Tag Archives: Homestead

What’s that smell?

“Your upper lip.”

That was a joke in my family that, as kids, we found vastly amusing. Another one that was equally giggle-worthy to our pre-teen brains was when someone said “excuse me”, and someone else would say “There’s no excuse for you!”

Kids are silly.

The smell was not, as it happens, my upper lip. Today was round one of mowing. It’s rare that I will do all the mowing on the property in one go, because it takes about three hours plus change to do that on a regular-size growth of the areas that need to be mowed. Because I’d been in the hospital, I missed my mowing date earlier this week, and things were a bit higher than usual. In addition, all the areas that had flooded with the daily rains we received in June are now dry – because we haven’t received any rain of significance since July 1. Such is Florida. Those areas could not be mowed while they were under water, and the grass in those areas today was almost up to my hip. Today’s session of three parts of the first group of areas I usually do in a batch took almost three hours by itself.

One of those areas is outside the gates of our tiny development here. We don’t have a HOA (how I hate them!), which is terrific, but that also means when something needs to be done, like a fix for the gate, someone has to organize it, then divvy up and collect everyone’s share of the cost to fix it. No problem for me on that; there’s a guy down the road who handles those sorts of things.

It also means we don’t have a HOA to hire a lawn service to deal with the hedges at the gates or the grass that we are responsible for, from the gates to the main road. For awhile, the guy across the street from us – the guy who has a garage mahal that’s almost as large as his house – had a lawn service, and they would mow out there. He dumped them at some point, and a couple of times he did the mowing outside the gates, then for some reason, he stopped. Since it needed to be done then, and needs to be done now, I’m doing it.

Today was one of the few days that the county doing their mowing jobs of the strips on the sides of the roads and in the ditches/swales coincided with my mowing, something that doesn’t happen often. They, of course, are in air conditioned cabs. Yours truly is on a lawn tractor, without a shade. As I started my run out there by the road, I noticed they’d missed a spot at the end of their responsible area. No big deal, I figured, I’ll just run over it and it will be done, too.

As I neared that spot, mowing around the telephone/electric pole in that side of the of the outer gate area, the breeze kicked up and I got a snootful of the most horrid smell, but one I know: death. For awhile now, I’ve been wearing a mask as I mow, as it isn’t good for my lungs to be inhaling all the things that get kicked up during that mowing time, but some of the odor managed to get through then and a few times as I went back and forth on that side of the areas outside the gates.

I thought, ugh, something has died, fairly recently, and the wind is bringing it to us. I got up on the spot the mowers had “missed” and found that the wind was bringing that smell from much closer than I imagined: there was a dead raccoon at the edge of the road there, baking in the Florida sun (it was 96F when I went out to mow). How did I know its death was fairly recent? I’ll tell you:

First, the body was pretty intact. A lot of times around here, when something dies near the road, they’re usually run over a few times. This poor creature wasn’t.

Second, it wasn’t bloated (yet). If something sits long enough in our heat, it starts to bloat as the insides get hotter and hotter. It didn’t look too much bigger than a regular sized raccoon to me.

Third, and finally: nature’s clean up crew had not yet arrived to start dealing with it. We have tons, and I mean TONS, of turkey vultures around here. Last weekend when I went to the store, I saw not one but two individual examples of those birds at work. Today, as I was mowing, I’d not seen any on that raccoon, hopping around as they jockeyed for the power of having the first go, and there were none circling above in the sky. That tells me the raccoon’s death was recent: they had not gotten to it at that point.

I had to stop after just those three sections for a few reasons: almost three hours bouncing around was eating into time I was supposed to be on the helpdesk, I’d used almost a full tank of gas on the tractor (that one tankful usually allows me to finish four or five sections in this particular area group), I was getting hungry, and I was sweating so much that my hands were slipping on the wheel, no matter how often I was wiping them on my equally sweaty and wet shirt.

It was a bit windy, as I mentioned, everything is quite dry from no rain, and I was filthy, covered in dirt from head to toe. After getting the tractor cleaned and back in the shed, I got a shower, had some lunch, and worked.

And now, I’m eating again, a bit sleepy, planning my day tomorrow, but planning to write this evening despite the fatigue as my “real” work slows down for the weekend, since that’s the time I have for it. Between Wednesday evening and this morning, I had four more ideas for stories involving the main character in the book I’m working on. Clearly, I don’t lack for ideas, as one of the previous posts showed. Some are more fleshed out than others, and I thought of a title for one of the new ones last night when I was trying to get to sleep, and just as clearly as being overflowing with ideas, I need to write faster. Much faster, and much more regularly. Getting the writing in each day can be a struggle, as of course the “real” work is often unpredictable, given the nature of it, but it’s time to take what I can get, when I can get it, and, as Neil Gaiman says, make good art.

That’s it for this one, peeps. More later, as always. Be well.

Critters

Big mowing day today at the ranch. We’ve had a ton of rain, so there are still areas where it’s flooded and can’t be mowed. There are also places where the water has been absorbed or evaporated enough that the ground is springy, but not under water, so it can be mowed.

