that was not the cause.

To see if my bone marrow was failing to produce platelets, I had a bone marrow biopsy, which can be very painful, but lucky me, I felt no pain from it. It took forever to get the results, but finally I found out that my bone marrow is producing tons of nice, normal, healthy platelets. This showed that I did not have cancer - no leukemia or lymphoma - which was a great relief. (I got my bill on Saturday for the biopsy - $8,000, of which insurance paid $5,000.)

My doctor by then was pretty sure I had ITP, idiopathic (old term)/immuno (new term)  thrombocytopenic purpura, and that my spleen was eating up my platelets. I had an ultrasound to see if my spleen was enlarged. (It isn't.)

I also had an infusion of IVIG, immunogammaglobulin. Friday, after a four-week wait, I found out this was very successful, and my platelet count went back up to normal. (My doctor says this proves I have ITP.) Therefore, I can schedule my surgery. Five to seven days before the operation, I will have another infusion to make sure my platelet count is plentiful.

Having a hernia all summer meant that I could not bend over without nausea or pain, much less plant and weed. Fortunately, I had a lot of helpers. My first helper helped me create my Unicorn Garden, pictured above. He contributed the labor; I did the design and bought the plants.

For my gardening readers, the plants in the garden are: coreopsis, yellow lilies, orange lilies, liatris, purple prairie coneflowers, rudbeckia, salvia, yarrow, red phlox, lady's mantle, lamb's ears, veronica (speedwell), delphinium, Shasta daisies, balloon flowers, bee balm and penstemon.



My niece, Kelsey, had to take three pictures before she could get a dog-free photo! Yes, that's Gracie in the garden, holding a rawhide treat in her mouth. She probably thought the Unicorn Garden would bee a great place to hide the treat, because the unicorn would certainly protect it from thieves! (The unicorn comes from Design Toscano.)

Unfortunately I had to fire my first helper, because I believe he cheated me out of hours, so I turned to Kelsey and her boyfriend, Marcus. Between them and the guy who mows my lawn, they did just a tremendous amount of work. They hauled stuff to the dump, weeded and weeded, put up lattice panels, planted, spread grass seed on the bare spots, moved a ton of pavers, cut down grapevines which threatened to take over the yard and pruned the hedge. Kudos also to my co-worker and her fiance who put together two garden benches and an arbor.

The Unicorn Garden was the first phase of my garden design to be completed. The front yard is also basically complete. I have added dragonfly garden decorations such as flags and wind chimes, and installed a sign stating that my home is named Dragonfly House. Unlike in England, American people don't name their homes, but I wanted to name mine. It may seem  pretentious but I thought, I am an Old Lady now, I can wear purple and do as I please! And I am pleased to give my house a name!

I thought of many fanciful names, including La Maison des Roses, which would certainly fit my front yard, but decided on Dragonfly House because once a year, gorgeous giant blue dragonflies hold a convention here, perching on the front walls of my gray house. Plus, dragonflies are a symbol of great luck

Partially done areas in my backyard are my Celtic Lady's Garden, named for my blog and containing Celtic symbols such as dragons, elves and a Celtic maiden statue; my Fairy Garden which is planted with daylilies and holds many fairy statutes; and my Moonlit Meadow Garden with a moongazy rabbit, fox and barn owl statues and a Forest Lady. This is temporary planted with daylilies but will hopefully be seeded with a lot of meadow flowers next spring.

I also have a "wall" of Green Men and Women plaques, and plan to install a miniature fairy garden by the larger Fairy Garden.

The end of the growing season is approaching swiftly here in North Dakota, but I will keep you posted with photos as things progress next year, and will also keep you up to date on my surgery.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

IT'S ALWAYS SOMETHING






I was at the clinic earlier this afternoon to see if the Vitamin B12 was helping my low blood platelet count. Now my hematologist thinks I have ITP, Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an autoimmune disease. I was hoping to find out that the tests he had done showed I had pernicious anemia, which means my body has trouble absorbing Vitamin B12, causing the platelet level to drop. That is not the case. It looks like my spleen is destroying my platelets. I am having a blood marrow biopsy at the end of July. And of course my hernia surgery isn't going to happen for a long time, as my platelets are only up to 70,000 after Vitamin B12 injections.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

MORE TROUBLES



 
 
Really? Really? Haven't I been through enough in the past year and a half? The first - and worst - that happened was that Dan was diagnosed with cancer. He went into remission a year ago April and we had a not-too-bad summer. Then, in the fall, I started having problems with my "lady parts" and had tests for uterine cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer. I sweated through the results, which all turned out to be negative. I ended up having surgery and thought all was well.
 
I started having abdominal/pelvic pain and nausea around Christmas time but didn't tell anyone. Then, at the end of January Dan went instantly and profoundly deaf. Shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
 
As regular readers know, Dan's condition deteriorated swiftly. He was put under hospice care and passed away on March 23.
 
What I hadn't written in my blog is that I was having a terrible time at work and suffered extreme emotional distress over it.
 
Finally, the work problems got better about the end of April. Although I was fighting all kinds of red tape to try to get Dan's Social Security and other monthly income transferred to me, I was slowly recovering from his death.  I took time to go to my family doctor for my tummy problems and after a CT scan it was determined that I had a hernia - caused by my prior surgery.
 
