Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Checking In

I just got back from visiting Cheryl in Denver.  I was scheduled to visit later this month, but a few days ago, she got the news that her cancer is spreading faster than expected and her liver function is failing.  I decided not to wait any longer to see her, so I got on a plane the next morning.  My visit with her was wonderful.  Her stroke recovery continues by leaps and bounds, and she is full of energy, so she kept me busy with projects and errands the whole time.  Her partner has returned to work full time, and Nurse Nick, who has been caring for her around the clock since she got sick, finally had to return to work in Baltimore the day I arrived, so my arrival was fortuitous. 

It also meant I had Cheryl to myself all day, which was delightful, if tiring.   She is mentally fine, but she has had some emotional and behavioral changes since the stroke, and has poor impulse control, which means she needs someone to keep an eye on her all the time.  She tends to forget she has physical limitations from the stroke, and has forgotten how to perform many everyday tasks, which can be dangerous--like trying to pick up a hot pan without a mitt or incorrectly using a sharp knife.  She is walking pretty well, but it is still dangerous for her to use the stairs alone or walk on uneven surfaces, and her right arm is still paralyzed.  Every evening is a party at their house these days, with friends dropping in, bringing food, and hanging out.  I really enjoyed spending time with her awesome friends and family. 

While I was in Denver, my father died.  He had been in the hospital for about three weeks, with an ever-increasing number of health issues.  By the time I left for Denver, he was no longer conscious.  My mom decided to remain with him while I went to Cheryl.  Mom is now on her way to Denver, and the KH and I are making funeral arrangements for my dad for later this week, after my mom gets home.

Things are, naturally, a bit hectic around here, but I hope to get back to regular blogging shortly.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Marked


My mom and I had a little adventure today.  The frog is my sister Cheryl's symbol, so today we went and got frog tattoos in her honor.  :)


 Mine, right hipbone.



 Mom's, left hip.

 I want to share the tattoo story, because it was really cool.

I’ve never had a tattoo, or even considered it. Ditto my mom. So when we decided to get tattoos, I had to find somewhere to go. We live in San Diego--a navy town--so there are about a thousand places. I did my research online and called the highest-rated place. I called and talked to some random guy, Dave, who worked there, and we went in.

While he was setting up, Dave asked why we were doing it, and I told him, “My sister is really sick, and the frog is her symbol.” He asked if she had cancer, so I explained what happened. And then he said, “Almost the exact same thing happened to my mom.” When she was 48 (same age as Cheryl), he went by her house and found her on the floor. At the hospital, they found she had a massive brain tumor and had had a stroke. She was also really fit and healthy and it came out of nowhere. He was her only child, like Joe is to Cheryl, and they were really close. He nursed her for almost a year before she passed away.

And six months ago, his lifelong best friend died of a brain tumor. He nursed him all through his last months, too, since he had no family.

So, as you can imagine, we all had a long, deep talk about cancer and life and death and what it all means and what’s important all through the tattooing. He told us about some of the other people he’s tattooed--often several members of the same family--who have done it in honor of a family member. He says he’s done hundreds of tattoos for people like us, and that they just seem to show up. The other tattoo artists he knows rarely have people ask for that sort of tattoo. He told me, when his mom was sick, his aunt told him the reason he was going through it was so he could help other people deal with the same sort of tragedies. At the time, he thought that was stupid. But in the 17 years since his mom died, people just keep showing up with the same stories and asking him for tattoos.

I honestly felt like the conversation, the stories of all the people we talked about, and what it all means, was getting tattooed onto my skin as we were talking. Maybe it sounds crazy, but it was an intensely meaningful experience for me, and I think for my mom as well. I’m so glad we ended up meeting Dave!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chickening Out

I was going to title this post, "Pimp My Coop," but I decided that might lead to some undesirable search results, so I chickened out.

Remember this picture of my coop?



I really like it, but it looked a little bare, especially in my drab concrete dog yard.  Today I did something about that:



It's not much, but I think once it grows in, it will add a nice bit of vegetation to this barren part of my yard.  You know the spot; we all have one.  It's the place you store the garbage cans, the leftover construction materials, the wood pile.  At my house, it's also the dogs' toilet, so it's smelly as well as dirty and I hate it.  In the past few weeks, I've gotten it mostly cleaned up, and with the addition of the coop and the tiny coop garden, it's becoming more tolerable.