The problem with those areas is that they stink: a fetid, dead smell enveloping you as you drive by, cutting grass that’s almost hip high because the area was previously flooded.

In addition, in all of these area, the mosquitoes are heinous, even with the addition of mosquito dunks and granules thrown in to try to keep the larvae to a minimum. The mosquitoes are also gigantic, much like any other pain in the ass annoyance/invasive species down here: giant slugs, giant snakes, giant roaches, etc. I smacked three of them and left a bloody trail where they had landed and immediately tried to bleed me dry. But some of their buddies made it beyond my slapping and got me here and there.

In other news, one of the turtles made an appearance after I’d mowed the front of the property. This is one of the smaller ones. I think there are three living here, one of which is massive and probably quite old.

The kids had a good time crouching down with it, looking it over, and taking pictures. I’m sure the turtle was thinking what a horrible commute it was having.

There was also a small harvest going on: peppers, green beans, and sungold tomatoes. It was raining, so it was a bit of a short harvest, but the bell peppers are doing fantastic, the tabascos are beginning to fruit, the paprikas, anchos, and cayennes are producing crazy amounts, and the giant jalapenos (for stuffing) are just beautiful. There isn’t a ton of bug/critter activity on the peppers, and that’s good since I’ve basically neglected them. I’d love to have some of the green bells to age to red, but down here, leaving them past the green stage is usually an invitation to have the pepper get scalded or go soft. There’s a reason red peppers are generally grown in greenhouses and cost more than greens: they take longer and they need more specialized care.

Of course, once you harvest, you have to wash. There wasn’t much in the way of dirt or anything else on these, but someone loves to wash the veg, so of course…

She did an excellent job, too, even if she was eating every other sungold. Both the soul eating baby (kid, now, I guess) and the monkeyboy ate bell peppers like apples. There’s nothing quite like fresh, right out of the garden veg to get kids to eat their vegetables.

Where there’s a will

The thing about owning old-style crafted anything – like desks, for instance – is that when it comes to repair and you don’t have a full woodworking studio and all the tools that come with it, sometimes you have to improvise.

One of the drawers has been sticking, badly, and I finally got fed up with it tonight. I unloaded it and found the sides of the drawer were bowing out of their joints at the front. There are no nails or screws in the construction of the drawers except in the handles: the sides were simply groove cut in a tight fit and glued. So, to get them back in order, I brought out my handy wood glue. On a tangent here,I also use the glue on the joints of the bee frames when I’m building those, as well, to supplement the staples, as the bees propolize everything and the top joints get the most pressure when you’re trying to get them out for inspection. Tangent over.

I reglued the joints and then used some heavy things I happen to have around instead of going outside for (wet) bricks. Books, of course. After this dries, I’ll turn it over to do the other side, using the same weights. There’s a notch toward the front so a metal frame for folders can be placed, but the frame joints are 1/4 inch, and the notches are slightly smaller than that – no doubt this is what has caused the tops portions of the sides of the drawer to lose their grip and not seat firmly in their joints. Luckily, I do have a 1/4 inch wood chisel to open those notches just a hair in order to get the metal frame to sit evenly.

Once this is repaired, it won’t be such an ordeal to get the drawer open and then closed once more, and that is a Good Thing.

 

Reinsertion

We’ve had the circus in town at the ranch: a few weeks of my sister, her toddler, and her three month old, in from Germany, staying here. That, naturally, brings in my other sister, her son, and HER toddler to the ranch on an almost daily basis, as everyone visits.  It’s a little insane.

Tuesday now, and the trio is off for the many-houred flights to get back across the ocean, the other trio is settling back into their usual routine, and the ranch is quiet again (except for the snoring of the big guy under my chair).

That should mean a return to my routine as well, but my routine has been, as we all know, shot to hell this year.

Saturday now – four days after I started typing this up, thanks to this or that, but mainly other, like heading to the hospital yesterday to actually walk into the medical records office because no one can find the fax we sent over a week ago for the records from this year to be sent to Mayo. It’s amazing in this day and age – and more amazing, considering the primary field I’m in – that records are still faxed hither and yon. Until there’s a unified, encrypted way to get records electronically from point a to point b, I guess we’re stuck with it.

Otherwise, this is how my spring/early summer life is going.

In previous years, I’d have been up to my elbows in cukes by Memorial Day, but that whole February incident really put me behind. The cukes, however, decided they didn’t give a rat’s ass when they were sown, just that they were.

The first to come in loaded are the gherkins. We don’t really do sweet pickles here – like, eat them out of the jar sort of deal – but we do go through a ton of sweet relish. So that’s what I do: a three day, lots of steps process to go from cuke to relish. That up there is the batch about to start the process (black pot). The silver pot next to it on the stove is sugar syrup I had made for the bees, and the far left is the canner.

The cukes destined for relish get two pickling salt brines, like this, the first one.

After the second saltwater brine:

A bit duller green, yes. How would you feel about 24 hours in saltwater? After this, they all get some poking to allow the first of the vinegar/sugar/spice mix to start infiltrating their tender, defenseless bodies, and into the hot pot they go. The spice bundle there is celery seed, pickling spice, whole allspice seeds, cinnamon sticks) and the color in the vinegar/sugar mix is turmeric.

