Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chemo—50% Done!

Yesterday I had my second chemo infusion, so I am officially halfway done with this phase of treatment! Yay!

The side effects so far haven't been as bad as last time, although I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. The 72-hour point seems to be the nadir, so I'm hoping it's not too rough in a couple days.

However, we have amazing family and friends who are taking the kids to do wonderful activities all week long, and I'm thrilled they're getting to spend so much time with their cousins from all across the country. Also, Bryce is home with me all week so I'm well cared for!

There's 5 nights of Umphrey's webcasts starting tonight, and lots of football and hockey on tv, so we're looking forward to hunkering down and getting through the week as well as possible. I hope you all have a very safe and happy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Spring is Coming

It's not even Christmas, there's no snow on the ground, but I know spring will be here because I've already received my first 2015 seed catalog! And what a beauty it is...Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This year's is just as lovely as every year.

Flowers made of colorful seeds on a background of grains that look so tactile I just want to run my hands through them and feel each grain fall around my fingers. I'm also happy they've moved to an 8-1/2" x 11" catalog size in the last couple years. Previously they used something closer to 11" x 14" and it was kind of unwieldy.

I've been a Baker Creek customer for a few years now, and my favorite offering of theirs is lettuce. Lettuce is one of my most-loved crops to grow and consume, and their selection covers every type: romaine, leaf, butterhead, oak leaf, you name it. Every year I grow about five varieties, and I make a point to try a couple new types each year while keeping a few stalwarts in the line-up.

Tom Thumb, sort of washed post-harvest
Rouge D'Hiver has been my go-to romaine, and Tom Thumb, a butterhead type, is possibly my all-time favorite. Outredgeous was a new addition this year and looks set to repeat its role in my garden this spring. I'm already eying Pablo and Tennis Ball as potential candidates this year. I will change my mind at least 400 times before actually placing my order later this winter.

Baker Creek offers a lot more than lettuce, however; most of their vegetable, herb, and flower offerings are quite comprehensive. I encourage you to check out their website and even request a catalog if you like paging through beautiful plant pictures like I do.

I have to say, however, I'm not as adamant about GMO-free foods as these folks. I understand where they're coming from, but I'm not about to tell a Bangladeshi farmer that it's too bad if her kids go blind because rice modified with vitamin A is bad. It's not bad, and keeping a scientific advance such as this from developing countries is Western hubris. Modifying seeds for yield, disease and pest resistance, drought resistance, and the like is going to keep a planet of 7 billion fed, like it or not. Not to mention, humans have been genetically modifying plants since the invention of agriculture. Our ancestors selected the cereal plants that had the largest grains and the particular individuals that held onto those grains (aka, seeds) longer instead of dispersing them quickly from the seed head. Just because we're doing it on a much more technologically advanced scale doesn't automatically make it bad.

That being said, Roundup Ready corn is terrible. Any genetic modifications that allow people to dump ever more chemicals on our food supply and land and in our water is both dangerous and wrong. Also, biodiversity is extremely important. We don't know what plant traits we'll need in a changing climate; therefore we need to keep as many genes in the mix as possible. Pests and diseases can and will evolve to feed on crops that have been bred for resistance—it's unavoidable, and it's just another reason why we need variety in the gene pool of our plant life. Biodiversity is definitely under threat every day, so people like the Gettles, who own Baker Creek, are doing a valuable service to society by keeping rare and different plants alive and well for us to grow.

As usual, I don't see this issue in black and white. Organic practices, such as integrated pest management, the use of compost, etc., are vital to preserve any amount of healthy land that can grow food. I myself use strictly organic practices in my own gardens, both the vegetable and ornamental parts. An article in the October 2014 issue of National Geographic stated it well: "It's not choosing one type of knowledge—low-tech versus high-tech, organic versus GM—once and for all. There's more than one way to stop a whitefly" (Folger 54). (The author is referring to a virus-carrying pest that is destroying cassava crops in East Africa.)

There's a vast gray area that partisans on both sides forget or ignore, and it's important that we have mature conversations about it. On a lighter note, if you're interested in trying different sorts of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, Baker Creek is a source I can solidly recommend. Germination rates are good and I've never been disappointed in the plants (only the weather, conditions, and neglect that are not attributable to the seeds). And reading this catalog reminds me seed-starting season—and the outdoor gardening season—are really just a few months away.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day—December 2014

Since it's the middle of December, there is, unsurprisingly, nothing blooming in my Chicago-area zone 5 garden. However, indoors I have this lovely flower arrangement sent by a family friend:

It's full of pink lilies, white roses, what I think are some dianthus-type flowers, and plenty of greenery.

I also received a plant basket from family wishing me well during treatment, and it's a Christmas classic:

Bright red poinsettias, variegated ivy, and a Christmas cactus that was blooming...something I've never managed with my own houseplant! (Of course the bloom was spent before today, but I swear it was bright pink!)

