Make yourself at home. Put your feet up. Grab your favorite beverage and prepare to enjoy the reads.



Raccoon Danger

Recently a neighbor of mine moved away. She was in the habit of feed raccoons at night. They went into her garage to eat. I personally haven't seen any around my house, but then, I'm not out at night looking for them. They certainly are cute, but do you know that if your cat or dog sniffs at a pile of raccoon poop, the parasite can enter your pet and cause all kinds of problems and even death.

Raccoons are host to diseases like rabies.  I'd guess that most of us have had our pets inoculated for Rabies. So maybe not to worry. But most humans don't get Rabies vaccine until after bitten. And how do we know if they have Rabies or not? When bitten by a wild animal the treatment should be as soon as possible. Once a rabies infection is established, there's no effective treatment. Though a small number of people have survived rabies, the disease is usually fatal. For that reason, if you think you've been exposed to rabies, you must get a series of shots to prevent the infection from taking hold. Starting with a vaccine injected close to the spot where you were bitten. Then it takes a series of  4 shots all within a two week period. Fortunately, in the US rabies is fairly rare. But, bitten by a wild animal it is not safe to presume.

Raccoons also carry another more common problem. It's called Baylisascaris infection. It is caused by a roundworm found in raccoons. It can infect people as well as a variety of other animals, including dogs and cats. Human infections are rare but can be severe if the parasites travel to your eye, organs or the brain. The parasite is endemic in raccoons, with infection rates ranging from 72% to 100%. This parasite lives in their intestinal tract and produces thousands of eggs that are shed in their poop.

Raccoons make communal latrines that can be found at the bases of trees and up in branch crotches, on woodpiles, along and on the top of fences, on roofs, attics, and sandboxes. This results in a lot of the eggs in one specific spot, attracting foraging birds and small rodents to undigested parts. This continues the parasite’s life cycle as it infects and kills the intermediate host. Then the raccoon scavenges the dead, becomes infected with the larva and round and round we go.

The immensity of these worms can cause significant tissue trauma, especially in young children with their small bodies. The most common diagnosis from infection is eosinophilic meningoencephalitis, in which the brain and spinal cord and the meninges membranes surrounding the two become enormously inflamed. Have you heard of meningitis?

But, how to protect ourselves and our pets? How can we get raccoons to move on?


Garden Memories - Lilies

Looking back upon the past summer and the incredible heat of October, it seemed to me that autumn would never truly arrive even though my Chrysanthemums insisted on their season. Finally, we verged upon November and I welcomed the colder weather so that I could get serious about my gardening. Like a greenhouse flower, I wilt in extreme temperatures. All the things I had left undone begged me to step outside and tackle them.

For me, this was a time for general cleaning up and implementing my springtime plans. I had many ideas for enhancing my garden, and as I worked, I found that new schemes jumped into my mind altering everything. I have to admit that I am a spontaneous and haphazard gardener. While raking leaves in the area that I had intended to place some Jade plant, I suddenly daydreamed of it being planted with distinctive white Calla Lilies. Did you know that they aren't true lilies, by the way? I had recently excavated some out of a crowded corner of my yard just a short time before. Family members requested that I share my surplus. I had put them in containers in order to keep my promises to give them my lilies, just not so abundantly. I easily changed my "well thought out" plans and enthusiastically tackled my new Lily Patch when a parcel arrived.

I had forgotten my other previous autumn planting concept to create a bed of Stargazer Lilies, and here they were on my doorstep. I was so excited, it was like Christmas! Memory lapse made the surprise shipment even more pleasant. My mind overflowed with visions of pink splendor.

I recall my first introduction to Stargazers just seven years ago. Can you believe I had never seen any before then? Upon entering the home of a friend, I was assaulted by the most intensely breathtaking fragrance that literally commanded my attention. Instead of greeting my friend when she welcomed me in, I blurted out, "What is that incredible smell?" Then I saw the flustered look on her face. Some people think that the word, smell is not pleasant. My nose is in love with gardening as much as my hands, so smells of all sorts have very special appeal for me. I realized the error of my word usage, and quickly covered with scent. “I mean, that enticing scent!”

Smiling, she replied "Stargazer Lilies!" and led me to the exquisite bouquet sitting on the table in another room. I was astounded at their loveliness and have appreciated them ever since. Even though the fragrance can be profoundly concentrated (just one flower in the house can fill your home) I enjoy them. Last summer a catalog came in the mail with Stargazers on the front cover, and I made my very first mail order for plants of any kind. After receiving the package, I quickly got them into the ground. I can hardly wait for spring’s warmth to bring forth my garden fantasies.

I just moved into my house a year ago. The property had not been gardened in maybe twenty years. So I have had a lot of work to do over the past twelve months just clearing and preparing the soil. At a time when most people have put away their garden tools, I am now looking forward to my winter gardening. Oh, and by the way, anybody who wants some Calla Lilies, I have plenty, free for the digging. Call me!