For large batches like this, I use the bottom from one of the canners to lay over the cukes, because it’s the perfect size. A ziplock of water goes on that as the weight to keep the cukes submerged – you don’t want any air getting to them in this, they’ll get moldy and gross and be unsuitable for eating.

After a few more iterations of the vinegar/sugar soak, the cukes have lost a significant amount of volume, and the weight sits more deeply in the pot each time. This is the last one before they’re ready for the canning.

Then, the next tedious steps: chopping (by hand), filling jars, and topping off with the heated vinegar/sugar/spice mixture.

Final step after packing: processing in the canner – just a boiling water bath, as these are acidic enough to not require pressure canning.

And there you have it: relish. I’d guess this is why most people don’t make their own: it’s tedious, hard, hot work. It’s worth it to me, though, as everyone who can eat the stuff – not me, of course – likes it a lot.

 

The ranch workout is good for what ails you

Or, it may just be what ails you in the end afterward – sometimes, literally in the end, as your glutes are awakened by all the squatting, kneeling, and standing you do, over and over and over again.

Late yesterday, with some help from my sister, we got some weedblock down on one of the 50′ rows out back. We also confirmed something I already knew: I need a better solution for the side of the frames, which are bowing out from the pressure of the contained soil, even with bracing in place about every four feet. The issue with the bracing, I think, is that those are made of wood. My idea is to get some bracing on the outsides of the frames only, with rebar sunk at an angle toward the sides of the frames, and some conduit bent and fitted over that rebar. You can see the first test positioning of there here.

 

The reason we use raised beds in the first place is that digging down about a foot to a foot and a half runs into hardpan – that’s why nothing would grow when we first moved out here, or it would grow maybe twelve or eighteen inches before simply stopping: there was no way for the usual plants to punch through that, as they are not sturdy enough (and, there wasn’t a decent mix of nutrients in it, even if they could have, anyway). I’ve done a ton of rehabilitation on the property, and this is just another obstacle that will take patience and time. I’ll be testing a combination of daikon radish and alfalfa seed. Both of those can break through hard/compacted soil, and neither needs a ton of nutrients to do what they do. Besides breaking up the soil, they’re also ready-made compost, as I will simply be cutting them off at ground level and letting the roots die off underground – both the roots of the alfalfa and the radish (a root itself) will add nutrients to the soil so other things can go in those areas eventually.

Back to the ranch workout, though. We pushed out some of the indeterminate tomatoes yesterday. The indeterminates are the ones that need trellising, so those go between the fence posts that line the frames in the back. The determinate tomatoes don’t need trellising, but most need staking, as they can get pretty heavy from the fruit that’s hanging off them. The determinates are mostly the early variety tomatoes (Oregon Spring, Early Girl, etc.), and the sauce/paste/salsa tomatoes (Paisano, Mariana, Fresh Salsa). The determinates will set fruit all about the same time, which is why they’re great for making giant batches spaghetti, ketchup, pizza sauces, salsa, tomato soup, or just squeezing for fresh tomato juice, among other thing. They can also just be thrown into the freezer after washing (and drying thoroughly), for use in anything that doesn’t need to have a sliced tomato in it to eat fresh – pretty much any of those same applications.

Stinger

Strawberry planting day at the ranch. Instead of black plastic, we use plastic flowerpots with the bottoms cut off. These go into the soil, with about two inches clear above the soil line. They are filled with soil to that two inch mark, and the strawberries go in. As they grow, we will train them over the rim. This will keep various insect type critters from going after the berries as easily as they would were the berries growing directly on the soil. It also helps with soil rot damage to the berries from the rain/watering then drying cycles we go through.

While Mom handled those, yours truly did another weeding run. When I am well, I can spend hours weeding if the gardens call for it (and right now they do) but at this moment, I pull enough weeds to fill one yard waste bag (basically, just a trash bag, but thinner), as that’s about as much as I can manage. Today I went after thistles that came up to my hip, with tons of puffball seeds just waiting to break loose and bury themselves in other areas of the garden. The simplest way to deal with seeding thistle: gently bend the stem with the puffballs – very, very gently, so as to not knock the puffballs yourself – and then use pruners to snip the stem about six inches or so under the puffballs. If the stem has already branched, snip six inches or so under the branch. Once snipped, gently – very gently – shove the clipped stem puffball first into a bag. Repeat as necessary. Once the puffballs are gone, snip the plant into manageable pieces and bag those, then pull the remainder of the plant up by the root.

