Month: June 2019

Slow Dancing with a Stranger Book Review

Today is the longest day of the year. The Alzheimer’s Association uses this day to generate awareness for the disease. The topic of Alzheimer’s is a tough one for me to write about. I have a close family member suffering from this memory thief. So, I thought a book review of Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s was an appropriate choice.

Personal Story

Slow Dancing with a Stranger tells the story of Dr. Harvey Gralnick, the husband of Meryl Comer. An extremely intelligent man, Gralnick was able to compensate for the disease at work for quite some time. However, behavioral changes at home signaled to his wife that something was off.

Some of the details shared by Comer hit home. She shares her frustration of a doctor ignoring her concerns and diagnosing the problem as a combination of stress and depression. In essence, the medical providers stuck together. {Fortunately, when my family member was assessed, it was by a panel. She charmed the pants off the eldest male in the room. (She minored in drama.) He found her vivacious and felt the problems with memory and mobility were natural aging. However she scored poorly on the tests.} Thus I could emphasize with Comer.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

A good amount of Slow Dancing with a Stranger discusses the difficulties in caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s. Comer discusses the many types of care she sought out for her husband. Her shared experiences are valuable to others. The decision on the best way to care for a family member with dementia is incredibly hard. It helps to read about another’s experience.

The decision on type of care may change as the patient progresses through the stages. Comer tried a variety of approaches. This insight is perhaps the most helpful part of the book. While no two patients experience the disease the same, it is helpful to understand the different steps in the deterioration of an Alzheimer’s patient.

Advocating for Alzheimer’s

Comer focuses on advocacy for Alzheimer’s in the latter pages of Slow Dancing with a Stranger. I found this part of the book uplifting. Since she was a former television journalist, Comer was contacted by the PBS News Hour to spotlight her struggle caring for her husband. After much soul searching, she agreed. The airing of the segment spotlighting Alzheimer’s re-opened doors for Comer. Friends and strangers alike reached out. The end result was non-profit work focused on early recognition of Alzheimer’s as well as ways to delay if not prevent the onset of the disease.

Since all proceeds from Slow Dancing with a Stranger directly support Alzheimer’s research I strongly encourage each of you to purchase a copy. Then buy a second copy and give to a friend, family member or to your local library. If you have a friend or family member suffering from this difficult disease, reach out to them and their caregiver today; The Longest Day.

 

 

Rain, Rain and More Rain on the Plains

Rainy days are rare in the part of the world I live in. But rain has fallen four days in a row for a total of just over two inches. Considering our annual average rainfall is 15 inches, the rain over the last four days is significant.

Wet Season

April, May and June are the rainy months for our section of the High Plains. Snow often falls in April which hinders the garden. This year we had the frigid temperatures but not much in the way of measurable snowfall. Then May continued the cooler than normal temperature with a last frost on the 21st of the month. Unfortunately, the month was also dry. Just over an inch of rain watered the garden.

Thus you can understand my excitement of two inches of rain in just four days. The historical average has taken some hits this decade. The beginning featured a carryover of the drought that started in the late ‘00s. The lowest total precipitation for our county occurred in 2011 when just over six inches of rain fell. This was in the middle of a run of years where the rain total fell below ten inches.

Perhaps the ongoing focus on world economics kept this serious drought from the spotlight. This time period was actually drier than the Dust Bowl years. Our area lost a lot of population to the Front Range as individuals and families moved to where jobs could be found.

Fortunately 2015 heralded the end of the drought. The area received over 21 inches of rain. Everything turned green. The High Plains are beautiful with this amount of moisture. The wheat grows tall and the heads are laden with grain. The key to the harvest is a drying period in the weeks before harvest. That might be a problem this year.

Rain and Water Conservation

Since twenty inches of water is a banner year, we are accustomed to conserving water in our part of the world. Unless high winds and/or very hot days pop up, the garden will now not receive water for a week. During dry spells of little to no rain, I water the garden early in the morning. Soaker hoses are the preferable method since our winds carry the spray from sprinklers astray.

Plantings also come into play. After very dry winters and springs, the only flowers in the garden are the perennials. The food crops need the water. So no pretty annuals. The yards tend to brown during a dry year as well.