This is still a utility space, as you can see by my compost lineup.



That's the worm bin under the window, the dog waste can next to it, and the rabbit/chicken can next to that.  The worm bin is going great, by the way.  It's been up and running about three weeks now, and the worms are reproducing like crazy!  I've been putting most of the kitchen scraps and coffee grounds/filters in there, so it's getting pretty full.  I'm thinking I'm going to have to move some of the worms to a new bin soon.

And by the way?  That tall plant in the corner next to the worm bin is my perennial volunteer tomato, still going strong!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cheryl Update

I don't want this to turn into a waiting-for-death blog, so I'm going to keep the updates on my sister to a minimum.  I do understand, though, that people are wondering what is going on.  Here's the current state of affairs.

Cheryl is making crazy awesome progress recovering from her stroke.  She went from paralyzed, unable to speak, and on the verge of death, to living at home, laughing, eating, talking, and getting around in a wheelchair in a matter of days.  The doctors are astounded.  Cheryl has the most amazing network of supporters I've ever seen.  They have come out of the woodwork from all over the world to help out.  She has had 24/7 care since Day One, including an RN friend who hopped a plane from Baltimore and has been caring for her nonstop since she was in the ICU.  He took a leave of absence from work and is now living with Cheryl and her family, caring for her and keeping up with her rehab every day.

Other friends built two wheelchair ramps, widened the doorways in the house, remodeled the bathroom, and removed the rugs to make the house wheelchair accessible.  And other friends are keeping up the house and yard and keeping everyone fed.

I am blown away by the number of people who love Cheryl and are willing to step up to help her.  I have always adored her, but then, she's my big sister.  It says a lot about the sort of person she is that so many other people love her so much.

As for the cancer, it is Stage IVB, which is the most advanced stage assigned to cancer.  It is considered terminal and non-treatable.  Cheryl has malignant tumors in her brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, ovaries, muscles, lymph nodes, and now possibly her heart.  She is currently undergoing radiation to the tumors in her brain in the hopes of preventing another stroke and keeping the tumors from further impeding her speech and mobility.  Because her cancer has had a very unusual presentation, one of the oncologists has suggested it might respond to some chemotherapy.  Cheryl and Diana are considering this, but are adamant that they will not follow a course of treatment that will compromise Cheryl's quality of life.

We are all incredibly grateful that Cheryl has had this time to spend with family and friends, and that she has regained the ability to speak and to get around.  She is incredibly strong and positive and is truly an inspiration.  Today is her 49th birthday, and I am so glad she is still around to celebrate it.  Happy Birthday, Cheryl!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jeepers Peepers!

Jeez, chicks grow fast!  The tiny little peeps from three weeks ago quickly became toddlers:


And today they graduated from kindergarten (the brooder) to an outside pen in the grass:


...where they immediately started acting like chickens.

"What's this stuff?  It's green!  Hey...it tastes good!"

"Ooooo...there are crunchy things in here!  They wiggle when you eat them!  Nom nom nom!"

After a couple of hours, they started getting cold, so I put them back in the brooder to warm up.  All the fresh air seemed to really stimulate their little appetites and they were trampling each other to get to the feeder.  Did I mention their names are Marge (the blue cochin), Lisa (the yellow cochin), Maggie (the runty barred rock), Patty (the enormous and possibly male rhode island red), and Selma (the golden sex-link who follows Patty everywhere)?

It won't be long before they are ready for new digs, so it's a good thing I finally got the coop painted and installed:

I think it's awfully cute.  I bought it from a local woman who builds them.  I painted it egg yolk yellow with white trim, just because.  I set it on a foundation of cinder blocks on top of doubled chicken wire to try to keep the rats out.

The top opens to reveal the "bedroom".  There are two laying boxes on the left, a roost most of the way across, and a ladder down to the lower area, which has a bed of clean sand for scratching and dust bathing.

 I love the access door for the nest box and the pop door for the chickens:

In another week or so, the girls will be old enough to move out here at night and free-range in the backyard during the day.  And in another four months or so...fresh eggs!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shit Fuck.

