Soil-sense Intervention

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Meager morning harvest. Was this really it? I was already on the path of knowing I needed to improve my soil, but this was a total eye-opener. Even these few offerings from the veggie garden aren’t as healthy looking as they should be. I realized recently that I’ve been gardening the same backyard for ten years now and somewhere along the way I forgot that soil upkeep doesn’t happen with an application of leaf mulch twice a year.

I’ve always known that the soil is where it matters most in the garden. Regardless of the quality of plant or seed or the amount of sun and rain, if you don’t stay on top of building and maintaining the health of the soil, you’re losing.

At some point, I got lazy. That’s the truth of it. I could give the typical excuse of “life” getting in the way and all that bull, but really it was pure laziness. And then last week a book that has been on my shelf for two years finally caught my attention—The Third Plate by Dan Barber.

Just 100 pages in and there have already been so many poignant quotes that have made me say, “DUH, Jenn. DUH.” Gah.

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It’s embarrassing, really, to acknowledge here that at some point I lost all sense when it came to the soil of my gardens. After that pitiful morning harvest, I started thinking back to just a few years ago when I would go out on a similar morning and come back with my big ol’ antique colander and shirt full of tomatoes, peppers of all sorts and sizes, piles of herbs, eggplants with depths of purples so beautiful it became my favorite color. I would make sauces and salsas, cook and freeze, share with friends, coworkers, and family, and still have more.

It wasn’t just the abundance either. You could taste the difference in each variety of tomato, pepper, and eggplant. There were flavor and textural variations, as intended. I think I first noticed two years ago a drop off of not only production but quality. Did I do anything? Put out six inches of leaf mulch twice a year and hoped for the best. Stupid.

Today, I started the fix. With a weather forecasting rain for the next few days, I figured it was a good time to get some nutrients into that soil. By the way, this is what the skies looked like even with a 90% chance of rain for the day…

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But anywaaay, I know weather prediction will never be perfect or spot on, so I got out there to work. First thing, I put out a big bag of mushroom compost. Pulled what was left of the leaf mulch and some of the scrappy, dry dirt away from around the trunks of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs, and filled in with a hearty moat of the compost. I know it’s not ideal to apply the compost in this way, but the hope is that the rain will work it in and the worms I know are still down there will come up to pull it down.

After doing this around all of them and going through the mushroom compost and a bag of cow manure I forgot I had, I put down a fresh layer of leaf mulch and watered it all in. This is my idea of a patch in hopes of salvaging some flavors and production. I also started more long term repairs.

Finally got a compost bucket going again. I used to always have one and it was easy and obviously rewarding. Again, laziness took over. No more. I set up the bucket right down off the back deck, which is right where the kitchen is, so all kitchen scraps will now go into the compost pot. Luckily, I found a 30 gallon black plastic pot under the front deck that still had some previous composting attempt in it. Already rich with worms, I added some leaves and grass clippings and will start to add those veggie bits. Getting back on the right path seems doable now.

I know that there are the fancy-schmancy compost bins you can buy, but an elevated bucket that drains has always worked for me. It’s big enough to make good compost, but not so big that I won’t want to work it correctly.

My other longer term plan is to plant clover or beans or some other nitrogen-fixing cover crop. That will make a big impact for the next growing cycle. I am also doing more research into crop rotations that will improve the soil in a specific area for the planting following it.

I’ve had a soil-sense awakening because of a book. It’s overdue, but I’m relieved that it happened. My gardening practices needed an intervention, and as I get back on track to improving my garden soil, I’ve found a renewed interest in learning as much as I can about soil and the microbial life that is right below our feet. It truly fascinates me. For some people, it’s the galaxies above. For me, it’s the intricate universes below.

 

 

 

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Hill to the Left of Me, Hill to the Right

There’s a roadside attraction of sorts in Lake Wales, Florida called Spook Hill. You throw your car375668_10151609135427310_82917642_n into neutral at the white line and it rolls uphill on its own. Or what appears to be uphill. I think I remember the whole extended family driving over one time from Bartow where we spent our Christmases. My grandmother probably sent us just to get us all out of the house for a little while so she could breathe. Pretty sure I was unimpressed by the whole rolling backwards uphill thing. I was older than the pic to the right, but I’m going to guess that the face I was making was likely the same.

