August 21, 2014

And the Summer Drags On

A storm front came through Saturday, the kind of thunderstorm that rattles the windows and makes it hard to see across the street. The perfect day for baking or reading a book - or both. By Sunday, the storm had slowed to a steady rain; and by Monday, I was ready to get out into the yard again. Monday morning was gray and cloudy, and I fully expected to feel a chill when I walked out the door instead of the warm, humid air that settled over me like a smothering blanket.

Luckily, the recent stretch of extreme heat kept the weeds from growing as well as the grass, so there wasn't much to do Monday, or even Tuesday. By this morning, the weather was more or less back to usual with just enough moisture in the air to dampen my hair on the way to the car with a few trickles of sweat down my back, and enough heat to turn doorknobs into molten metal. Mornings in the garden are a different story. A few hours outside and my sweat soaked jeans feel like they weigh ten pounds and they stick to my skin as I peel them off.

This is when I start counting the days until the temperature drops. That is September 10 according to AccuWeather. Twenty more days. Twenty hot days, and then blessed relief.

At least I get to spend afternoons inside with the air conditioner. I really feel for people whose jobs keep them outside all day. Today I had the new (new to us) pickup steam-cleaned. The guy who did it had a mobile business and came to the house. Great for me, but he and his helper had to work in the sun. The good thing is that the upholstery and carpet dried fast. He used a scented cleaner so I can't tell if he got the dog smell out of the interior, but should be able to tell in a day or two. Yes, the low-mileage, great deal pickup we bought has such a bad case of dirty dog smell that it is almost nauseating. I wonder if that is why it was such a great deal.

Stay cool my friends. It's only twenty more days.

Unless the forecast is wrong. But I have my hopes pinned on twenty and not a day over.

August 14, 2014

The Puppy Has a New Home

I also wanted to show you the tomatoes I picked this morning.

There are eighty tomatoes in the basket and I threw out five or six that the mockingbirds pecked. In the interest of full selective disclosure, I have to tell you that this is two days' worth but I wasn't home to pick them on Wednesday. Still not a bad haul even at forty-five per day.

I wasn't going to can or freeze anything this year because we were going to sell the house, but we've tabled that idea for awhile so it looks like I am going to be canning tomorrow. I'd do it today but I managed to shove a splinter under my fingernail this morning while picking up something on the deck, and now I'm sitting here with a poultice on the end of my finger trying to draw out the splinter.

Now on to the puppy update. Grandma K asked about the puppy and I thought I had told about her, but I've been pretty scattered lately. Sorry about that.

If you remember, I had placed ads on several lost and found pet websites, craigslist, put up flyers at vets' offices, and called all the local shelters. No one was looking for this puppy and she wasn't chipped. The vet thought she was no more than nine weeks old, so we got her first set of shots and then placed ads at every rescue website I could find, and on craig's list too. I got a lot of emails and realized that I really didn't know how to screen out the users who would sell her to laboratories for experiments, degenerates who would use her as bait for fighting animals, and just ill-suited families. She is a catahoula cattle dog, possibly pure-bed, with high energy and herding instincts. When she was running and playing with us, she often nipped our heels as she ran by. Herding behavior, but not really a desirable trait for a family dog.

One lady who emailed was seventy-six years old, one said they had been looking for the perfect family dog for two years, and one said that he fell in love with the picture of the puppy and wanted to come get her immediately. Then a man called who said they had a year old catahoula mix and they wanted another dog for her to play with and run off some of that energy. They lived about fifteen miles away, active in their church, and knew all about the nipping and herding. When the family came over to meet the puppy, they all fell in love with her but couldn't take her right away because they were going on a youth trip with their church.

In that second week, our affection for her grew but we also came to realize that we are just too old for such a high energy dog. The family called the minute they got home from their trip Sunday afternoon and came over to get her. The puppy wasn't as timid with them as she had been with us when we found her on the side of the road and we tried to get her to come to us. She didn't seem sad to leave us behind, and Buddy the cat wasn't the least bit sad to see her go.

The puppy may have been anxious to get away from the cat after a confrontation Saturday afternoon.. I didn't witness it so I can only guess what happened.