In one area where I was pulling thistle, I encountered some stinging nettle. I reached for it before I realized what I was going for, and luckily, I did not grab a whole handful of it. The only stings I got were on my left index finger and the pad of my right hand. Yes, I weed bare-handed. I find that I just can’t grasp the weeds and pull them entirely, with their roots, out of the soil. For nettle, though, I made an exception, got my gloves, and pulled the giant thing out. Nettle spreads by rhizomes it sends out, so the actual root area can take some work to get to, as you have to work through the outer areas of the thing before you can pull the rest of it out and get the root. While stinging nettle does have some medicinal use, we do not grow it intentionally here, just as we do not grow purslane, which was the weed of the year when we first put in the gardens. This time around, the weeds of the year appear to be thistle and hawkweed, neither of which we want hanging around. There are masses of them, and I’m considering hiring some day labor to get all the weeding done, as there is no way I’ll be able to get it all done so my  plants can be put out.

Switching gears: those of you who stumbled across this here blog because of searches for oral cancer and/or tube feeding and/or medical things: welcome! A tip for those feeding via PEG, if you’re like me and have to do it slowly: when feeding the rather thick usual formula using the gravity drip method by  syringe, once you’ve poured some formula in, pour in some water as well. The water will help dilute the formula and prevent the formula from gumming up the tube opening (and the syringe opening).

(My dog Einstein grabbing a nap in the background.)

Once that run completes, pour about 20 ml or so of water down the tube as a mild flush to get any formula residue out of the tube opening. That way, the next round in about 10-15 minutes won’t encounter any blockages when you pour it down. This also helps keep your fluid uptake up, which will be better for you and keep the doctors happy. I run formula at a rate of 20-30 ml plus water every 15 minutes. One can of the formula I use is 237 ml, so it takes about two hours to complete a feed session with formula for me. In good sessions when I don’t feel like I’m going to burst or throw up (dry heaves, really), I can press that interval down to about five minutes or so.When the feeding session is complete, flush the tube with more water.

Another tip for those stuck with a PEG who have, or had oral cancer, and have to undergo radiation to the head and neck: keep eating and drinking by mouth if at all possible – even if it takes pain meds to do it – and do exercises to keep your mouth opening as wide as possible. Eating and drinking keeps the muscles working and helps deal with the inevitable scar tissue buildup, and also helps keep your gallbladder happy, by giving it something to do.  Since I didn’t, when I went back to eating by mouth after nine months on the tube, my gallbladder had basically turned into a bag of stones, and the pain from it trying to do anything was excruciating, ultimately resulting in another surgery to have it removed. The mouth opening exercises are as simple as continuing to open your mouth as wide as you can and holding it for ten seconds, doing five to ten reps of that, four or five times a day. Trismus is a horrible consequence of radiation therapy, and you don’t want to wind up with a seriously limited opening like I have, at about 13 mm. If you’re already past all the treatment, and you are dealing with trismus, do stretching exercises every day. In both cases, working with multiple sets every day instead of one set once a day seems to be better, based on the various papers I’ve read. Most utility treatment recommendations involve tongue depressors, but I have used a Therabite previously. Unfortunately, I have not been diligent in using it over the years. Since my unexpected hospital stay, however, I’m getting myself in order on that, and I’m now using it while I feed. I am aiming for five sessions a day, with ten reps per session, holding my mouth open for seven seconds each time. It can be painful, but the benefits far outweigh something that can be dealt with  by taking Advil/Tylenol or pain meds. There are other things you can do to make an effort to prevent trismus or help with it if you have developed it. A tip for Therabite use: once the pads are on the mouthpiece, I slip a sandwich bag over them when using it. That way, I avoid the necessity of changing the pads often due to slobber/drool/mucous all over them. Teeth in or teeth out? That’s up to you. Since my opening is so limited, I have to use it with teeth out, as I can’t fit it in my mouth when wearing them.

Time for another feed. Be well, peeps, and I’ll catch you next time.

Saturday ramble

Typing this up after a long day at the ranch, with Julie & Julia playing in the background. I love this movie, in both parts: Amy Adams does a great job as a foodie stuck in a soul-sucking job, cooking her way through a classic, and Meryl Streep is, well, Meryl Streep, nailing Julia Child. I read the original blog, and the movie is not half bad at reflecting it. The lobster scene (Julie) is hysterical.

Most of the long day was consumed by actual work work. For some reason, although weekends are generally slack, there were a ton (relatively speaking) of people popping up with issues that needed to be resolved. Such is life – after all, it isn’t as if I’m well enough to be spending an entire day in the gardens and with the bees, working on all the things that need to be done. But! I did manage one bag of pulled weeds, so that’s a start.

I had thought I’d go back out and do another, but my abs and my back put the kibosh on that idea.

Yesterday, one of the buttons that secures the feeding tube fell out of my lap when I stood up. This is not a huge deal, as they have to be snipped  off anyway (and I have an appointment with the GI dude next month to do just that).

The sutures connect the button to the flat part of the tube apparatus on the outside and on the inside, to another button holding the balloon. There are four buttons, or there were: this one I found, and when I did, I realized another one had also come off by its own, but I’ve no idea where that one landed. What happens to the inside button? What usually happens to stuff inside your stomach that the stomach acids are unable to digest? Yep. But I’m not digging around for them on the other end. I’m going to trust that the body knows what it’s doing. At least most of the time.

Someone asked about the tzatziki sauce I made the weekend after escaping the hospital.