Today, doc told me I’ve relapsed. Again. What is it now? Four times in three years? Five? I really can’t remember. It’s abundantly clear that my body wants me dead. Unfortunately for my body, it’s dealing with a brain that has zero fucks to give about what the body wants. None. My brain is like the weapon of an apathetic martial artist—nonefucks.

I stole that. Ha.

In March, I went for a second opinion at Shands in Gainesville.  It was an impressive facility and the doctors spent over two hours with my mom and me, going over all my medical history and discussing it in minute details. At the end of the visit, they said my doc has done everything they would have done. My mom asked them point-blank what they would do if they were me. The main doctor said if she kept relapsing on prednisone, she would try another immuno-suppressant. There are more out there that carry their own barrage of side effects, but staying on steroids forever is brutal on the body.

First things first though, get me back into remission. So a pounding of prednisone is what the doctor ordered. Took the first dose of the increased regime tonight. Back to the big guns…bigguns…BIG ‘UNS. My mind so frequently warps to Al Bundy, it’s slightly disturbing. What is that about? This isn’t funny. Thing is, if I can’t laugh about it, I won’t make it through. That’s true for everything that’s difficult for me. I can be upset, angry, and grieve, but eventually I gotta start laughing.

Doc says, “You’ll have all the energy you need now!” Thanks for the random bit of enthusiasm, but it doesn’t suit you. And, yeah, I admit that my stock response to the question of “How are you?” has been “Exhausted.” for the last few years, and I do hate feeling slothy and narcoleptic, but come on. What he really meant was, “Bring on the insomnia!” And I don’t know why I just bought that loaf of fresh bread from the bakery while picking up my pred script. Unless I want to balloon up like Violet Beauregard, carbs need to stay the hell away from my face-hole for the next few months until I’m back in remission.

And then I get to try a new immuno-suppressant. The last one I attempted made me itchy all over and straight-up suicidal, but I’m optimistic about this next one. <—That was another joke. I try to stay away from optimism. It’s how I keep from being disappointed in life. Or is that why I keep my expectations super low? Maybe both.

Fact is, either option is craptastic in its own way. Quality over quantity. Quality over quantity. Quality over quantity. If I say it enough, it’ll make it okay, right?

At the end of the driveway this evening with the dogs leashed and ready to go, I looked left, I looked right, and I realized I live in a valley. Whichever way I go, it’ll be uphill. I can put my drive into neutral and hope the roll happens on it’s own, bringing with it the optical illusion of fun, but I’ll still be going uphill.

 

Faces of accepting yet another relapse:

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Dark and Dog-tired, Take Two

I’m still up in the air with my feelings about Facebook’s “On this day…” feature. Some days it causes a baritone belly laugh and others it brings forth a saltwater flood from my eyeballs. It has reminded my hermit self of events I had forgotten about attending, and it’s brought back words spoken that had been pushed out of my mind.

But today, today… . Today, that bastard feature showed me a blog post of a poem I wrote last year when I had once again relapsed. It was titled Dark and Dog-tiredReading over it again today took me back to that drive to the mountains—my place for recovery of all kinds. The poem was unedited when I posted (too full of emotion to care), but finding it again, I will definitely be working it over and over until it’s in better shape.

Not only was I reminded of this forgotten poem dealing with relapse, but another poetic influence may have been my savior today. Earlier this year, a dear friend sent me the memoir The Best Day, the Worst Day, written by Donald Hall about his marriage to Jane Kenyon. Two writers/poets and their difficult path traveled together through the fury of cancer. It is an absolutely devastating but beautiful story of love. I’m not a huge fan of his poetry, but his words in this memoir…oh, my. Theirs was a love that, I am not ashamed to say, I envy.

I may have connected with the story a bit more than I normally would have because of some of the drugs she had to take being the same ones I have also been on and off and on again over the last three years. His descriptions of her levels of pain and the side effects were spot on—things I have never been able to express to friends and family. The rage. The moonface. The depression. The joint pain that you lie about and say is a 6 when really it’s closer to a 12 on a scale from one to ten. The hair that embarrassingly covers your entire body, including your cheeks and chin. The clumps that fall from your head.

And the one that rang out in my mind recently and wouldn’t leave—the rash. A few days ago, it broke out across my chest and collarbones and felt like thousands of tiny bonfires raging under my skin. At first I thought allergies, but my brain said, Pay more attention! Remember, woman! And I did. I remembered Hall’s description of Kenyon’s cyclosporine rashes and how they’d have to rush her to the emergency room, so I called my doctor. His words were, “Stop taking it IMMEDIATELY.” Those are scary words to hear about a drug that is keeping me in remission.