Stewards of the Earth

I believe gardeners are stewards of the Earth. Both water and soil conservation are important. Rain is welcome in my pat of the world but other areas are receiving more than what is wanted. Those areas with greater annual rainfall need to keep an eye on hard surfaces. Pavement keeps the rain from soaking into the soil. Thus dangerous runoff and flooding is a concern.

We have flash floods when a thunderstorm dumps inches of rain in a short amount of time. So even here in a sparsely populated area, street flooding can occur. The years (few and far between) of heavy spring rains can cause the creeks to look more like streams.

So hardscapes in the garden need to be thought out. Our recent patio addition has flagstone laid upon a gravelly sand. Additionally, a drain pipe was inserted to allow excess water to flow under the herb garden into the lawn.

During yesterday’s rain we looked for ways to improve drainage. We will make a few adjustments to the section of the patio covered by pavers instead of flagstone. The pavers serve as a flat area for the grill to roll out on. Our high winds necessitate moving the grill to a sheltered place when not in use. In fact, it is time to tackle that project since more rain is forecast for this afternoon!

 

 

Garlic Growing in the Garden

Cabbage and garlic side by side
Companion planting of garlic and cabbage

Garlic Growing

Late last summer I went overboard ordering and planting garlic. For years I just used the kitchen garlic that had begun to sprout. Needless to say my past results were lackluster. But this year I have garlic growing in the main garden, garlic growing in the herb garden and garlic growing among the flowers. Truly garlic is everywhere.

Learning About Garlic

I am still learning quite a bit about garlic. Some of my resources include the following books; Organic Hobby Farming and Garden Secrets. I also consult two key websites. The first is www.sustainablemarketfarming.com and the second is www.thespruce.com and I highly recommend both. To be honest I planted the garlic late last summer without much thought.

Last August through November was a bit of a whirlwind and I made several mistakes from an organizational point of view. First of all, I did not label garden signs with the types of garlic. I planted multiple varieties of both soft and hard neck garlic. I did try to keep the types separate. But I did not organize them in such a way that those in one row were soft neck and another was hard neck. Fortunately, nature provides some clues.

Differentiating Between Soft Neck and Hard Neck Garlic

The two types of garlic growing in the garden appeared at the same in the early spring. But in early May, scapes appeared. Hard neck garlic sends a scape up three to four weeks before the bulb is ready to harvest. The scapes are considered a delicacy. I don’t recall ever eating scapes before this spring. They are delicious!

Additionally, the scapes allow one to determine which garlic plants growing are hard neck. This is important because another key difference between soft neck and hard neck is the storage life. Soft neck garlic stores two to three times longer than hard neck. Since I have a large amount of hard neck, my family and neighbors will share in the bounty.

Another way to determine the type of garlic growing in the various gardens is by the stem. Hard neck garlic has one central stem. It is quite sturdy and straight. The soft neck varieties have leaves that are more pliant. Their stems tend to fall over much like onions when they are ripe.

Harvesting The Garlic

Since I have a large amount of garlic and most of the garlic growing is in the raised row garden, I bought a garden fork this spring. I am not sure how I have lived without one! The fork loosens the soil which makes harvesting easy. Because of succession planting I was careful harvesting two of the garlic groupings.

In one of the soft neck beds, I planted some cucumbers by seed. Two cucumber plants emerged before harvest. So extra care was called for around those plants. I also inter-planted cabbage among some hard neck garlic.

I harvested the garlic from around one cabbage head before noticing the beneficial properties of the garlic. The cabbage plants came in a six pack. So I split the pack and three small plants are among dill and near the chocolate mint. My research indicated this deters the moths that lay eggs of the cabbage worm. The dill strategy was a failure but the garlic has worked like a charm.

Cabbage with holes in leaves
Cabbage planted near dill under attack
Cabbage plants in a bed of garlic
Little to no leaf damage on cabbage planted with garlic.

 

 

Garden experiments are important even when they are accidental. The photos show how little damage the cabbage planted among the garlic has compared to the hole riddled cabbage alongside the dill. I will definitely combine cabbage and garlic again.

Drying

Currently I have over one hundred garlic heads drying in my garage. I live in a very dry climate so this is possible. However, from what I have read, fans are used in areas with greater humidity. I still have four groupings of garlic growing in the garden. So, I am watching them closely to make sure they do not over mature.  Garlic left in the ground too long creates cloves that pop out of the skins. This ruins the ability to store the garlic.