I am reminded of a quote from the book by Elizabeth Lawrence, “Gardens in Winter”

"The season's beauty is in the quality of the sunlight, which is the more luminous when it is less brilliant, and in the delicacy of the shadow, which are paler and more precise than those of spring or summer or fall. On chance, mild days when an incandescent light falls across gravel walks, my garden seems more beautiful than at any other time. The essence of warmth and light is in this delicate sun that seeps into the spirit and penetrates the marrow. At no other season is the sun so grateful so gentle, and so healing. "


What do you drink?

There was a time in my childhood when water was at a premium, not in financial cost, but by lack of water availability. The first place was when we lived in a summer cabin. There were six of us. Mom, Dad, my three siblings and I. If it didn't feel too creepy we could take baths in the creek water that was our source of water through the faucets.

Mom, having been from an area of Pennsylvania where this was not considered unusual convinced us this was normal and quite safe. Waterways were not so polluted as they are today. (Or were they?) All we had to do was go back out to the dock and look straight down to the bottom of the creek through that clear water. So, what harm was there?

However, it was forbidden for us drink this water. The only drinking water came from a spring up a steep hill from where we lived. My father and older brother used to go up there and fill up large containers of water and bring it home. A bucket sat in the corner of the kitchen with a long-handled cup in it. I'm sure in olden times a family might share this cup, going over to it to take a drink.

But, Mom poured it into a container and put it in the refrigerator so we could pour ourselves a glass of water. Otherwise, the cup was used to add water to cooking pots or for heating up and rinsing the dishes.


Safe Laundry

What plant safe laundry detergents and soaps should I use for my homemade grey water system? Because of the drought, I don't want to use the hose to provide moisture to my garden. In the past, I totally got rid of grass and just started planting drought-friendly plants. Keep a grass yard takes a lot of water to keep it green all year long in California. And what a waste of money paying someone to mow it regularly! Certainly, with a yard full of grass during a drought, there is no green. Ugly!

Recently the drought has been severe in California and other places. So, I could just let the garden go. Live and let live... The ones that survive will be fine. The ones that need water will die.

It's funny how things work out. When the washing machine drains into the plumbing it goes out and down into the sewer. But, my plumbing got clogged. The washing machine water was backing up into the kitchen sink. At first, it wasn't too bad. Just don't leave and dirty dishes in the sink and the water would slowly drain. For a while, dumping baking soda and vinegar into the sink seemed to loosen things up a bit. But, after a while, it got to the point that I could only wash small loads because the sink would back up so much there would be no doubt it would overflow onto the floor if I washed a larger load.

One might ask... well why don't I hire a plumber? Simple... I have very little money. I have someone in my life who volunteered to run a "snake" tool into the plumbing, but because of back surgery, that got put off.

I thought about when I was a young mother and had an old-fashioned wringer washer. Just like washers today there was a large pipe connected to it that would be able to drain into the plumbing. However, back in those days, I could lay that hose down and let it drain out the back door into the backyard. As I thought about that, I realized I could do the same today with my modern washing machine. The only problem with it was the pipe on the back of the washer wasn't long enough to get it out the back door. That's when Kats connected a garden hose to that pipe. We ran it out beside where the dryer vent passed through the wall. Today the garden hose leads out to the garden.

When laundry water is going to the soil I wanted to make sure that any detergent I might use would be friendly to soil life. Obviously, big brand detergents are not a wise choice. I've learned that the various eco-detergents, even ones marked “biodegradable”, are not appropriate for the soil because they are essentially salt-based. And salt is BAD for the soil. Surprisingly Seventh Generation laundry detergent is not a good choice.

With a little research, I came across this list of safe laundry detergents for greywater use:
Oasis laundry liquid
Bio Pac Laundry Liquid
Biokleen Laundry Liquid
Ecos Laundry
LifeTree Laundry Liquid
Ecover Laundry Wash (some salt)
Mountain Green Laundry Detergent
Vaska Herbatergent

Here is a list of ingredients to avoid in greywater
boron/borax (toxic to plants)
sodium and ingredients with the word "sodium" in them
chlorine bleach (acceptable alternative: hydrogen peroxide)
sodium perborate
sodium trypochlorite
petroleum distillate
water softeners (contain sodium chloride or potassium chloride)
anti-bacterial soaps & cleaners
"whiteners", "softeners"
enzymes (enzymes in biological washing powders break down protein or fat stains on clothes)
titanium oxide
chromium oxide
artificial colors; FD&C colors
synthetic fragrance
artificial preservatives

NOTE: Most "popular" detergents do not even have their ingredients listed.


Dave Eggers - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Mini Review

It's a (creative non-fiction) memoir about a young man about age 20 whose father and mother die of cancer 5 months apart. He's left to raise his 7 year old brother. The author suggests that parts of his writing is fiction. Ah, well. I suppose any autobiography writer doesn't remember all the details and has to make up some parts.

Some people in my book group didn't like it.The first chapter is pretty graphic in descriptions of his caring for his mother in her last days. Those who didn't like the book wanted it to be a cleaned up version without the awful reality of his experience.

The rest is about how he raised his kid brother, and how he manages on his own after the death of the mother. He uses the F word a lot in his descriptions of how he and his friends relate as they enter into adulthood supporting one another, though he is very careful to raise his little bro with high parental standards.