I make an appointment to see a surgeon. He's a great guy - I like him and trust him and we decide I should have surgery May 17.  Okay, fine, just another thing to get through. I booked two weeks off at work and arranged for Gracie's care during my overnight stay.
 
So there I was Friday morning. My sister had picked me up at o'dark thirty. I had been poked for labs and was sitting in my (not) pretty hospital gown, already getting fluids via IV. That's when the bomb dropped. They said they had to cancel the surgery because my blood platelets were so low. My surgeon admitted me to the hospital and called in a medical doctor to run a bunch of tests.
 
Your blood platelet count should be no lower than 150,000. Mine was at 49,000. The doctors were concerned that my count had fallen so low so quickly because they were at low normal when I saw my doctor in April.
 
They took enough blood to satisfy a vampire for six months. They decided I didn't need to sit around in the hospital waiting for results so they sent me home at 5:00. I will be seeing a hematologist in about a week.
 
There could be a lot of reasons for low blood platelets - or the official term, thrombocytopenia. It could be as simple and fixable as a vitamin deficiency. Or, it could be worse. So here I sit, playing the waiting game yet again.
 
Really? Really? Haven't I been though enough lately?


Saturday, May 18, 2013

CONGRATULATIONS, MINNESOTA!


 
 
 
Congratulations to my cousin, Kevin (white shirt,) and his husband, Will (behind him to the right) on the marriage equality bill being signed in Minnesota.
 
Kevin and Will have been through a civil ceremony in Iowa and a religious (Lutheran) ceremony in Minnesota, and they say two ceremonies are enough, but congratulations to all the other gay Minnesotans who can now marry and have equal rights under the law with any other couple.
 
A comment posted on Kevin's Facebook page:

Christopher Hoven: And if Hubert H. Humphrey were alive today, he'd probably say, "My fellow Minnesotans, today we have stepped out of the dark shadows of state's rights and have walked into the bright sunshine of human rights, of civil rights!"
 
I have power over comments and will not allow any gay-bashing ones on this post. It's time to come out of the Dark Ages, people. Please don't tell me God loves the sinners but hates the sin. God doesn't think homosexuality is a sin. And guess what, that guy in the red and white striped shirt? He's a pastor. 'Nuff said.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY



 
"THE LANTERNS"
Charles Courtney Curran
 
 
Happy Mother's Day to all who celebrate it on this day. Happy Mother's Day especially to my sister, Glori, and to my sisters-in-law who read my blog, Bonny in Idaho and Dana in Virginia. Also Happy Mother's Day to my Mom in heaven.
 
I was dreading Mother's Day this year, because it is the first Mother's Day without Dan. Of course, Mother's Day is for children to honor their mothers, but Dan always got me a present too. The very first time, I was still pregnant, 7 months along. He gave me a floral arrangement in a blue, white and green large ceramic cup. A month later our home was destroyed by a fire, but I still have that cup, because I had had it at work. It was among the first things I brought into our new home.
 
For the past 25 years or more, Dan had bought me a hanging fuchsia basket to hang on the deck. It has become a family tradition. I was sad this year that I wouldn't be getting a fuchsia.
 
Imagine my surprise and delight when I got home from work Friday afternoon and there was a giant fuchsia-and-white colored fuchsia on my dining room table. When Kristen was home for Dan's funeral she had given Glori the money to get me one for Mother's Day. Talk about a thoughtful daughter!
 
Of course, my best Mother's Day present has always been Kristen. I had trouble with carrying babies and lost two before her and two after her. She was the only little soul to survive to birth.
 
And I am so glad she was the one. She's always been such a good kid. I remember one time when she was little the house got very quiet and I decided I'd better go see what she was doing. I found her sitting on the kitchen counter, the lid off the sugar canister and mountains of sugar all over the counter. I didn't get mad - I was too shocked.
 
In that way, she was very unlike her dad when he was growing up. His mom, Lillian, told the story of how she was always having to tell his older brothers to "Go find Danny and tell him to stop it."
 
Kristen, you are so smart, funny, sensitive and caring. You're so beautiful too - and your beauty is on the inside as well as the outside. Thank you for being my daughter.
 
As for myself, I continue to recover from Dan's illness and death. Work is going much better now, but I am still trying to fight with pension fund holders and oil well companies to get the income Dan was receiving each month. One happy surprise was how easy and pleasant it was to set the wheels in motion to get his Social Security.
 
Another pleasant surprise was how swiftly the life insurance was handled by the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System. Now that I have insurance, I am busy arranging for a new roof and a new deck, without which I will never be able to sell the house, should I ever decide to sell.
 
And also, I am getting a new front door. The door we have is original to our 1929 stucco bungalow, and the inside door knob fell off so many times we started using a needle-nose pliers to open the door (Necessity is the Mother of Invention). My brother-in-law, Dick, had been worried for my safety so Dick, you will be glad to know, yes, I have set up an appointment for someone to come by and measure for a new door.
 
Glori and I treated ourselves to a modest Mother's Day lunch at Fried's German Restaurant in Mandan yesterday. We were happy to note that the forsythia is in bloom, and I saw a few yellow tulips, though most were still only in bud.
 
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The painting above is featured in a gift book called "My Wish For You". The wish that accompanies this painting is "Many Lovely Evenings". I wish many lovely evenings for all of you this summer.