It’s a very simple sauce, and one that could go with almost anything, not just gyros or other Greek food. A combination of cucumbers, greek yogurt, lemon, garlic, dill, and a bit of salt and pepper – that’s it!

Here’s your ingredient list:

One cucumber, seeded, finely diced and drained. A cup of plain Greek yogurt. Two teaspoons of lemon juice (plus a little zest, if you like). Two tablespoons of fresh dill, chopped, OR two teaspoons of dried, chopped or powdered dill. Two cloves of garlic, or a bit more if you love a good garlicky sauce (I used four). Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together except the salt and pepper very well. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss it into the fridge to chill out for a bit, then  slather it on stuff you’re eating. Simple!

Meanwhile, late this afternoon, Mom whipped up a pan of shepherd’s pie, which was lovely, and guess who ate a bit?

Delicious. And yes, that is a toddler-sized bowl. Got a problem with it?

Moving on, one of the interesting things about having a feeding tube is gas bubbles. Now, we all know that usually gas bubbles escape out one end or the other, one end at times perhaps creating a bit of social awkwardness. With the tube, sometimes the gas bubbles want to escape where the tube enters the abdomen. And they do, in fact, escape, with a second or two of intense pain as the bubble works its way through the very small, almost invisible gap between tube and skin. This does not mean the fitting is leaking even with the gas is getting out through that tiny space. A little bit of schmutz does build up around the perimeter of the tube, but that, while kind of gross, is easy enough to clean off. The escaping gas is something I’ve taken to mean that my stomach is somewhat empty and ready for another feeding. At this time of night, will be formula. It’s also time for meds.

 

Now, I don’t take all of these all the time, nor all at the same time of the ones I have to take on certain schedules except for the first round in the morning. I never imagined, ever, that I would be the one in the family with a drawer full of meds, but here we are, two cancers, one gallbladder removal, one neck surgery, and one extended pneumonia-created hospital stay later. The cans there on the right are the formula that I pour down the tube, one can per feeding. The mortar and pestle is for grinding the tablets into powder so they can be mixed with water and swallowed – or, in my current situation, poured through the tube. The benadryl is to help keep the mucositis and the sinus drainage to a dull roar and from choking me with goo in my throat. This is your life after cancer, surgery, chemo, and radiation. I’d recommend not having it.

With that, I’ll wrap up this entry and get myself set up for a feeding. It sounds simple, but it’s rather involved, and the actual feeding takes almost two hours. I’ll take a picture once I’m set up this evening so you can see what a life on this side of food is like.

 

Tubing

Alas, this is not about floating leisurely on a tube at a place like Wakulla Springs (something you should do if you have the chance).

After that last post, and after the surgery to take care of my neck – they took some lymph and tissue samples to biopsy as they drained it, and those tests were negative, yay! – I wasn’t feeling too well. In fact, I’d not been feeling 100% prior to the surgery, but went ahead with it anyway as it had been so long getting it address, and I didn’t want to change any infection running up anywhere else. What I’ve noticed, though, is that I still have a lump there just below my jaw. Something to discuss with them when I finally get my stitches out next week.

Why the vast delay in getting the stitches removed? On the 13th of February, I was having issues catching my breath, and I was having sharp pains in my chest when taking deep breaths. To me, based on experience, that meant one thing: pneumonia. Since I was having some breathing issues, it was off to the ER – a shiny new facility one of the hospitals had built down in our area.

I figured they would take a chest xray (they did) see some opaqueness (yes), give me a breathing treatment (yes), then throw some antibiotics at me and tell me goodbye (no).

Because I’d had the surgery on my neck at another hospital, they decided the way to go would be to transfer me over to the ER of that hospital. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the proposition, as the other hospital is in the inner city and is a teaching hospital. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but that generally means very busy and understaffed. But away I went, transported over to the other hospital.

I arrived at 9:44 PM in the ER at that hospital on the 13th. At about 3 AM on the 14th, they put me in another ER area, a holding pen of sorts for people who are to be admitted to the hospital, and where people wait for a room. My sister waited with me. And waited. And waited. Finally, she had to leave to take my nephew to school and take care of the soul eating baby, since her hubby had to go to work. So I waited alone, and my mom came up after sunrise to wait. And wait. Somewhere between noon and 1PM, they finally moved me into a room, where I would stay for over a week.

In the meantime, because I had mentioned I had dysphagia (that’s difficulty in swallowing) and because they decided, after taking their own xrays, that yes, I had pneumonia, they put me on a clear liquids diet. And that’s when things went downhill.

I’d not really been eating well before the neck surgery, because I’d not been feeling well. I’m sure everyone knows how that is: you don’t feel entirely well, so you don’t really feel like eating or you have no appetite, or both. I’d already lost a couple more pounds that I couldn’t afford to lose from before the neck surgery to that point.