Yet, of course they still relate as brothers rather than a parental figure and child. He doesn't have any opportunity to grieve or have closure but it's all expressed in his behavior throughout the book.

The writer has an interesting prose style that goes against anything we've ever been taught is the standard way to write. I really like it for that reason.

It is obvious to me that the author is a bonafide manic-depressive with paranoid tendencies. Either that, or he is in permanent panic mode because of his circumstances. Yet he copes and is successful enough to hold it together eventually, with the help of his friends, sets up his own business.

I also liked the book because it takes place right where I live, in the San Francisco bay area. I'm not sure readers in other parts of the country would relate to his descriptions of neighborhoods and travels in the region.

Check out author's name in Wiki.


Autumn Leaves

The abundance of blooming chrysanthemums enticed me. Of course, being only 4 or 5 years old at the time, I couldn't resist picking a few flowers and tucking them into my pockets to surreptitiously sniff them, later. Too bad I forgot about them and mommy found them when I came home. I sure got yelled at!

My mother was confounded at my thievery. Hadn't I been spanked enough for my evil ways? And yet I was still willing to take the chance each time I picked other people's flowers. It seemed logical to me that such abundance was to be shared. Of course, if Mommy had a garden of her own, perhaps I would not have had such urges. But, since I was given the freedom to roam.... well... it just seemed natural to me to help myself. I had no idea what was to follow the blooming of the chrysanthemums. It seemed like the metamorphosis happened overnight.

I walked the length and breadth of the streets marveling at the extraordinary changes taking place. One day the trees were green, the air was humid, and suddenly the next day, the trees were screaming brilliant and the air was brisk with a new warmth and freshness. The fragrance was tantalizing. That first autumn I remember surprised me.

As I walked the sidewalk that magical day the multi-colored leaves deliciously licked my feet as I crunched my way through them. I remember gathering maple, elm, oak, even willow. I knew my trees by name, of course. Only for a moment did I ask myself if this was another form of stealing. But, did the trees belong to individuals? It seemed to me that since they lined the streets on both sides, they belonged to the streets and not to people. Besides, the leaves were already no longer attached to the trees! It seemed the leaves were up for grabs. I often tossed down one pretty captured leaf in exchange for another even lovelier one. My hands were so full of leaf bouquet by the time I returned home, this time, I was sure it was okay to bring this bounty. And for once I was right.

The instant I walked in the door, my mother's shriek was one of delight. She was pleased with what she thought was a gift for her. I immediately went along with that idea. It hadn't occurred to me to offer them to her. But, I was so happy she approved, so relieved I was not in trouble for being a bad, stealing girl that it was easy for me to give up my newly acquired treasures.

Mommy laid each leaf out on the table, then mysteriously began to slip each one into a book, to save them, she said. Imagine my disappointment with the next stage the trees exhibited... the skeletal barrenness preceding winter. 

Apricot Pit Cure for Cancer - Not

Herbs Cost Money
Over the years I attempted to modify my nutrition in whatever was the most popular fashion at the time. (and if you read the latest, you must realize it changes frequently). Still, I do continue to take vitamins and use various herbal preparations substantiated as useful, as well as use standard methods of medical treatments. I use the Balch Books, as they are well formulated without all the hype. They have some references, but not enough. I study them and compare other sources to gain enough knowledge to see what I would be paying to pee at a high and useless rate, or to gain some healthful benefits. And that's my point aiming for as good a health as possible, not necessarily to cure what cannot be cured. If my ancestors used the stuff for generations for what ailed them, fine, But that didn't stop them from dying from cancer or have deaths at a younger age than we have. Just because a treatment was used in the past, doesn't mean it would work any better today.

Not too long ago, I found a site that gave the original recipe of eating just 17 sun-dried apricot pits per day to "cure" cancers as that was the original way of doing it. The site offered a U.S. source of the apricot pits and provided them at nominal cost But, when I looked for that site today, I found it's been long gone. So, I found another one where you can buy organically grown apricot pits already hammered (it is a really hard job). But, apricot pits contain cyanide! When someone gets cyanide poisoning it actually interferes with the body's ability to get oxygen. So none of the cells in the body are getting any oxygen. Some of the symptoms of cyanide poisoning are:
Apricot Kernel Warning
Patients will first notice a faint almond smell, feel dizzy perhaps initially, breathlessness, then convulsions or seizures, foaming at the mouth. And finally complete organ shutdown and death.

Today, the apricot pit cure has been transformed into Laetrile treatments.

I experienced the first three symptoms, then vomiting before I quit ingesting apricot pits. I really didn't know about all the dangerous side effects at the time. I just foolishly followed all the latest hype of what alternatives could magically cure my cancer. Needless to say, it didn't work. I hope anyone reading this will research it thoroughly by finding authentic scientific articles.

I am aware there are clinics in Tijuana, and Juarez, Mexico where one can go for "Laetrile treatments" under the care of a Mexican physician claiming to be able to cure your cancers. You don't get apricots to eat, you get IV's full of vitamin C and other nutrients you could easily just get for yourself. You get a place to stay, you get people who are so happy to receive your money that they will treat you extra nice, just to make sure you will come back often if you're in good enough condition to do so. I’ve run a support group for cancer patients the last fifteen years. I see people waste money and precious time they could spend with their families. I’ve watched them suffer so badly towards the end of their lives because they think standard medical treatment is “bad” for them. They risk following the idea that there are secret cures for cancer if you only just try them. They do not work.


