Saturday, May 18, 2019

Random scenes from my yard.

Mostly, I've been in the yard every possible minute the past few months, trying to undo the damage that was done in my year of forced inactivity. It's astounding how quickly things become over-grown and choked with weeds. Even so, the lushness appeals to me.
In the backyard is the tree I call the Dogwisteria. It's an old dogwood, covered in a wisteria vine and English ivy, along with a forsythia growing out of a rotted place in its  trunk. I mean, seriously - does it get more magical than that? In April, both the dogwood and the wisteria bloom at the same time.
In the shade parts of my garden, I have my own trillium, to remind me of the mountains. This one gets dark purple flowers.
All the varieties I have were bought at garden sales, NOT dug up out of the Park. It's illegal and wrong-headed to harvest wildflowers from the GSMNP.
The ajuga, when it's in bloom, echoes the purple of the wild violets in the yard. Behind it is an enormous snowball bush that I had to cut back. My next-door neighbor threatened to shoot me if I cut too much of it down.
Hostas, hellebores, and ferns, among other things. All the wild violets mixed in there are in the process of being weeded out.
I took this shot right after it rained and in the morning light, the yard looked absolutely electric.
Another weigela, like the fuschia-colored on in the photo abaove it.
Clematis growing on the mailbox post, with dianthus on the ground around it.
I didn't get photos of many of the tulips, but I did like these red and yellow ones.
The lilacs by the front door aren't in bloom long, but when they are, the air smells heavenly.
This giant old rhododendron by the garage gets masses of blooms.
I believe those are spider lilies behind the hosta. They were planted by the former owner.
I put in an apricot-colored rose bush by the crabapple tree, and it seems to love that spot.
A little desert-in-a-pot by the walkway. It has a variety of succulents, some of which have spilled over to the ground below it.
The mock orange bloomed for he first time this year, along with some Carolina geranium I swear I did not put there. Behind it, you can see the clover is now in bloom and is generally hosting roughly a million happily buzzing honeybees and bumblebees.
And back to the Dogwisteria, now all leafed out. Have I ever mentioned how much I love spring?

Friday, May 10, 2019


I got into a discussion recently with a group of women who all started chemo the same month I did, when one of them said she was now a one-year survivor. She counted from the date of her diagnosis. Which seems to me a bit like counting a child's life from the date of a positive pregnancy test. That day may be emotionally meaningful, but it's irrelevant in terms of the actual birth. A year ago today, I found out I had cancer. But the tumor was already there, and it continued to be there in the month of testing and appointments leading up to my surgery. I wasn't a "survivor" at that point, I was a cancer patient. And all week I've felt edgy and sad as this day approached, reliving the painful biopsy, the terrible phone call, the decisions about treatment, and telling my children. So I'm marking this day not as a point of survivorship but in remembrance of the day my life was forever altered.
Because I won't ever look at life the same way. It changed me. Not just the obvious things of forfeiting my breasts and allowing myself to be repeatedly poisoned. Not just going bald or having my formerly straight hair turn into fluffy curls. Not just agreeing to take endocrine therapy for at least the next decade and accepting all the side effects that go with that. It's that from the day I heard "invasive cancer," the long life I expected was no longer a reasonable certainty. Invasive breast cancers do not, at this time, have a cure. You can reduce your risk of it returning, but you can't ever be sure it's not quietly brewing in your bones or liver or brain. And given the aggressive cell biology of my particular cancer, I can't say that I like my odds.
When I received this gardening catalogue last month, I started to pitch it into the recycling bin but stopped short when I saw the date. Seemed like a reminder that on the anniversary of my diagnosis, I can still invest in the future. And so I sent my order in this morning, and will be planting bulbs in my yard come fall.

Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and died shortly afterward, wrote in his book When Breath Becomes Air:

“Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

I don't think I'd have fully gotten that before, but I sure do now. The possibility of an earlier death than I used to imagine has heightened my awareness of life. One year into this, I'm grateful to be here.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

I'm not dead, I promise!