What if there is already too much in my system? What if I called too late? What if stopping now isn’t soon enough? What if stopping now makes me relapse?

I can’t go through all this again.

I can. And I will if that’s what comes. Every time I feel like we’re getting a leg up on this syndrome, another hurdle is thrown on the track and the reasons to keep me jumping are already dwindling—dark. And I’m exhausted—dog-tired.

So I’m going to focus on the fact that poetry got me through this day a year ago and it helped save me today. Instead of worrying about what is next, I will work with my words and lines and keep leaping.

Wordless Wednesday (almost): It’s not Just a Smile

2016 has bent the universe over and is taking us all on a rough ride. I decided with all the crud going on, when small moments of good happen, I will blow them up into much bigger deals than they really are to make up for all the bad.

So…

My doctor smiled today. Doesn’t sound like much, eh? Well, this is my notoriously emotionless (which is why I have a crush on him) kidney specialist who for three years has been straight forward about what was going on, how we would treat it, and was pleased, in his quiet way, the times the treatments worked. Seriously, though, his emotional control is goal worthy for me. But today? Today, he let go. I guess he was so pleased with my most recent lab results, he couldn’t keep his usual slightly caring but mostly blank face straight. He exclaimed that my labs were good, not just good, excellent. They are not just normal, like a person without any medical conditions at all, but even better than average.

And that is all awesome news, but he smiled and he kept smiling until we left the room heading our separate ways. So I’ll take it. I’ll take that moment and make it into something much bigger than a good report and a grin from doc. I’m going to let it erase some of the recent bad stuff and also let it carry me into the unknown days ahead.

The picture for today is of zinnias from my garden. Because smiles.

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A Conversation with the Neighbor

His name is Victor and he’s ageless. Well, neither of my parents seem to know exactly how old he is, only that he’s retired from military service and work as a physiologist. Victor is their neighbor in the mountains and the day my mom introduced us he was working on building a car engine, wearing what appeared to be a cut off shirt sleeve on his head to hold back his shoulder length, mousey hair, and some sort of mock prison jumpsuit with a penitentiary name on the back that I can’t remember now, but he laughed with a boyish snicker as he turned to show it to us. I could see why people were unsure of his exact age.

He’s what I imagine my brother might be like when he gets older. They can both talk about anything and seem to know a lot about many different things, but you’re not quite sure how much to believe. Obviously very intelligent with the tendency for hyper-focus. At the beginning of the new year, my mom mentioned that she liked the look of the yellow FJ Cruiser–it reminded her of Costa Rica for whatever reason. Being a lover of all things car, Victor pounced on the opportunity to do the research and find her one. By February, there was a yellow FJ Cruiser in my parents’ driveway. He’s that guy.

After cursory introductions, Victor wasted no time in asking about my health. My mom had apparently mentioned my condition and being that he’s a retired physiologist that still spends time working with doctors and students doing cardiac research at a nearby med school, he wanted all the details of my syndrome.

I’m on vacation, Victor.

I’m okay. I’m good with not knowing too much. I’ve purposely avoided Google for the past three years because I don’t want to become so focused on this that I lose sight of the beauty in small moments of daily life. This syndrome doesn’t define me and I refuse to allow it to even try.

My mom, on the other hand, has done all the research and still can’t understand it. Hell, I’ve even confused my specialist on numerous occasions. So when Victor asked exactly what I had, the flood gates opened.

She has Nephrotic Syndrome.

Oh, god. That’s not good at all.

In my research, I found that it mostly happens to kids. Boys.

Leave it to me to end up with something that typically affects the exact opposite of myself.

Yes. What do they have her on?

Prednisone.

Did she puff up to look like a Chinese girl?

The first time she got moon face pretty badly. This is the third time she’s had to do a course of it in three years.

That’s not good. Prednisone is terrible on the system.

Hi. I’m right here. I’m standing right between you two witnessing this volley of words like a mute ref at a tennis match. I don’t need a reminder that Prednisone is hard on the body. I live with the effects every day. Hello? Is this thing on?

What was the trigger?

We don’t know. They tested her for all hereditary triggers and she doesn’t have any of those.

So it’s metabolic.