We pointed out, multiple times, that I’d not eaten anything substantial for almost a week, and that the “clear liquids” diet was not necessary, since I could actually eat. The menu I really needed would have been what they term “soft mechanical” – that is, softer foods designed for people with dentures, but actual food. Didn’t happen. They insisted on tray after tray of crap I could not eat and i one case, could not even identify. Typical tray: apple juice, pudding (too thick for me to eat), jello (difficult to eat when you can’t really move your tongue because you’re missing half of it and missing a lot of the base muscle on that side), and broth. Plus, a Boost in a range of horrific flavors: peach, strawberry, mixed berries. The peach was the grossest of them, and all had “natural and artificial flavors”, which is simply bizarre: those items are all available, even when you’re manufacturing on a huge scale. The broth was generally just a chicken bouillon cube in hot water, which is also disgusting to me. On one of the days, the broth/soup was a gray, almost slimy batch of something that was impossible to identify. I even had my mom take a smell of it, and she bravely took a tiny taste of it, and she could not identify it either. Then, some sorbet showed up on the tray, a departure from the other items, and something I could eat a bit of. However, when the ingredient list starts off with water, sugar, corn syrup, and you have mucositis, as I do, this leads to the high sugar content coating your mouth with a film that takes multiple rinses to get out.

Short version: I ate virtually nothing off the trays. That means day after day of not eating anything. They had me on the usual saline/glucose drip, but I was worried that I was basically starving to death in a hospital.

On the third day, the gastro folks came up to talk to me about inserting a feeding tube. As I thought I would be getting out of there fairly soon, and returning to be able to eat now that they’d been pumping me full of antibiotics to fight the pneumonia (and I felt much better in that regard), I declined. But I continued to feel very weak because of the not eating situation. So, after getting a a good look at myself in the mirror one morning and realizing I was looking like those poor folks who were rounded up and starved in concentration camps (not a specious comparison: I had my mom take a picture of my back, and I had bones prominently displaying instead of being covered by even a small amount of flesh) I changed my mind, as it seemed the only way to be able to get a decent amount of calories into me since I wasn’t eating off the trays.

On Friday the 17th, I had the tube placed. PAIN! I was also dealing with constant nausea and periodic heaving – dry heaving, as obviously there was nothing in my gut to bring up. Routine doses of anti-emetics helped, but didn’t always damp down the random heaving, and the undercurrent of nausea was always with me. On Saturday, they hooked up a bag of formula to the IV stand, and hooked me up for continuous feeding from it. As I’d not eaten anything in forever, the feeding began at 10ml per hour and works up to 50ml per hour. I still felt weak, but I could walk around, even though it left me drained.

Finally, on the 22nd, I was cleared to be discharged. The first order of business was a shower, and when I weighed myself before that shower, the scale read 92 pounds. I am eating by mouth once more (hooray!) but also using the tube to dump cans of formula in so I can get more calories in to help add some weight and more importantly help with the energy issue. Spring is already here, and there are tons of things that need to be done here at the ranch. As I continue to recover and am able to eat a normal amount of calories in a day, I’ll be able to have the feeding tube removed to get that annoyance out of the way. I am terribly behind on the schedule I had mapped out for the season, but being here, and even being behind, is far better than the alternative, if you know what I mean.

One really, very good thing that happened somewhere in the midst if the terrible month that was February, however, is something clicking over in my brain that woke up my love of food and cooking. For many years now, I’ve cooked for a ton of people, but not been able to eat my own cooking. Between the mucositis, trismus (inability to open my mouth very wide), xerostomia (dry mouth; extreme in my case due to getting blasted in the face by radiation, and also the reason I eventually lost all my teeth), and the fact that the bottom denture  loses its grip fast when I eat because of the missing pieces there in m mouth, it’s been terribly difficult to eat real food.

But my brain started nattering at me that there should be ways around that, and I believe this to be the case: I am now putting together selections of things to cook that will serve other people but also myself. At this moment, there are chicken thighs in a greek marinade I whipped up at 4 AM this morning in my fridge. Tomorrow, those will be lunch, and even if I am not able to each a lot of a piece, I will eat what I can of it. It my be messy. It may be painful due to the trismus. It may be tiring, as I’m not used to chewing. In the end, it will be worth it, though, so I will persevere and continue to chip away at the wall that has separated me from the foods I love for over a decade now. I may not be able to “eat” a specific piece of food – a halo orange, for instance, I cannot chew and swallow the segments of. What I can do is work to get them into my mouth and chew on them to extract the juice and some pulp, leaving behind the dry segment that (right now) goes into the trash – when I recover, those will go to the compost heap. If that’s what it takes to get through this, then that’s what I will be doing.

So there you have it peeps: February, in a nutshell, was a month where time basically stood still and is best forgotten. When I finally get the feeding tube removed, forgetting it will be much easier and I will be able to move along with Mother Nature as she defines our lives.

Hello, sports fans

It’s been awhile, yes. A big thank you to Damian, who noticed I had a script kiddie “hack” the site – not a hack per se, just a defacement, like a tagger on a building wall more than anything else, but annoying. If you’re running WordPress, you need to update to 4.7.2. This is pretty much their equivalent of a hair on fire announcement.

“WordPress 4.7.2 is now available. This is a security release for all previous versions and we strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.”

So, thanks to Damian, I cleared out that defaced post and got this here blawg, plus the others I maintain, updated.