It was another of our 100+ degree days and I had blocked off the hall in the garage for the puppy and turned on the air conditioner. Buddy was in the adjoining office, curled up on his cushion and both were and content in their respective places when I left. A couple of hours later, I opened the outer door to give the puppy a potty break, and Buddy bolted out the door. The partition had been pulled down (and it was in there tightly), and the puppy was in the corner of the office, huddled and trembling on Hubby's duffle bag. I suspect the cat jumped the partition to see if the outer door was open, either not knowing or forgetting that the puppy was there. Once on the other side and coming face to face with the puppy (it's a 3x5 foot space), they both felt the fight or flight response and the cat's response was to fight while the puppy's was to flight. There wasn't a scratch on the puppy but the was a trail of "water" to the corner. Who knows what really happened but it didn't seem to permanently traumatized as her new owners say she gets along well with their cat.

The new owners sent me this video of the puppy with their dog. Don't feel you have to watch; it's not hilarious or riveting. It's just a a happy puppy in her new home.

August 12, 2014

Blooms in August!

I haven't been posting much lately because the garden has taken so much of my time. Actually, the garden takes my mornings and then I need the afternoon to recover. I always say I am only going to work outside for an hour, and then it's approaching noon before I finally come inside to peel off my sweat-soaked clothes and take a shower. Then I collapse into a chair, drink water for an hour and try to make myself get up and do a few household chores. Or take a nap. Usually it's the nap.

The vegetable garden is finally winding down; this morning after watering my special needs plants, I grabbed the camera to shoot some pictures of the plants that are determined to bloom despite the heat.

Turk's Cap, blooming prolifically, is a magnet for hummingbirds.

Bog Sage would prefer being in a bog right now, but once it is established in the ground it will be fine with a weekly watering. I had to move it last fall and it hasn't fully recovered.

Horse Herb, whose tiny flowers attract little butterflies.

Scrubby Skullcap in front of the Horse Herb.

And this Oxblood Lily is blooming early this year.

Greenthread needs to be deadheaded, but I'm going to show it anyway.

Poor Salvia Greggii, who bore the brunt of puppy digging. I cut it back last week to help it recover and it is already blooming again.

Confetti Lantana, always a steady bloomer and favorite of swallowtail butterfly.

Blue Mist, another steady bloomer. This one is always covered with Monarch and Queen butterflies.

Plumbago is doing so much better since I moved it to a sunnier location this spring.

Mexican Poinsettia, whose red leaves are the attraction for us and the minuscule flowers attract bees.

Mealy Blue Sage, always blooming.

Dwarf Mexican Petunia 'Katie', which usually blooms all summer, but has been slow this year.

Red Yucca that I literally hacked into pieces just a few months ago, and now each piece is thriving and blooming in its new location.

Rhonda Kay water lily, just opened minutes before I took the photo, one of the few whose blooms are still open in late afternoon.

Sioux, a changeable water lily.

Ellisiana, a miniature water lily and my first lily over fifteen years ago.

Purple Shamrock, hanging in there but hasn't grown much in five years.

Flame Acanthus, not happy transplanted to a pot, but blooming anyway.

And last, an update on the courtyard. The hyacinth bean vine is growing well, but so far no blooms. The pot against the wall has blue salvia and white periwinkle. The brugmansia bloomed once and is alive but not really growing. The poor flame acanthus is not happy in the pot. We can't seem to get a watering schedule to suit it and will get it back in the ground this fall.

And now a sad picture of a cluster of fall obedient plants. They were looking so good, and then the puppy claimed them as her favorite resting spot. Now the puppy is gone and it looks like aliens left crop circles here and in other flower beds.

Another garden project I've been working on is plant markers. Sometimes I just can't remember the name of a plant, especially the new ones. For some reason I never can think of Turk's Cap when asked what it is. I think it's a mental block. So maybe now I won't come off as a total idiot when someone asks me the name of a plant.

In the vegetable garden, pvc row markers that slip over pvc posts. Easy to move every year as crops are rotated.

The garden is nearing its end and that is a welcome relief to me. I dread getting up in the morning because of the garden. Between insects (rotten aphids), disease, and heat, I'll soon pull out the black-eyed peas, purple hull peas, beets, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The okra will go a lot longer and I think the peppers will be okay now that I have put a cover over them. The fruit was beginning to sunburn and I want my red bell peppers!