My sister has bile duct cancer.  I've never even heard of it.  Google informs me it is a rare form of liver cancer that usually strikes people over 65 who have risk factors such as ulcerative bowel disease, heavy drinking, or intestinal parasites.  It is slow-growing and does not spread easily.

Well, great.  My sister is 48, has no risk factors, and in her case it has spread absolutely everywhere.  The doctors say there is no treatment.  They will not continue her stroke rehab and will likely transfer her to hospice.  They say she may have a few weeks.  She has been doing so well with her stroke rehab.  On Friday, we thought she might not survive the night.  Saturday, she began improving dramatically.  By Monday, she was laughing out loud, eating soft foods, and using her vast non-verbal communication skills to converse with all of us.  She was getting speech, physical, and occupational therapy every day.  I was so hoping I would get to hear her voice again.

I am so angry right now I can't see straight.  I am angry at this stupid cancer I've never heard of.  I am angry at the doctors who don't want to give her every possible care.  I am angry at life for taking someone who has done so much good in the world and who has so many people--including her 11 year old son--who love and need her.

Shit fuck.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

So Wrong

My sister had a stroke yesterday.  She was home with her 11-year-old son when she collapsed on the floor and started making strange noises.  He couldn't get her to talk to him, so he called her partner (his other mom) at work.  My sister has been having stomach pains lately, so her partner figured that's what it was.  When she got home three hours later, my sister was staring blankly into space, unable to speak, and not responding. 

They got her to the ER and found a brain hemorrhage.  Then they did a full-body scan. 

She has tumors in her brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and pancreas.  The doctors believe one of the brain tumors caused the stroke, which they say is "the worst kind of stroke"--whatever that means.  She is paralyzed on her right side, unable to speak, and generally unresponsive.  Although they haven't officially said it's cancer, the doctors are saying they don't believe they can do anything to treat her, and they "don't have a time frame" for how long she will survive.

She's 48.  She's never even been sick.  When I saw her two months ago, she was fine, although she had lost some weight and looked a little tired.  I can't believe this is happening. 

My mom and I are flying out to see her.  It may be the last time, and I don't even know if she'll know we're there.  I have no idea what to do for my mom, or for my nephew, or for my sister-in-law.  I may be gone for a while.  I'll check in when I get back.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Eli the bunny got relocated to the garden today.  He has been living in our home office since we got him and is allowed to roam the office during the day.  Unfortunately, he has developed the bad bunny habit of chewing electrical cords (why do they do that?).  A few nights ago, he chewed through a lamp cord and blew a circuit breaker.  He also singed his whiskers and the fur around his mouth, but was otherwise unharmed.  Today we discovered he had eaten the phone cord.  So we moved him outside, where he can hop around the backyard during the day and be safe in his hutch at night, with no electrical cords in reach.


I put him in his cage for an hour to get him used to the idea, then opened the door.  He cautiously poked his head out, then slid out himself...and then promptly turned tail and hopped back into his hutch. 

He seems pretty comfortable and happy, though.

I'm calling it a successful move.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Is This?

Let's play a game.

What is this?


If you guessed "worm bin," you are correct!  (If you guessed "Yarnhog's latest wild hare" you can also give yourself full credit.)  If, like Kat, you are watching my ongoing dog-and-chicken show with bewilderment, I can assure you I have not gone country, so to speak.  I prefer to think of it all as a great experiment in (sub)urban micro-farming.

 I've tried traditional composting before, but with limited success.  I don't have a lot of space for piles of compost, and I don't have deciduous trees for leaves, nor do I collect my lawn clippings.  Mostly what I have is kitchen scraps, which are generally popular with the local rat population, but haven't resulted in good finished compost.  So I decided to set up a worm bin to compost my kitchen scraps, stop feeding my garbage disposal, and get great fertilizer for my vegetable garden.


I originally planned to buy a worm compost bin, but they are stupidly expensive, so I made my own.  I used three 10-gallon Rubbermaid tubs, but you could use two, or even one.  My design has a closed bottom bin to collect "worm tea" (I think that's a polite term for "worm piss"), and two working bins, so that I can use the worms' natural migration from the lower bin to the upper to harvest the castings with a minimum of actual hand-to-worm contact.  Because while I love the idea of worms, I am less enamored of the actual worms.  Although you can't see them in the picture, I drilled holes in the bottoms of the working bins and all around the top edges.  If you want to make your own bin, there are great instructions here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Irony

It's gardening season.