Speaking of updates, what’s been happening at the ranch? A bunch of things, bleeding over from the suckage that was 2016. Last year was rather a horrible one from every single angle: professional, personal, ranch. I was sick off and on most of the year, and late in the year I found a big lump on the right side of my neck. Those of you who have followed me know that the cancer back in 2005 was on the left side of my neck. This thing ballooned up so big that it finally burst – or, as the doctors say, “spontaneously drained”. There’s a very hard lump in there, surrounded by infection. At this time, since I have kept draining it (which is disgusting) it is much more contained at the moment, but still painful.

After five months, we are now heading toward surgery to remove it. Tomorrow. We’re not entirely sure ow long that will take, since even with multiple types of scans,  they can’t quite tell how large it is or how deeply it goes. We’ll see tomorrow – well, they will, and they’ll let me know afterwards. They have a 23-hour “observation period” which means I will be stuck in hospital overnight, dangit. No day surgery for this one, because, as I mentioned, there’s no way to tell how deep it is or how much they will have to cut if the pathologist says there’s something there and the margins are not clean. That means I’ll be hauling my laptop up and leeching off the hospital’s wifi, which should be at least marginally better than the sucktastic ISP I have now.

So what happened in 2016?  Pneumonia a couple of times, for one. General grue some others, including when my sister came back to the US for a visit, bringing whatever German germs they have over there. The garden was a disaster, since one of the times I was quite ill was around Memorial Day, when things are starting to go full blast in the gardens. I was sick for a couple of weeks, managed to keep the bees fed, and that was about it: everything else spiraled out of control for the most part. We had no significant harvest as we’ve had in years past, and only a handful of tomatoes.

(Insert four days here, as I did not finish this post on the eve of surgery on my neck. Surgery: done. Recovery: continuing. No hospital stay: hooray!)

At the end of the year, I go this lump thing going, and in the bee yard, I lost 20 – yes, 20 – hives.  I think some of that was due to the incredible weird weather we had deep into the year. In October, we were still seeing temps in the 80s, the queens had not been shut down by their respective bees, so they wanted to swarm and had to be split. I suppose I could have just continued to pile brood boxes on them, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in how things turned out: there simply would not have been enough bees to cover all of the brood as the 80-degree days suddenly snapped to low 70s and the overnights to 40-ish, in exactly the same way a swarm or split would not have enough bees for the same thing.

Another problem: absconding. I hesitate to call it colony collapse disorder, although at least three I know fit the conditions: plenty of food and pollen, no masses of dead bees, and the queen left behind with a tiny group of young bees. As in plenty of cases I’ve read about, there didn’t seem to be any problems inside the hive at all. They were healthy, not overly burdened by mites, beetles, or other pests, and then one day they were just gone. One, in fact, disappeared in the course of a day: I’d checked the hive the day before, and the next day, poof! No bees.

It’s disheartening, to say the least, when you’ve busted your ass on 100+ degree days taking care of the hives only to find them gone. A few of the hives had dwindled to almost nothing and were holding their own, but eventually got robbed out by other, stronger, hives. That, too, is strange: the strong hives had plenty of stores, so didn’t need the piddly amounts that were in the weaker hives, and in one case, didn’t have anywhere to really store that excess anyway. It’s an odd life, taking care of bees.

One thing I tried in late 2016 was in-frame feeders. They take the place of one or two frames in a hive body, depending on what size body you’re running in the yard. These have a cap and ladder system that is supposed to allow the bees to go down and gather up the syrup the frames are filled with and crawl back up without drowning. I know a lot of people use them. They’ve had great success. The migratory keepers use them a lot. What I got? A bunch of drowned bees in some, and in other hives, a ton of drowned bees. I pulled every single one out of the hives. While they are convenient, holding a gallon (or two) of sugar syrup to reduce the number of times you have to make syrup and refill, the tradeoff in dead bees did not work for me. If I have to hump 50 jars out for feeding when it’s necessary, then that’s what I’ll do. Lesson learned, in that those types of feeders are not for my beeyard.

This year, I’ll be rebuilding the beeyard. I picked up four nucs from Jester’s down in Mims – almost two and a half hours from here, one way, and it was funny driving back two and half hours with the back of the car humming. All of those are doing great, as they should. Nucs, for those not in the know, are smaller versions of hives. They usually have five frames, with brood, honey, and pollen. The queen is in the box with her bees, and when you get them home, ideally you should swap them over into regular hive bodies. When I returned home that day, it was late and starting to spit rain, so they hung out in the nucs until the next day when I hived them. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the delay, and I had to add second brood boxes already to all four of them. If you need bees, you’re a small keeper, and you live somewhere that isn’t too far away, give Jester’s a call – I’m pleased thus far with this group that I have, and I can’t wait to see how they perform once spring arrives.

I also ordered 15 packages from Rossman to rebuild the beeyard.  It’s a fairly big expense, but not an overwhelming one, and will get us back up to the numbers I want faster than dealing with splits would, especially since I don’t have a huge number of hives to work with relative to splits.