True to my word, my blogging has slowed down this spring. To the point of stopping for a bit so I could put in as much time outdoors as possible. But I'm alive and well, truly. So to start back, I'm posting some photos from a hike we took in the Smoky Mountains last month, on Porter's Creek Trail.
We were there while the white-capped phacelia were in bloom, turning the woods in to a fairy land.
One of my favorite wildflowers is Turk's cap lilies. They just seem so whimsical.
We hiked two miles to Fern Branch Falls, which drop 60 feet down the ridge.
 This big flat rock at the base of the waterfall was our picnic spot.
The trillium, another favorite, were not yet in bloom. I love these so much I have several varieties in the shaded parts of my garden.
Hiking back out, we crossed the boulders into the river and sat for a while just enjoying the sun and the sound of rushing water.
These are just wild violets, but they're called halberd-leaved violets because their leaves are shaped like the axe head of an old long-handled battle weapon. I thought that was interesting.
At one point on the hike back out, another couple was hiking in. The woman in the couple was walking, but the man had stopped to take a picture of the phacelia and was standing there staring at them with a goofy smile on his face. I know a fellow nature-lover when I see one, and I asked him, "Isn't it magical?" He turned to me and said, "It's amazing!" I've traveled all over the world and I sometimes forget the beauty in my own backyard.
We hiked close to five miles all told, our first real hike since my ankle surgery. And it was great! I feel like I am slowly getting back to my old self. And I'm not kidding about being a less dedicated blogger for the time being - I need to be outside healing.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sláinte Mhaith!

My blogging may slow down a bit temporarily. Because spring! And Daylight Savings Time! Even though the trees haven't yet leafed out, spring is clearly edging in and we're going for long walks as much as possible. And yesterday we celebrated one of my favorite spring-is-nearly-here holidays, St. Patrick's Day. Yesterday, we picked up some potatoes and cabbage because I thought I'd make an Irish dish - a chicken and stout stew. Except when I actually  looked at the recipe, I saw that it didn't include potatoes OR cabbage. What sort of anti-Irish travesty is that? My husband pointed out that just because the stew had stout in it, it wasn't necessarily Irish. Oh. Well, it was if I had anything to do with it - I added both to the recipe and used a bottle of Guinness. I also made a loaf of beer bread and we had cold - you guessed it - beer. My younger son came over and had dinner with us.
Aside from walking and cooking, we also spent a lot of time working in the yard. Since my surgeries and chemo basically prevented me from doing much at all last year, the flower beds are insanely overgrown. I have started the laborious process of cutting things back and weeding. And I love it! Gardening just restores my soul. And in spite of the neglect, the daffodils are making a solid appearance. So Happy St. Patrick's Day, Happy DST, and Happy Vernal Equinox to you all!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Florida Long Weekend, Day 3 (Last Day).

Saturday, our last day, we woke up early and drove down to Islamorada to watch the sunrise on the Atlantic side.
We had a little time to wait so we walked along the shore looking at the fish.
And the yellow spotted stingrays!  Who seemed as interested in following us as we walked along as we were in them.
We walked up and down the little bit of shoreline watching the rays.
There were low lying clouds that obscured the sunrise, but no matter - it was shaping up to be another beautiful day.
We went back to Bitton's in Islamorada because as we'd left the morning before, we'd watched Michel putting out trays of freshly baked pastries and couldn't resist. I had a strawberry croissant and my husband had a blackberry, almond and cheese one, and we split a plain croissant with butter. They were all right out of the oven and amazing. This time we had café au lait, and finished breakfast with a few macarons. Yeah, okay, not health food. But perfect for vacation.
We decided to take the kayak back out after breakfast.
The water was so clear and shallow it was a little like snorkeling.
At one point, I scooped up a hermit crab with my paddle. He flipped himself upright, extended his legs, and marched right off the edge and back to his watery home.
We stayed mostly near the shore where motor boats weren't allowed, and it was peaceful.
A couple of times we ran into mangrove roots and had to maneuver backwards to get out.
Passing under a dock, roughly a bazillion seagulls started squawking in alarm.
Then back into clothes and down along the highway again back to Islamorada. We had conch and smoked wahoo chowders and a couple of cold IPAs (Sailfish Sunrise and Stone Delicious) on the screened-in porch of Herbie's Bar and Chowder House on Marathon Key..
Later in the afternoon, we went to the Florida Keys Brewing Company, where we tried two of their IPAs: Kritter (both our favorite - very hoppy) and Sun Sessional.
It was so pleasant in their beer garden that we didn't want to leave, so we ordered another (the Weedline Wheat) and stayed a while, sitting in the shade.
We had another early dinner because we wanted to be back in time for the sunset. This time it was on the big deck at the Key Largo Fisheries.
There were about a dozen or so pelicans hanging out on the pier by the boats as we ate a basket of fried grouper and a couple of Florida IPAs - the Freedive from Coppertail Brewing in Tampa and the Channel Marker IPA from the Islamorada Beer Company.
This time, we wanted to watch the sunset from the water, so we went back to our place after dinner and grabbed our favorite kayak.
Again, just a perfect day. We floated in the water, only paddling occasionally to adjust the view.
I don't ever, ever get tired of sunrises or sunsets.
When the sun finally buried itself below the horizon we headed back in to pack for the return flight the next morning and have a last glass of wine by the ocean.
And this? This is the smile of a woman who knows her odds and has decided to live NOW.