Next year I am going to grow more on trellises; they keep the vines from sprawling all over the place and make it easier to pick the vegetables as well. I also want to make supports for the tomato cages and peppers that double as markers so we can tell the varieties apart. You can see the row cover at the end of the row of peppers. I wish I had had enough to cover all the peppers but so far only the bell peppers seem to be burning. Next year I want to plant them on the east side of the house. Behind the row cover is Hubby's ham radio antenna tower. It's not even full height yet. Lovely, no? But a big, honkin' tower and radio room for Hubby equals a sewing room for me, so I'll learn not to look at it.

August 11, 2014

Landscaping Au Naturel

The more I water, weed, prune, mow, and trim, the more I wish I lived in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. When visiting there, I am struck by the natural beauty of the landscape and the total lack of care homeowners seem to give to their landscape. It's as if the houses were carefully placed on the land without disturbing anything. If plants were added, they looked completely natural.

The soil surrounding these houses isn't suitable for growing a grass lawn, much less hedges and formal flower beds. The same lots in my area would have had half the trees removed, terraces built, soil added, and St. Augustine planted. And the result, while pretty and green, isn't nearly as attractive as that made by Mother Nature. The only exception, in my humble opinion, are houses built close to each other on flat grassland. Those seem pretty desolate.

When we lived in town, we lived in the land of immaculate lawns. Stepford lawns. We had a sprinkler system for our St. Augustine lawn, which I mowed and edged every Friday along with all my neighbors. Actually, I mowed and edged longer than all my neighbors because we were on the outside corner of a cul-de-sac. We had hedges which I clipped with my electric hedge clippers and then raked all the clippings. Oh yes, and all the lawn clippings were bagged and set out for trash pickup. I think there was one neighbor who didn't bag his clippings, and seldom edged the curb, and he was that neighbor. The malcontent bent on ruining our neighborhood. Secretly, I envied that neighbor.

He had a lot of oak and pine trees in his yard and it looked like a park to me. He had little clumps of flowers here and there, and tall grass along the edges. It looked like a yard to explore and then relax in one of the hammocks hung between trees. We didn't have any trees in our yard. There were two dying apple trees when we bought the house, but after they were removed, we had nothing but house to curb St. Augustine. We planted trees, but they were still small when we sold that house.

When we bought this house, I turned into that neighbor. I quit bagging the grass, I sold the electric hedge clippers in a yard sale, planted a lot of natives, then planted wild flowers in most of the backyard and quit mowing it until all the seed heads were dried. But I still spend a lot of time watering, weeding, pruning, mowing, and trimming.

The xeriscaping I've done is paying off in many ways though. I have blooms all over the yard today, in August, after a week of temps over 100, and after a month with very little rain. But I want more. I want the natural beauty of an untamed land. A wildscape.

But what makes those lots in New Mexico and Colorado look so great is that they look like New Mexico and Colorado. They wouldn't look quite so great on just my lot in Texas. I know what you're thinking - make my lot look like it did before it was cleared. So maybe you weren't thinking that, but I was. This evening I walked down the street to some land that has not been developed, mainly because it would take more than terracing to make it buildable. This land is so rough that it was never farmed either, although there is an old well surrounded by trees. If that part was ever cleared, nature has taken it back.

This is what our land looked like before development.

A little too wooded for me.

The white rocky area is a road. Trucks driving through there kept anything from growing back, and eventually rain washed out the thin layer of soil. We've got that same white rock under our yard too, some with just a few inches of topsoil over it, and some areas have a foot or more of clay soil. And no, I don't plan on digging out any of it.

So whatever I do, it won't look completely native to my area but it won't look like other xeriscaped yards in my area either. All the xeriscapes I have seen here have relied heavily on gravel or mass plantings of shrubs and wildflowers. The former has a barren look to me, and the latter is too chaotic for my OCD tendencies. I need to find a happy medium.

I began in July when we went to Missouri. Several years ago we were at a garden expo and there was a booth from Missouri Wildflowers Nursery and I noticed a lot of their plants were native Texas plants also, and very hard to find in Texas. So when we headed home after the 4th, we decided to take a detour so we could go there, and what a great nursery it is. The owner is so nice and helped us find some of the plants on our wish list. We came home with about twenty plants. In July. I know, this is Texas where the slogan is "plant until June First and then try to keep it alive until October." What was I thinking? I was thinking get it now or maybe not ever! So I've been babying these plants and so far haven't lost one.