On Happiness

Whatever happened to happily ever after? That was all hype, like Santa Claus, Leprechauns, Fairies, Jesus and all that other bunch of lies that were perpetrated upon us as kids. There ought to be a Law!!!

Really... I think happiness is what we make it. As the Buddhists say, one of the first truths is that we all experience suffering. None can escape it. Once that sinks in, we can work on it, or around it or with it, or whatever.

My life has often seemed as though it has all been one big dark pit of suffering, and a lot of it I brought on myself by my attitudes. (But, I didn't know any better. How could I cope if no one I knew had the skills to be an example to me?) I have a serious history of depression and hopelessness.

The person I am today is not who I once was. Somewhere along the way, I learned that happiness is not meant to be a permanent condition. What a shock when I found that out! I thought I had missed out on something everyone else had.  Though, truly, it is a good thing we don't have an abundance of joy. We would get bored with it. So, in order to appreciate it, thrill to it, we must be deprived of it, before it fills us to overflowing. Shades of "My Cup Runneth Over". Anywho, to make a long story short, it is funny how the littlest things make me happy now, that I never even considered worthy of the title. Plus, just forcing myself to smile makes me feel a sort of a fake happiness that catches on and becomes real the more I do it. Sounds crazy I know, but I am probably somewhat that, too.

Then, of course, there's Chocolate Happiness!

I am a believer in the concept of destiny. Not that we are pawns of it, but that we have created a plan to enhance us and challenge us to become the best we can be. Naturally, we do not live the perfect path, but some acceptance of the painful things sure goes a long way for making life easier.

When I look back, I can see so many things that I used to consider disastrous in my life were actually good things. Being with a man who I loved, for 17 years and having him turn against me with his fists, and tolerating it way too long before setting myself free in such a very traumatic way. (I went through all that with the most negative attitude possible).

Yet, today, I do not regret a single moment of it. If I had clung to what I thought was going to bring me happiness, (staying with him and working on the situation) I would never have met the true love of my life and true happiness even though we can only see each other once a week. (It is all the more precious!) And I never would have learned to use the computer properly, and never would have set up the chondrosarcoma support group, and so on and so on. And all this brings me, deep in my soul, healing, and satisfaction beyond mere happiness. It brings me a compassionate heart that opens to heartfelt pain and full love for others I have never met. See what I mean?


When Water Was at a Premium

I remember two times as a child when water was at a premium, not in financial cost, but by a lack of water availability. The first place was when we lived in a summer cabin. There were six of us. Mom, Dad, my three siblings and I. If it didn't feel too creepy we could take baths in the creek water that came through the faucets.

Mom, having been from an area of Pennsylvania where this was not considered unusual convinced us this was normal and quite safe. Waterways were not so polluted as they are today. All we had to do was go back out to the dock and look straight down to the bottom of the creek through that clear water. So, what harm was there?

However, we were forbidden to drink this water. The only drinking water came from a spring up a steep hill from where we lived. My father and older brother used to go up there and fill up large containers of water and bring them home. A bucket sat in the corner of the kitchen with a long-handled cup in it. I'm sure in olden times a family might share this cup, going over to it to take a drink. However, Mom poured it into a Tupperware container and put it in the refrigerator so we could pour ourselves an individual glass of water. Otherwise, the long-handled cup was used to add water to cooking pots or for heating up for washing and rinsing the dishes.

The second circumstance where lack of water was an issue was when we lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse out in the country. The wide creaking floorboards of the kitchen housed a large trap door that led down to the storage cistern, our only source of water storage. Winter snow melt and rain helped to keep the cistern partly full. But, it was necessary to go out to the well as summer passed and the cistern went dry. We had to pump water into large pails which we used to wash dishes or mop floors. (not very sanitary, but we never thought about that).  At first, we all shared in pouring buckets of water into the cistern. But it seemed an unending chore until my big brother rigged up a rain gutter beneath the spigot so we could pump water directly into the cistern. My big brother was a really clever guy! At one point, though, even the well went dry and my father had to order water and have it delivered in a large truck, which then emptied water into our cistern.

When I think about it today, I shake my head in wonder. I live in California now. I lived in Western New York in my childhood. I expect to experience drought here, but not in New York. It makes me wonder what people did in times past when water was at a premium. The world I live in today makes it appear that water is abundant, yet not all that safe to drink. Therefore, it is popular habit to buy drinking water by individual bottles. Truck delivery is done by five-gallon jugs.


What to Expect from an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaginging)

If you have ever had an x-ray where they have you lie down on a table. having an MRI is a little bit like that except the "table" is narrower. However, you will be snug as a bug in a rug once inside the tube, as your body will be comfortable embraced and supported by the MRI machine. If you have ever had a CT scan you know that your body is automatically guided through a large hole without you having to move or anyone having to move you. An MRI is similar in the same way, except the hole is smaller and is longer. If you have ever slept in a top bunk with the ceiling above your head, it is similar to that, except the ceiling is closer. For some people, this can be intensely claustrophobic. If you know that you can't tolerate tight spaces like a too small public bathroom cubicle then you should arrange ahead of time to have something to calm you. Perhaps a tranquilizer pill, for example. Occasionally an IV can be given if necessary. Be sure to discuss these issues with the ordering doctor.