Don’t know. They even did a kidney biopsy and couldn’t find an exact cause.

Well, if it’s not one, it’s the other, so it’s likely metabolic.

Am I here? Do we only exist because others believe us to be real? Does that mean in this moment they don’t believe in me? Am I already gone?

So you’re acidic.

What? I’m over here not existing, so I’m a bit caught off guard with the sudden question directed at me.

Your doctor is treating the symptoms, not the problem.

Okay.

Do your hips hurt?

No.

Just your hands and elbows?

How did you know that?

That’s good. That’s a good thing.

I’m confused as to how any chronic pain is a good thing.

Any sight problems?

Not that I can tell.

Good. How about your hair and nails?

My hair thinned out pretty badly after the first round of steroids, but came back and has stayed thicker than it was before. And my hair dresser says it is quite healthy, so I think I’m all good there.

No laughter. Everyone is suddenly so serious. I hold my hand up to look at my nails myself and he grabs my hand while asking if he can look. Don’t touch me. Why do you think you can touch me? We just met six and half minutes ago. Yes, I’m counting, but my memory is bad and I’m no good with numbers. I don’t like to be touched.

How about her thyroid? Did they check that?

I’m not sure, but I think they did.

I’m invisible again. All I can do is stand here and listen to every single word bounce back and forth and let the heft of them sink in too deep.

We need labs for her T1, T2, T3, T4, and D levels. They tested for Lupus?

Yes, I was so worried it would be Lupus. No diabetes, hepatitis, or HIV either.

Imagine having to tell your mom you had HIV!

What the hell is that supposed to mean and why are they chuckling? I find none of this humorous. In fact, I’m starting to regress to the days before all this when I would faint at any mention of something possibly being wrong with my health. I was well-known at doctor’s offices for having to lay down before they started going over results. Back then, nothing was ever wrong.

I’m seeing small dots of light filtering across my vision. The edges of this scene are getting dark and closing in. I refuse. I will not faint because of this. I’m stronger than this. I don’t feel faint. I don’t feel the staring as I yawn to regulate my breathing and mess with my shirt sleeve to distract my brain. I don’t feel my mom touch my shoulder lightly, letting me know she’s there.

I don’t feel a goddamn thing.

It was time we all walk away. He tells us to get him my records and he’ll pass them on to the doctors he works with. “We’ll put some research students on it. They love complicated cases.” Am I complicated? I always thought I was just Jenn.

Back at the house, I head straight to my room and flatten myself on the floor, looking up at the popcorn ceiling through salt water filled wells. Ruby Joon is all butt wiggles, tail wags, and love nuzzles. She knows when momma has the feels.

My parents are in the living room. From under the door, I hear my dad turn down the television. I hear my mom start to whisper something to him. I hear random words. “Victor said…” “metabolic” “more tests” “research students”. They’re whispering about me.

What hides in parents’ whispers? Fear.

But I’m here. I’m right the fuck here. This thing you whisper about isn’t me. It will never be me. I’m right here in the next room. Come and talk to me. I’m strong enough.

I’m your 38 year old daughter, not a child.

I’m your daughter, no longer a child.

I’m your daughter child.

I’m your child.

I’m yours.

Believe in me, dammit. I want to keep existing.

 

38th Rotation Ruminations

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Today, my grandmother would have turned 98. In twelve days, my dad will turn 78. Four days ago, I turned 38.

Today, I went to my kidney specialist.

I’m thinking that having a chronic illness that people can’t visually see the damage being done by it, and more so by the treatment, is mentally taxing. Finding myself trying to act normal because that’s what everyone expects, since I don’t look differently on the outside other than flushed, chipmunk cheeks and a raccoon eye mask. Considering the short list of side effects I’m feeling–extreme fatigue from the relentless insomnia, physical weakness from the muscle waste, and near constant, unfocused anxiety–all caused by the steroid treatment. Having to do the entire six-month regime, regardless of the quickness to remission, steroids building in my system along with the rage. Raging at having to continue with these devil meds knowing my body is already working right again.

Today, I’m exhausted on all the levels.