The ivy and Christmas cactus will join my collection of houseplants after the poinsettia is done for. Thank you everyone for these lovely plant gifts!

To see what's blooming around the world, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, our host of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dominican Holidaze Recap

Well, now that the immediate effects of the chemo infusion are wearing off, I wanted to share some pictures and recap of our amazing trip to Dominican Holidaze! (For those of you not familiar with this festival, yes it is actually spelled that way; no, I have not stopped caring about my grammar.)

The resort was beautiful! Multiple pools (with swim-up bars), extremely clean, and our room was spacious. Plus it had a jacuzzi on the balcony, which did not suck, and it was very close to the stage. So, for a few sets we just hung out there and heard everything perfectly!

Here's the view from our balcony, the one day that it rained for a while:

We spent the majority of our time relaxing by one of the two large pools. By Thursday they were having DJ sets at one of them, and unsurprisingly Bryce and I migrated to the DJ-free pool for the remaining days. One of the best parts was that at no time did we ever feel crowded. There were always plenty of chairs in the sun, or thatched umbrellas for shade, so we never lacked a great seat.

Drinks were copious, and it was one of the rare times we branched out from beer (you kind of have to in the Caribbean, right?) The food was mostly disappointing, but at an all-inclusive resort that just seems to be the trend. We eventually figured out what was best and where, and we worked with that.

Overall we were extremely lazy, not leaving the resort once. The company managing the festival offered all sorts of excursions and activities that sounded like lots of fun (Baggo tournament! Catamaran trip! Tennis lessons!). But once we were in relaxation mode we didn't come out of it, and honestly it's fine. When If we go back, we'll be more motivated to try things, perhaps!

The beach was wonderful too...that blue-green Caribbean water we've always wanted to see. It was very windy almost the whole time, so the waves were actually rough. We didn't spend a lot of time in the water, but there was ample seating in the sun and shade all over the beach. We probably spent half our ocean time having our feet lapped by waves as we stood watching the shows.
Bryce in the ocean!

Which of course brings us to the other key part of the experience: the music. (Disclaimer for family and friends not interested in Umphrey's: feel free to skip to the end.)
A look from the resort to the stage

Overall the shows were very good, but no crazy bust-outs or incredible antics. Everyone was just enjoying be on a lovely beach, and UM was playing with relaxed precision. The first night, the Wappy Sprayberry had an extremely unusual placement (coming as the second song of the first set, after the intro music), and it included a Footsteps tease (Pearl Jam deep cut). That was possibly the highlight of the show for me, but honestly it had tight jams throughout. The tease of How Many More Times was fun, as always, and the All in Time was very solid, and as many of you know, having seen that song so often it takes a lot for me to say that!

The second night had a great Stewart in the 2x2, which itself fell abruptly out of Plunger, which went unfinished. I never get tired of hearing Bad Friday, and I have to admit both the Hurt Bird Bath and Higgins in the second set had strong jams (although obviously the song selection was not ideal for me).

The third show they had the early set, and they were definitely feeling loose and having fun. I'm so glad Similar Skin is finally getting taken out for a walk, and the jam didn't disappoint. No Diablo was cute because Jake's son, the inspiration for the song, was in the audience dancing along to it. I loved the next run of songs (Educated Guess, Sweetness, Partyin' Peeps); however, Bryce and I got punked out of FF for the second time in six months! Look, I love Kinky Reggae as much as the next guy, but we've been chasing FF for around 10 years, and both at Indianapolis this July and at Holidaze what sounded exactly like the start of FF seamlessly morphed into the Bob Marley classic. I'm not complaining...I'm just sayin', sheesh guys! For full setlists, see All Things Umphrey's.

But again, we were never crowded. I unfortunately have no good pictures from the shows to really demonstrate how close we were, but we spent most of our time hanging out next to palm trees about 10 feet from the stage. Until we wandered to dip our toes in the water and look at the moon, and then come right back. It was the complete opposite of a usual set-up and situation! Here are my feeble attempts at show pictures:
Our typical spot, in relation to the stage (palm tree not pictured)
You put the rum in the coconut...
It was so nice, we made it through an entire STS9 show for the first time ever (Wednesday), and we even watched a little bit of the Disco Biscuits from this spot on Saturday. Servers wandered through the crowd with beers for the taking, or else we waltzed right up to the bars for something different, all with little to no lines!

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and I'm so glad that we were able to do this! Obviously with all the stress going on, we really needed a true break, and the fact that we finally got to celebrate our honeymoon, nearly 10 years later, is of great importance to me and Bryce! I want to thank everyone who made it possible (Mom, Patty, Kari, Rhys, I'm looking at you!).

Hope to see you soon!!

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