One of the best MRI experiences I ever had was when the ceiling of the space I was lying inside of was painted sky blue and had clouds. They gave me a pair of earphones to wear and I got to choose the music to be played. I had soft pillows under my knees, a warmed blanket laid over me and a pleasant recorded Lady-Voice speaking to me whenever instructions were given. There was a soft breeze wafting that came from behind my head. The banging and rat-tat-tatting of the machine never bothered me. I played a fantasy in my mind that I was hiding inside a hollow tree as a child while a woodpecker tapped on the tree.

One of the worst was when I had to lie flat, no pillows, in a cold room with just a single sheet over me. They insisted I wear earplugs. It was dark inside with a little row of mild lighting on each side. The ceiling was gray. A fan blew cold air right up my nose which started up a Migraine Headache. Because they insisted I wear earplugs, the extra loud, commanding, recorded male voice telling me to hold still, even though I was frozen into place, was the most annoying of all! I had a fantasy of being the "Incredible Hulk" and wringing the neck of whoever had set it up that way. Just kidding about that part.

Now, whenever I go for an MRI I wear sweats, or a jersey t-shirt type fabric, pants, and top with no hooks, buttons, zippers, etc and ask to wear them. I wear warm, thick socks. I see no reason to strip down and lay there freezing beneath a skimpy hospital gown when I can be humanly comfortable. It makes no difference to the reading of the MRI, I have been told. I ask for double sheeting (if there are no warm flannel blankets) pulled up around my cheeks and shoulders. I tell them I don't like the earplugs as they aggravate my sinuses. (They do.) And could they please turn down the volume on the voice. Since I have done modeling for artists in the past, I do have the capacity to lie completely still for long periods of time, even though parts of me get tingly and numb, and sometimes painful. I spend the time praying, meditating, thinking beautiful thoughts, and/or fantasizing. I make sure that I have taken sufficient medication beforehand to allay my pain if I have any. That is if I am not required to be without food or drink overnight. If that is the case, I have used a mind-over-matter technique with pain,  and have found it useful for getting through situations like this.

That first time with the music has never been repeated and I have never been able to get permission to bring in my own. So, I never ask about music anymore. If it is really cold inside, during a break in the machine noises, I will ask for the fan to be turned off, sometimes. Some people think it gets too warm and stuffy without it. But, I've never had a problem with it. During longer breaks, I do move ever so slightly to take in a very deep, slow breath and stretch a tiny bit, but never disturb the part of my body they are focusing on. The main thing about holding still is to not hold myself stiffly. That's what causes pain to arise. When I hold still, I try to think of myself as soft as butter melting in sunlight.

The staff are usually quite accommodating if I ask politely. I always apologize ahead of time for being too bothersome, explaining that I have been through so much medical trauma in the past, and would appreciate it if we could do these things. I always thank them each time some request has been agreed with, and remind them how kind they are. I think they do appreciate it and will go the extra mile for a patient that is not complaining and bitching at them. They have to take that kind of treatment all day, every day, from some patients who are really unable to control themselves while they are suffering. And it can be refreshing to be treated as sweet angels of mercy for a change. (Male staff, too.) It can often bring out the best in people that way and bring on a more nurturing experience.

That is my personal philosophy about it. It may be different for others. Sometimes there are people who do not respond to this kind of treatment and remain aloof, cold, remote, sometimes arrogant, and so forth. That is their problem if they want to act that way. I am not going to let them turn me into a helpless little patient, even if they do have me in tears. I do complain to the right people if I have received unkind, inhumane or unprofessional treatment. I have been known to get up and walk out of a situation and leave them open-mouthed when I have been treated in less than a humane way.


Vera sat in the car staring out over the cliff, seagulls dipping back and forth on the breeze. She took the rest of her sandwich, broke it into pieces, and began throwing them out the window one piece at a time.

Soon gulls squawked and dive bombed her car. Vera quickly threw out the rest, and when the fighting started, she raised the window and numbly watched, not able to look away. Her intent to do a kindness, to feed some hungry birds had turned into a violent free-for-all as the bigger birds pecked at the smaller ones taking the food right out of their beaks.

Vera was sorry she came out here. Sorry to see the gray waves sloppily sloshing the shore. It reminded her so much of herself... gray waves. Not even waves, just gray. Gray like the dreams that didn't make sense. Vera didn't just feel it, she was the essence of it, like the heavy fog beginning to creep toward the cliff. She felt like she could dissipate and seep right into it like dust swept into the air. Except she didn't have the energy to move. Just sit and stare and be nowhere.

Vera knew she was depressed. She had been here many times before. Despondency... her old friend/old foe never went too far away, always lurking in the background of her life somewhere. "That's the way it is when you've got brain chemicals out of whack," she said to the last departing seagull.