That's part of the reason I haven't been blogging.  Mostly I'm just lazy, but gardening has been taking up a lot of my time and energy.

I usually plant a kitchen garden in the spring.  The past two years that I planted, I lost almost everything to mildew during the ubiquitous May Grey/June Gloom that plagues my otherwise warm and sunny Zone 10 garden.  I was so frustrated after the last debacle that I didn't plant a kitchen garden at all last year.


This year, I decided to try again.  I reclaimed the chicken yard (alas, poor chickens, they went to the coyotes and the dog next door), cleaned it up, and planted it.




I put in a new gravel path to keep it neat, added some beds along the right side, and relocated my little apple tree from a pot by the gate to a new raised planter (made from the broken pieces of an old firepit) at the far end of the garden.  I also put in a dedicated hose and added some solar pathway lights.



My new herbs seem pretty happy along the sunny wall, under the mandarin orange trees (which just provided us with a bumper crop and are absolutely covered in flowers and bees now).



The herbs used to be here, but moving them created space for these blueberry bushes, which are supposed to require minimal chill and be ideal for my climate.  I'm hoping this proves to be true.  The KH loves blueberries, which are currently $6.50 for 8 ounces.



This is one of two large salad beds.  These beds are mostly shady, so my options are limited.  I figure, we can eat as much salad as I can grow.  There are also brussels sprouts and bunching onions growing here, and broccoli and garlic growing in the facing bed with more salad greens.

 

My apple tree seems particularly happy with its new home.  Look!  Apples:



But not everything is happy.  My tomatoes are suffering from fungus.




Despite being planted in the best soil, with organic fertilizer, careful watering, and daily pampering, I had to remove about half the leaves from this pathetic thing today because they were covered with nasty black spots that my research tells me is "early blight." 

I promised you irony, and here it is:



This tomato has been growing, blooming, and fruiting for two solid years, completely unattended in a corner of my cold, dry, north-facing dog yard.  It gets no attention of any kind, and no water (unless the dogs are "watering" it).  In fact, it wasn't even planted here.  This is where I dumped the tomato cages after my last aborted attempt to keep the kitchen garden alive.  I guess there must have been a seed or two still attached, because this tomato sprouted here, in the gravel, and has been happily growing up the unused cages every spring and summer since.  In winter it goes semi-dormant, then comes back with fresh new growth in the spring and starts putting out tomatoes again.  This will be its third year running, and as you can see, it is well into its spring growth cycle.

Irony.  I haz it.









Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What I Did Today

I love to garden and have done lots of really fun projects, but today I finished my all-time favorite. A couple of weeks ago, we had to cut down an enormous pine tree in our front yard. We were left with a drab stump.


We decided to put an ornament of some sort on it, so we went to our favorite garden decor center. While I was looking at the gargoyles, the KH noticed a huge concrete fountain basin leaning against a wall. What caught his eye was that it was marked down from $540 to $85 because it no longer held water.

I figured it could hold potting soil.

We dug a depression in the stump. Be warned: this is no easy task. In the end, it involved gasoline and a fire extinguisher. And note: it's probably a good idea to notify the neighbors if you're going to be sending up great plumes of black smoke from your front yard.

Today, the basin was delivered--all 300+ pounds of it--and we put it on the stump.

And, naturally, I couldn't wait to plant it (or to show it off).

(Not a great picture--the sun was setting.)

I love it, and it adds much-needed color and interest to the front yard!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mosaic Madness Preview

Gratuitous blocking shot. FO post coming right up!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meet Daisy

I suppose it wasn't very fair to leave you hanging with that picture of the two birds, was it?

As many of you surmised, I did get Peanut a friend. (And no, it's not some mutant freak of a baby that hatched as a full-grown cockatiel. Of the five eggs she laid, only one was fertile, and the egg died before hatching.)