For the gardens: I have flats in the barn under the lights, and they are all up. In a couple of days, I’m hoping to have this neck thing not hurt so much so I can do the next round of flats. I also sowed carrot, radish, and beet a week or so before surgery, and was planning to do a successive round of those today, but that’s going to have to be pushed back as the flats have been. My goal this year is to have better succession planting and thus better management of what’s on hand and growing throughout the year. It would also help to not be seriously ill this year, and I’ve decided I’ll just have to start wearing a mask if I have to be out amongst large groups of people. In fact, my sister warned me yesterday that there is some kind of nasty flu-like thing making the rounds out in the world, and my brother in Orlando is ill, and says there’s something down there, too. So, masks it is. I’d rather look silly than be down for the count for three weeks and not be able to tend things normally.

For the log/online life: I got off facebook at some point in the middle of last year, and at the end of the year, I deactivated my account. That has freed up a lot of time, removed some stress and pressure, and in general has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I maintain my author page via an account I created just for that purpose: that account has no friends, follows no groups or people, and never will. It’s just there to give me entry to the page I set up, which is not updated on a regular basis right now – because really, do you see established authors hanging out on facebook all day long? No. They are either there to post once in awhile, or they have assistants to take care of their social media. Seriously, the next time you’re on any of the social media stuff, start a timer and see how long you’re on them when you finally exit. It’s astonishing how much of a time sink they are. If you have other things you need to do (write words, repair the sink, do a workout) use social media as  reward – set that timer for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever after you’ve done the task you want/need to do, and when the timer goes off, you’re done. Close them out and go do something else. Maybe one of these days, people will once again appreciate the nature of long form exchanges, like this, instead of 140 character bites or the inanity (“I had nachos!!!”) of most of what people post on social media. Life is too short to watch bad movies, read bad books, or waste years of your life on social media.

One of my goals this year is to post regularly here – ideally, I’d like to do that daily, even if it’s just an image from wandering around the gardens or bees. Notice that I did not say resolution, but goal. I’d like to make it into a habit, and I suppose this post is the beginning of making that habit.

Speaking of habits, I stumbled across a gamified (how I can’t stand that word) habit creator/to do application. It’s over at Habitica.com – it’s free and it’s fun. Some of the functions are not things I’m using (battling monsters with friends, for instance) because I simply want the to-do portion of it. I do still like Todoist, but I find Habitica the one I turn to more these days.

And now? Time to get back to doing some work – work work, as I’m not quite ready for the other work for the gardens and bees just yet. I’m getting there, though.

Hope your new years are falling into place for you, my handful of readers.

It was a dark and stormy night

Nah, it wasn’t. That was  late Friday night into Saturday morning. Saturday’s low was forecast to be 27F; we wound up with 26.7F officially by my weather station. This morning just before 1 AM I headed out to make the rounds to open the taps to keep water flowing in the pipes and keep the motor at the well turning on and off to fill the aerator tank as the taps drained some of the water out. I also covered the well bladder, as you’re not supposed to allow it to freeze. It was very windy, but I crated a cover over the wellhead, bladder, and motor, to trap the little heat given off by the motor as it cycled on and off throughout the remainder of the morning. And then: bedtime, finally.

This morning, I headed back out into the still frigid (for us) cold as the temp had ticked up to around 34F. While I don’t particularly like the freezing weather, I do love the patterns of ice formed by water from the taps and also the standing water from the big rain, which had sheeted into thin layers on the plastic we’re using to solarize some of the frames and keep the weeds down.

There would be some images here, but once again, my satellite ISP is croaking, as if the signals between the dish and the satellite are being hampered by the freeze. They’ve been tolerable enough, but as of the first of the year, they have descended into a pit of suck. Images to come in this space…

 

Tonight was much different than last night. This evening, the temp fell off a cliff after 7PM, so I went out and got the taps running, recovered the wellhead with the things that had blown off in the very cold wind blowing around, and took a few pictures of the broccoli plants starting to frost over. Those are on the other camera, rather than my phone camera, so I’ll have to unload those.

By 7:30, it was already 30F and as I type this, it is 27F. On the upside, I will get to go to bed earlier tonight (maybe) than last night/this morning. I’m working on a cup of tea – Sleepytime Echinacea Complete, which I highly recommend. Even though Celestial Seasoning’s original Sleepytime tea holds a place in my heart, I’ve decided this one is even better. Their Cinnamon Apple Spice tea is also fantastic, if you’re a tea person. No, they’re not paying me to say this – they could if they liked, though, or they could stock me up on the Sleepytime Complete, which no one around here seems to sell and which I have to order online. I just saw on their page they have a Caramel Apple Dream tea, too! Note to self: track it down to try it. Ditto for the Watermelon Lime Zinger. That looks interesting, and I do like some of their other zinger teas. I bet it would be a good on ice (even though I prefer my flavored/caffeine free teas hot versus cold). I did also try their Tension Tamer tea – there’s a lot of stress in my life at the moment, after all – but one of the ingredients and my decidedly annoying as hell guts did not get along, so I’m shipping that off to my little bro.