The oddest things triggered her mood swings. It wasn't anything that Paul said. He could say the same exact thing ten days ago and it wouldn't pierce her heart, draining all the blood of her self-esteem away. No. It wasn't what Paul said. It was the brain chemicals.


A Little Rain Must Fall

I was living in Indiana from '85 to '95. During that time period, California was experiencing drought where my daughter lived. My grandson came to visit me when he was eleven and wandered around, wide-eyed, at all the green grass and trees. Half his life he had not seen such verdant lushness!

We had plenty of rain all summer in Indiana. One time we had someplace to go, and just as we got out the door, it started pouring. I said a few rudely chosen words about the rain as we got in the car soaking wet.

"Granny, you shouldn't complain about the rain!" my grandson admonished. "It is sooo BEAUTIFUL to me!!"

Out of the mouths of babes...


Eye Candy Flower

Around here it's called a Poor Man's Orchid. I've seen it also been referred to as Australian Fairy Iris. I like that! More commonly, African Iris, (Moraea grandiflora).

It's a common "filler" plant. People plant them just to fill space in their gardens. But they are not noticed much amongst the long spiky leaves and everything else that grows abundantly here in California.

When I took this picture, it was late in the day and the flower didn't show up very well. But after cropping everything else out and just the flower sat there in the shading it's fragile beauty struck me. It's like candy. So sweet. I've heard the expression "eye candy" before, usually in relationship to handsome boys or pretty girls to be admired. But, this was candy for my wounded soul (a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down).


Washing Dishes by Hand Saves Money

This all started with my observance of how I wash dishes. Was I wasting water? I thought so, but didn't know exactly. So I began to experiment, test out my theories, figure out how to wash dishes, save water, and wash them clean and sanitary. Hot soapy water, cold vinegar water.

I really had not paid much attention to how many gallons I used. After all, on the bill I am charged for units. But, I didn't know that a unit was 748 gallons.

So, I've been on a quest lately to be more aware of my water usage. As I mentioned in a few previous posts, I have been looking at how I wash dishes. So many have told me it is better to use an automatic dishwasher instead of washing by hand. I was told it would only use thirteen gallons of water as compared to an unknown amount for hand washing, considered to be at least twice as much. Perhaps that is true for large families who have large loads of dishes. But, as a senior citizen living alone, I couldn't accept the idea that a dishwasher would use more. So I took a serious look at just exactly how much water I was using to wash dishes. I had long ago given up letting the faucet run while rinsing dishes. I had no way to determine how much water it would take to rinse my dishes. I suppose I could put the stopper in the sink and see if it overflows during rinsing. but I haven't done that.

In the meantime I thought about the size of my double sinks which measure on the inside as 14 1/2 in. x 13 1/2 in. x 5 in. For the sake of measurement of the water, I deducted an inch on the depth. five inches is where the top of my water line is. If I fill one side for washing and the other for rinsing, I have determined the most I would use is approximately 5 gallons. I filled up one side with my soapy water until there was enough room for my dishes, then I measured how much water was in there, about 2.5 gallon, so two sinks filled with that much water is approximately 5 gals. If I were to wash dishes every day that would be approximately 150 gallons per month usage. However, I was only once or twice a week. Washing once a week comes to 20 gallons a month. Washing twice a week comes to 40 gallons a month. This comes to 240 or 480 gallons a year.

So, then, I thought, I have two plastic wash pans somewhere. After a little hunting around, there they were crammed up against the back wall underneath the sink. Why did I buy them in the first place if I didn't use them? So, I dug them out and hoped the bottom would give the exact gallons they were supposed to hold. It didn't. I realized very soon that they didn't quite fit into my sink as the length was a tiny bit longer, so that must be why I sacrificed them. They do not lie flat in the sink. They are slanted at maybe 5 degrees or less. So I got a large metal pan out of my cupboard, and a large glass bowl. They suffice!


Pissed Off Patients

When we come into this world we act out as freely as we want to. As time goes by, we get messages from others that to freely express ourselves is not okay. Whoever said one must be a "good" (insert name of disease here), patient? What the hell is that anyways? If we are "good" does that mean we get to stay on this planet longer?

I know that there is a LOT of rhetoric about "keeping a positive attitude" and not "being negative" will help one to have good health and survival. Oh and don't forget organic vegan lifestyle. If you didn't eat it before how is it going to take over and heal you? Maybe you like that style of food. But, wouldn't a hot fudge sundae be nice?

If it's true that not thinking positive, having a negative attitude, not eating certain foods, then I would have been gone a long time ago, because I was a very "bad" cancer patient.

My inner child was pissed off. I went against the rules every chance I got, kicking and screaming and swearing at nurses (well, some of them deserved it) and telling people out loud that I had the forbidden "C" word and I was going to die.

Whoa! But those doctors were wrong. Maybe I was close to dying (had two Near Death Experiences), but no one can predict your future, really. Not even a doctor.

I was obsessed and talked about the "D" word to whoever I could get to listen. Most would get out of it, but some were cornered and I probably scared them to death. That was a time when the C word or D word was not discussed.

I wrote out my will, I don't know how many times. Well, that is, every time I had a recurrence. I really didn't have much to leave, some books, some artwork, some poems, some favorite things. I wrote it out with pencil and paper from a 3 ring notebook; one time leaving my art to my sis, next time to my brother. There was something cathartic in it for me.