The new friend is Daisy. S/he (and there is considerable doubt on this point) was living in a very nice home with way too many other birds. Like about 50. Super nice family, but Mom got a little out of control (careful--no comments) and acquired parakeets and finches that won't stop breeding. At one point, the family had three cockatiels, but they rehomed the other two, and poor Daisy was left all alone as the only cockatiel, and the only indoor bird. No one was home all day and she was terribly lonely. So I brought her home to live with Peanut.

I am a life-long dog person, and I would never expect a dog to be like any other dog, so I can't imagine why I figured all cockatiels would be pretty much the same. They're not. At all. Daisy is so different from Peanut, it's like she's another species entirely. Where Peanut is calm and quiet and would happily spend all day napping on my shoulder, Daisy sings and whistles and chatters, hollers for attention, scampers all over the house (and me), plays with toys, and never stops moving. We have an ongoing battle over ownership of my earrings, which she steals right out of my ears, and my computer keyboard--she loves to pull the keys off and run away with them.

Where Peanut adores me and attacks everyone else, Daisy loves everyone and is indiscriminate in her favors, which include lip nibbling and attempts to regurgitate for her loved ones (her loved one--namely the KH--is horrified by this normal avian practice and mildly offended at the thought that the bird wants to pick out curtains with him). She is just a bundle of energy and entertainment in a tiny package. Well, perhaps not so tiny; she's at least 50% larger than Peanut.


Watching Daisy with Peanut is probably the most entertaining part. Daisy immediately decided she wanted to be BFFs with Peanut and has been expending a tremendous amount of energy to make that happen. Peanut, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. When Daisy passes the invisible demarcation line that defines Peanut's personal space, Peanut threatens to bite her. But Daisy is a persistent bird, and a devious one. I love watching her sneak up on Peanut, totally casual, looking the other way, "Nothing to see here, folks...just taking a walk...nothing to worry about..." The funny part is, it works! Initially, Daisy couldn't get closer than a foot away. Now she can get within about two inches before Peanut cusses at her and takes off in the other direction.

As to the gender...we have strong suspicions that Daisy is actually male, as did the previous owners. With some of the cockatiel color mutations, it is not possible to visually sex the animal, so only a DNA test (or something obvious, like egg-laying) can determine gender. With other colors, there is clear gender dimorphism. In Daisy's case, it is not clear-cut. Her feather patterning is more likely female, but her behavior is much more consistent with being male. She's still very young, which complicates sexing. I wanted a female, and after looking at pictures of Daisy, I figured she was likely female. Now that I've watched her for a while, I'm pretty sure she's male. So we're kind of in limbo here. We're still calling her Daisy, but we are using the gender pronouns randomly. It's all very confusing. The boys want to give Daisy a male name, but since she already knows her name, I think this would be a mistake. And heck, if you can have a boy named Sue, why not a male bird named Daisy?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ooooo...Pretty!

I have a little idea I'm playing with.

It involves fiber and color.

My favorite-ever project is my Noro Log Cabin Afghan. Not only is it beautiful, but it gets used every single day.

Now I'm thinking I'd like to make another, only this time with each square in a different, hand dyed, handspun yarn. I'm thinking bright jewel tones, and since I love spinning merino-tencel, each one will have the characteristic tencel sheen.

With that in mind, I dyed up a pound of merino-tencel top a few days ago. I divided it into 2-ounce bundles and hand-painted each one with a different combination of bright colors, with the idea that each one will make one square. I think five or six of them will work for this project. The others are duller than I have in mind for this project--not to worry, though, they'll get used in something else.

I've ordered another pound of merino-tencel, so stay tuned!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dear Kozmo



Dear Kozmo,

Dogs are friends, NOT food. Eating other dogs is BAD. I’m guessing you’ve had a hard life and maybe some run-ins with bigger, meaner dogs (although I’ve never actually met a dog bigger or meaner than you), but it is no longer necessary for you to be the biggest, baddest dog on the street. You are safe now. You are clean and well-fed and have a soft bed. I know you are a sweetheart. I don’t hesitate to stick my hand down your throat to give you your meds. I know you would sooner swallow your tongue than bite me. And you have amply demonstrated your loyalty and protectiveness toward the pack. But truly, we don’t need you to protect us from every other dog on the planet. When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I’ll let you know, and you can be the first one out of the gate. But until then, could we dial it back a bit and let the other dogs live?

Thanks!

Mom

Thursday, February 9, 2012