I have learned a lot from this garlic crop. This has been a big success so far. However, I won’t know for a few months just how well the bulbs store. I have read several conflicting reports on how to best store the bulbs. Thus, I need to experiment and see what works best for me. Let me know your garlic tips and thoughts in the comment section below. I hope you enjoy the slide show. 

 

 

Cabbage with holes in leaves

Elephants Can’t Fly Book Review

Elephants Can’t Fly

Elephants Can’t Fly by Charlotte Christie is a wonderful addition to a young child’s library. This board book is beautifully illustrated by Cee Biscoe. The gray she uses for the elephants is both a cool blue and warm and fuzzy at the same time. But it is the inspirational words of Christie that makes this 2017 book such a find.

Elly is a young elephant. Naturally, she loves to explore like any young offspring. She observes nature and she tries to imitate. All the things one will see in a youngster.

Christie begins the story giving examples of things elephants can’t do. But then the story unfolds and Elly achieves the impossible. All because no one told her she couldn’t. Thus this simple story is also very meaningful.

Author

A quick search on the Internet yielded little information about Charlotte Christie. The first hit brought up the actress. Adding writer to the search bar brought up a young writer looking for an agent. Then the addition of the title resulted in numerous places to buy the book and a matching stuffed elephant.

A similar search for Cee Biscoe brought up lots of information. She illustrates children’s books. So finally, I searched for Jellycat Books, the publisher of Elephants Can’t Fly. Jellycat is a company specializing in plush toys. But they also sell baby gifts and under this category are some board books, including two about Elly. But the two have different authors. (Same illustrator.)

So, I am no closer to discovering Charlotte Christie the author. I hope Elephants Can’t Fly is not her only book. If it is, I hope she writes another. Because the message of Elly and her willingness to try is the key to this lovely story. If you know anything about the writer of this wonderful children’s book, please share in the comment section.

I love this story and can’t wait to read it to the newest addition to the family. Even newborns can be read to. Thus, I have written her name on the book plate provided on the first page. Tonight I will hold her and read to her for the very first time. Welcome to the world little one!

 

New Kitchen Herb Garden

Establishing the New Kitchen Herb Garden

Last year’s garden extension was the raised row garden which fills a great bit of space in the side lot. But this year’s addition is a new kitchen herb garden. It is located on the back side of the new patio. This allows the new kitchen herb garden to face east. The patio wall provides shade from the afternoon sun. Always a bonus out here on the high plains.

The poured concrete raised garden has a PVC pipe running beneath which allows the patio to drain. Currently the planter is hand watered. This keeps me checking the progress of the plants in the new kitchen herb garden.

Transplants from Divisions

Two of the plants growing in the garden are divisions from existing plants. The lemon balm was relocated in the fall of 2017 from a spot now incorporated into the patio. Then in the fall of 2018, the plant was divided and a small amount placed in the new kitchen herb garden. I was very excited to see it appear this spring. We use lemon balm in our hummus.

Our other transplant was a division of chives. These herbs are the first to appear in the spring. They are an easy plant to divide. I have them centering the bed. If you have never divided plants, chives are a great plant to practice on.

New Plants

Perennial herbs are the focus of the new kitchen herb garden. I have two types of sage in the garden. The common sage is a perennial while the pineapple sage may or may not make it through the winter. This is a first year for me to grow pineapple sage and I can’t wait for the red blossoms. The local hummingbirds will love it.

The thymes, a lemon and German will winter over easily. I love using thyme in my cooking. The two types give me a savory and a citrusy option. I also have two mints, an orange mint and a Corsican mint. The Corsican is very low to the ground with extremely small leaves. I will need to keep an eye on the orange mint since I do not want it to overtake the entire box.

Tender perennials like the stevia and lemon grass will be interesting to watch over the winter. The placement of the new kitchen herb garden might create enough of a micro-climate that they make it through the winter. Of course, the type of winter will have a say as well. The same holds true for the two rosemary plants and the lavender.

My lone annual is a purple leaf basil.  I planted it in front of the chives for a dramatic effect. The textured deep purple leaves are perfect in front of the lavender blooms of the chives. The majority of my cooking basil remains in the side garden. We live on basil in the summer so the dozen traditional plants would over- take the new kitchen herb garden.

Diagram of Garden

Diagram of new kitchen herb garden
Diagram of New Kitchen Herb Garden

 I hope you enjoy the slide show!