Realizing I didn't want a "funeral", just a "wake", a party maybe, where people would play all my favorite music, (wrote that in the will, too) and I went around making people feel uncomfortable when I told them, "Don't buy flowers for me after I am dead, Give them to me now, so I can appreciate them." What a bad girl I was. I can laugh at it now, but I was pretty indignant back then. Why put hundreds, maybe thousands of flowers on a casket that is put into the ground the day they are arranged? It seemed so selfish to me. Love me now, not when I'm dead!

So, when we come into this world and we are cute little babies, we can get pissed off and scream our heads off and let everybody know just how unhappy we are. And we get away with it. We know what we want and when we want it, like, I want that milk, NOW! and yummy that is really good!! and then we are happy for a while, and then later we are miserable again, or sleepy, or giggly, or sad.... yet free to express whatever we feel. And people love you and care for you and for your feelings.

All I am saying is, I hope you will give yourself the right to feel however you want to feel and don't let anyone else pass judgment on you, and most of all, don't pass judgment on yourself for not being a "good" patient. Be whoever you are!

If it is true that your time on this planet is coming to a close, then why not do what you want? Well, maybe, not use that bludgeon you were thinking of. But, maybe take a stick and beat up the sofa. Listen to the music you want, eat popsicles and pizza or cereal for dinner and pudding for breakfast, wear all mismatched clothes or draw tattoos on your arm or get out your old Barbies and dress Ken in Drag or your old Legos and build castles. And, yes, protect yourself from those who are still stuck in their old ways, if you need to. You have no obligation to keep them in your life. It's your life after all, whatever is left of it, even if it goes long term. Clear out all the things that do not matter to you. It's very freeing to let go.

Take care of that little baby you once were who expressed yourself so freely. And in the meantime grab up all the love you can get for that which is inside you feeling empty and let it fill your heart until it is overflowing. You will be very surprised as the overflow floods those around you, and whether or not you healed of the disease which might kill you, your heart will be healed with the fullness of love as it grows like a jungle garden. Your love and others intertwined in the leaves healing each other.


Chopstick Gardening

I visited the captivating garden of Robert Stoll in Santa Cruz. Originally from Brooklyn he came to California in 1951. Robert and his wife, Therese, have worked together transforming their all but barren plot, into a pleasurable piece of paradise. Now retired, they are able to benefit from their labors by purely enjoying their garden which is adorned with stained glass and picassiette art created by the talented, Therese.

The only living thing on the property when they first moved in was a Satsuma Plum tree (Prunus Salicina Satsuma) thought to have been there since 1939. Robert has always been fascinated with Japanese culture, and this ancient tree seems the perfect backdrop for his Bonsai. Upon entering his garden, one is amazed by the enormous arbor of Kiwi vine (Actinidia Chinensis) growing on  an overhead trellis extending around a corner about twenty feet or more.

Robert has decks and an elevated wooden boardwalk upon which one may wander this lush garden. Everywhere you look is another focus of interest. Within what used to be a Koi Pond, Robert has created an Island of striking Mexican Weeping Bamboo (Acuminata Aztecorum) as the centerpiece. Several other unique species of Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata, Phyllostachys nigra) are showcased in large ceramic pots. A lovely Hachiya Persimmon tree (Diospyros kaki Hachiya) and Espaliered Apple trees round out the plantings.

“Life began in a garden. Robert says. “What better way to spend my days, but working in one?”

Beyond Robert’s work shed (a charming replica of a Japanese Tea House) is a small forest. Literally.

Robert says, “Bonsai is an Art. It is the ancient art of training small plants to look like miniatures of very old plants.” He doesn’t think they need a lot of care compared to other types of gardening. Though he admits they need frequent watering because the small pots can dry out fast. Though they can sometimes be brought inside for a few days, he says 99% need to live outside, unless they are a subtropical Ficus Benjamini or Schefflera. Robert uses no automatic watering techniques, He says he is very old fashioned. He enjoys walking through and hand watering, as it helps to see each plant individually and helps to assess its needs.

“To maintain, simply do the work as it needs to be done. It’s not so much”, Robert says. Some people think that Bonsai are small because they are not well-fed and have stunted growth, which is not a true understanding of Bonsai. Robert fertilizes regularly every 2 weeks with fish emulsion one time and miracle grow, next time.

Among the many trees that Robert has nurtured, the smallest are less than 8 inches and the largest are about 3 feet. The oldest are twin Junipers (Juniperus Californica) rescued from the property of an old Victorian house demolished on River Street some years ago. As with many Bonsai, they were reduced in size over time.  In order to do this, they were lifted out of ground, roots and branches cut, and planted in a large wooden box. This process continued until they were small enough to put in their present Bonsai pots. Robert  also has a Santa Cruz Mountain Oak Bonsai (Quercus Parvula var. Shrevei)  which has remained healthy and has not affected by Sudden Oak Death.

Robert has an interesting assortment of tools used for trimming, shaping, sanding, carving and caring for his trees. Nippers, and cutters and pliers and special benders and anodized copper wire of all sorts are at hand. But among his collection of tools Robert has found most useful, his chopsticks.