I’m recalling last weekend’s birthday celebrations in my mind. Reliving the moments with two of my best friends and my doggie daughter. Road tripping with Ruby Joon doing her dog thing sniffing all the sniffs out the back window, ears flapping, the playlist blasting, and the sun shining in on us. Highway 27 blanketed in patchwork quilts of pink, white, yellow, purple, and red wildflowers. Quietly rolling and winding through agricultural lands spotted with grandfather oaks, pine forests, cow pastures, and small towns that sported more confederate flags and crosses than common sense. Seeing a billboard saying, “She’s your daughter, not your date” gives a…perspective of sorts. Turning off the highway and stopping for lunch at the place with the best New York-style pizza outside of New York. So good. So, so good. Heading south over the Sunshine Skyway, dough and cheese-filled bellies, salt air inflated lungs, riding the waves of the suspension bridge like that dragon-themed kiddie roller coaster at the county fair, knowing I was almost home. Our theme song had become Road to Nowhere along the way, but I knew exactly where we were headed.

Home. “I live in Tallahassee, but my home is Sarasota” has always been my response to people when I’m asked where I’m from. I guess even though I’ve now spent more of my years in Tallahassee, the only way that statement will change is if I ever stop waiting to leave. One reason Sarasota will always be home in my head and my heart is the person I was going to see at the end of that drive–my longest time friend, who happened to be home from London. On my birthday weekend. Yes, sometimes the universe really pulls through when you need. Sometimes.

Today, I was told I will have to wait for the med I need.

I’m seeing the blues of the jays and reds of the cardinals, hearing the bizarre squawks of the black grackles jumping from the dew-soaked grass to the limbs of the Jacaranda. Cattails waving from the creek’s edge and I am tasting the bitter coffee and fried eggs of those mornings. There was no feeling of waiting in those days. Each moment held its own importance and melded into the next like a watercolor painting itself.

Ruby Joon racing, hips and tail tucked, throwing herself down wiggling to scratch her back in the lawn, legs flailing. Smiling. Laughing. Laughter when she tongue-kissed Becca on the revamped double decker coffee bus downtown. Laughter when we were making a pie, balancing and piling more and more apples into the crust as Mikey manned the music and drew us–drew me to look like an old man, while they looked like cartoon supermodels. Laughter with hard root beers in the pool. Laughter with Bloody Marys by the pool. There’s no feeling of waiting for anything at all when hearing the laughter of two people that are at the core of making you who you are. Who you were. Who you will always be.

Today, doc said that this next step will only be for one year. Not for always. Whew.

Our feet are back in the white powder sand. We’re all agreeing that this sunset won’t be as pretty because there are no clouds in the sky. Pictures at the tidal inlet. Pictures at the water-lapped edge. Pictures of the awkwardness of the couple near us with the lady that might or might not be topless. More laughter. Pictures of the sun sliding down the horizon, melting into the dark chop, a boat crossing its path, lone chair in the sand, sinking. It’s all sinking. Take another picture to keep it. Hold it right here. Take this last selfie with the fading light of the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen behind us. It’s 8:08 p.m. on May 8th and I’ve finished my 38th rotation around that sunken sun.

Today, I want to hold it all still. Just for one more perfect moment.

Let’s Be Still …

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Dark and Dog-tired

The highway was lined with yellows
–goldenrod, helianthus, lupine–
like someone took time to highlight
the key parts to memorize. Remember
cotton fields flush with puffy fluffs
as if marshmallows grew on stems
not factories. And don’t forget
the pecan groves with lush canopies
and polished grounds, those debonair
debutantes of all seasons, branches
heavy with fruits for holiday pies.

But the fallow fields are etched
in my mind–the soil dingy and stale,
left to lie empty, convalescing acre
after acre fringed with those vivid
yellows against grey skies. Memorize
learn by rote, recollect, recall–
recovery comes after harvesting
before recovery after reaping.

Indents halve my fingernail beds
a quarter inch up. Three months, ten
days, however many hours and minutes
times thirteen midnight charlie horses,
times fifty 3 a.m. granola feedings,
times brushfuls of torn hair clumps,
times two of remission. I’m reminded
with nail beds like fallow fields
where keratin canyons highlighted
when my body’s fertile framework
was trampled by armadillos of apathy
and only the soil was left–
dark and dog-tired.

*I’ve been trying to write two different posts recently. One was going to be about my road trip to North Carolina and the other was about the relapse of my syndrome. I couldn’t get either one to where I wanted and then realized tonight that a lot of the language I was using in both was poetic in nature–so why not go at them from a poetic standpoint? Considering road trips are my time to work through what’s going on in my life, it made sense to me to combine the ideas. This is the unedited result.