My next plan is to remove some flowers in my front flower bed that struggle with drought. They are native Texas plants, lanceleaf coreopsis, and fall obedient plant, but they just don't work in that dry location. I removed some salvia greggii and flame acanthus earlier this year, not because they struggled there, but because they got a lot bigger than I wanted. The plants that aren't struggling right now are dwarf Mexican petunia, mealy blue sage, Mexican poinsettia, and four nerve daisy.

It's a start.

August 01, 2014

A Few Things About Cardiac Catheterization I Learned This Week

My mother called last week to say that she had been having some odd back and elbow pains and decided to go to a cardiac doctor to have it checked out. They did a series of tests and the doctor said she had a blockage. He wanted to do a cardiac catheterization aka heart cath to clear it out, and said she would wear a nitro glycerin patch.

When she called to tell me about it, she said it wasn't going to be a big deal and wouldn't take more than a half hour. She didn't want me to drive up there just to drive her home from it, so she had arranged for my cousin to drive her there and back. I didn't really know what a heart cath was and asked some online nurse friends how serious it was and if I should go anyway - although I really didn't need to be away from home just then. They told me to go and I'm glad I did. What I realized after it was all over is that I also should have asked exactly what a heart cath is. Turns out, it wasn't just a procedure to clear the blockage.

It's possible the doctor explained it thoroughly to mom and she only heard "not a problem" and "will clear the blockage" which shows why it is important to have someone with you at the doctor's office, or at least have a tape recorder. It's hard to remember a lot of information, complicated information, especially when the news causes some anxiety.

What I have learned since then is that a heart catheterization, a tube inserted into a blood vessel in the arm or leg and pushed through to the heart, is generally used to show the exact location and amount of plaque in the blockage and to determine the type treatment needed. Most of the time, the cath tube is used again immediately afterward to perform an a balloon angioplasty or stent. If the doctor mentioned that part to mom, she didn't hear it. What she does remember him saying is that if a stent was needed, they would do it in a month because he wasn't licensed to perform stents and his partner, who was licensed, was out of town at the moment, but the stent wasn't necessary because her doctor was going to treat her blockage with a patch.

So bright and early Monday morning, or actually dark and early Monday morning, we drove to her local hospital where they prepped her and left her for a couple of hours before the procedure. When they finally took her in around 7:45, I left the hospital to grab some breakfast. Since she wasn't able to eat breakfast, I skipped it too, although I had taken my morning pills which were now beginning to feel like they were burning a hole in my stomach. Twenty minutes later I was headed back to the hospital when they called and said the doctor wanted to talk to me. Turns out, he found two small blockages, and had given mom the choice of doing the cath over again in a month to put in stents, or send her to Amarillo in an ambulance and do it that day.

By then she just wanted it over, and didn't want to make me come back in a month, so she decided to go to Amarillo. The doctor said they would do it as soon as she got there. Turns out, that part wasn't quite right. They managed to work her in at 7:30 that evening. In the meantime, she had to lay flat on her back, without moving the leg with the catheter in it, and without food or water. By 7:30, her back hurt, she was thirsty, and she was hungry. Another cousin, who lives in Amarillo, came to wait with me. The doctor had said it would take about an hour but it took two hours because one artery was twisted.

After she was back in her room in the CCU, she drank all the water she wanted and my cousin left to get her some scrambled eggs and a cola. With the kind of stent she had, she had to stay flat on her back for only three hours instead of six and then she could sit up. Unfortunately, the food and drink on top of the local anesthesia made her queasy and they wouldn't let her raise her head to throw up. So to add to her misery, her back hurt, she was queasy, and she had vomit down her neck and on the sheets. However, after she was finally allowed to sit up at 12:30 a.m., the nurse changed her clothes, sheets, and gave her a sponge bath.  And then we both finally got to sleep, or doze between nurse visits and beeping machines.

So here are your tips before you or your loved one has a heart cath:
1) Take someone with you to the office visit and write down everything
2) Ask what he will do during the heart cath
3) Ask what he will do if he finds a blockage, and if he doesn't plan on doing something then, find another doctor
4) Ask how long after the heart cath he will do the next procedure so you know how long you have to wait flat on your back
5) Drink sparingly after the procedure, especially if it has been a long time since your last drink, and save the caffeinated beverages for later
6) Eat sparingly also, something mild like a few crackers

But mainly, eat healthy now and avoid this procedure. That said, you want to know what mom wanted to eat immediately after we got back home? A milkshake and hamburger. Ay yi yi.