As a member of the Santa Cruz Bonsai club, Robert trades off  with other members to tend the garden when he is out of town. They meet monthly at the Live Oak Grange Hall. Because it is a training club, experts are brought in to teach and demonstrate techniques.

Robert is recognized for his accumulated knowledge. He has spent over 40 years, developing his abilities and learning Bonsai techniques.  He is a member of two bonsai clubs; the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai and the Midori Bonsai Club in San Jose. He is past president of the Santa Cruz Club and presently the Editor of the Santa Cruz Club's Newsletter.

Note: The Bonsai trees depicted with this article were on display at the Watsonville Bonsai Club Bonsai show from May of 2004 and are not those of Robert Stoll.


Living for Now

A friend of mine and her husband were talking about retirement. As a young woman she had cancer and learned to not delay living life to the fullest in the hopes of enjoying it after retirement. Because of that she decided that if she had to choose a time in life to be broke, she'd choose retirement. Probably because of her cancer history she wonders if she would even get there. Some people put away a ton of money and live cheap now in order to save for retirement. Perhaps that makes the most sense, to give yourself a "cushion" for those waning years. But, I agree with my friend. Life is for enjoying now, as much as you can. I'm not saying don't save, don't plan for the future. Just don't put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak

Due to cancer in my twenties and thirties, I was forced to live on disability income only, long before retirement age. When the savings are gone and there's not a spouse or family member to give support, the choices become easy. Don't go shopping. Stop wishing for "things". Find the real value and joy in life. Try not to let being "poor" get in your way. Learn how to navigate the social services system in order to get food, a roof over your head and transportation. Accept that soon people who might have been friendly to you in the past will not be the people who would not want to be in your life now. 

Note: Even if you've had a healthy life, and healthy finances, there is no guarantee those funds will support you in your declining years (unless perhaps you are a millionaire). One heart attack, stroke, prostate or breast cancer can quite quickly diminish your funds. Even if you have the type of cancer that is "curable" or can be managed, you can lose your home before you are cured. Even if you have good medical insurance, they balk at paying $8,000 a month (or co-pay) for the rest of your life if you have Leukemia... for example. Living in the style to which one has become accustomed is not the American Dream. 

Speaking from experience watching my own parents and the parents of my life partner these last decades proves it's the American Nightmare. I don't think the elderly are bent over and have sagging jowls because they are old. I think it's because their self esteem has been stripped away and their new found poverty shames them. 

Sorry....  I didn't mean to sound so negative, but that is the way I perceive it. Planning for a more secure future would take great sacrifice and a will of steel, yet without covering every possible contingency. all that putting the enjoyment of life aside would be for nothing. Enjoy life now while you can. That's my philosophy.


Herbal Sleep Remedies

I've been looking for a natural way to get better sleep. Prescription sleeping pills make me quite ill. So, researching the ingredients of a popular over the counter remedy has revealed the following. I'd rather not spend a small fortune on a few weeks worth of manufactured pills. But, I figure I can try out some of the ingredients by making a simple tea before bed time.

Melatonin -A naturally occurring compound that is secreted in the brain. It's available in pill and liquid form. I prefer the liquid drops. The pills upset my stomach. I don't think this would be a good tea. I love melatonin. It puts me to sleep quite easily. Unfortunately, it doesn't always KEEP me asleep. So I would have to combine something else.

L-Theanine -Commonly found in green tea. I found a reference that said theanine has been shown to help reduce stress levels as well as produce a calm and soothing effect. That's interesting because most think tea has caffiene and therefore would have the opposite affect. I love my green tea, and always feel soothed by drinking it. Perhaps there is soemthing to this Theanine stuff.

Valerian Root Extract -Valerian root has long been used to treat insomnia.  You can find valerian root in many different forms, including sprays, elixirs, drops and tea.  It is my understanding that the molecular components have been refined by chemists to create the drug, Valium. Don't know how true that is, but thought I would mention it.

Hops -Hops are actually the primary stabilizing agent in beer, but have also been shown to have the same effects as Valerian root.

Passion flower - The components in passionflower have calming, sleep inducing, and muscle spasm relieving effects. In one reference I found, it is compared to Lorazepam. It looks like I could get this in a liquid extract, which would be nice, because I could titer my dosage instead of guessing with a tea. Perhaps I could just grow my own on the backyard fence. It is a very pretty vine!

Lemon balm contains components that seem to have a sedative, calming effect. High doses of purified lemon balm extracts were found to be effective in the amelioration of laboratory-induced stress in human subjects, producing "significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness."

Chamomile Flower - There is Level B evidence to support the claim that chamomile possesses anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties and may have clinical applications in the treatment of stress and insomnia.

Catnip - Though not known for producing sleep, is considered a relaxing herb as well as useful for calming the stomach. Though it gives excitement to cats, it does not have that effect for humans

Lobelia - In the photo above that I took in my garden, I do not particularly like it. Even though it has some sedative properties, it takes a larger dose to produce that effect. Since, in larger quantities is is known to be toxic, I do NOT recommend it for assistance to sleep.