Friendly pansies and violas

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this little face seems to be waving ‘hello’ and was used on one of the photo cards I sold for 7 years.

Pansies, which can be found in a variety of colors, traditionally come in shades of purples and blues, including dark maroons, to shades of yellows, even orange. There are also bronze colored and white ones.  Traditionally pansies are bi or tri-colored, though solid color ones are more popular in recent years. The wide variety of traditional tri-colors can be harder to find.

Pansies, whose scientific name is Viola tricolor var. hortensis, (though some newer hybrids have been given their own scientific namesare not fond of hot weather, which is why nurseries are already letting their supplies twiddle. They will grow in partial shade to stay cool and are generally easy to grow.

DSC01261Pansies are considered an early spring annual, but I’ve had spring plants, after being cut back when they get ‘leggy’, bloom on a second-growth the same growing season. Pansies planted in the fall will bloom into early winter and come back in the spring if protected from very harsh cold weather.

DSC01260So what is the difference between a viola and pansy?

A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension article has this to say about the difference: “….. sweet violets, bedding violas, and pansies are all classified as “violas.” Sweet violets are descended from the European wild sweet violet, v. odorata; bedding violas (the flower that we usually call “violas”) were hybridized from pansies and v. cornuta. Pansies developed from the wild violas v. lutea and v. tricolor (“johnny-jump-up”). Sixty species are native to the U.S. and about 100 varieties are offered for sale.

I find all that confusing, as do most nursery people, because in most nurseries if you ask for violas folks know you want the smaller pedaled blossoms, and if you ask for pansies, you want the larger blooms.  I’ve read one distinction is pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down, while violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.

imageI’m not sure I agree, this diminutive scrunchie- faced sweetheart is clearly a viola in my book but seems to have 4 up and 1 down!

Pansies and violas are edible, they can be “candied” and make a colorful garnish for spring  salads and other dishes, but if you plan to eat them grow them yourself or be sure you buy your plants from a nursery that grows only organic plants to avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides, an important caution for all edible plants. Violas readily re-seed and appear in our garden year after year, those plants being the preferred ones to eat.

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A sweet gift from Mike!

As a child I was given an area in our yard to plant and I always planted pansies. I loved the color variations and their little faces. I still like to plant a few in pots on the porch, safe from deer and slugs (the later still seem to find them from time to time). Yesterday, after looking in two big nurseries for plants, all we found was a large planter full of very traditional pansies! It was like my childhood in a yellow barrel! I thought it was pricey but Mike insisted on buying it for me. A very cheery indulgence!

This gift came after a breast and lymph node ultrasound, 18 months post-mastectomy. I had assertively advocated to get the test, rather than wait the recommended 6 months for an MRI or mammogram. It had been an ultrasound in 2014, 20 months after a lumpectomy for cancer,  that showed a lymph node metastasis, which resulted in findings of more cancer in my breast. Yesterday I was lectured at the ultrasound test on how ultrasounds aren’t valid screening tests, in spite of my own experience. (Used in Europe for screening, there is no radiation exposure and they are cheaper). My oncologist had agreed to order the test, for my peace of mind, but the tech and radiologist did not agree, even telling me MRIs were not good screening tests, only mammograms were valid, contradicting information I’ve previously been told. I had never said I would not get a mammogram or MRI, I wanted this test now rather than wait a full year between the other tests. A wait of a year two years ago would have had a very different outcome.

DSC01878Although the results of the ultra sound were good, the lecturing left me in a grumpy mood, angry at being treated like a person incapable of making my own health care decisions. Looking at all the little pansy faces in the yellow barrel made me feel in good company….they always seem cheery, yet also a bit disgruntled! Maybe that is part of their life-long appeal to me, they reflect my own slightly skeptical cautiousness toward life, even while looking for the positive!

Hope you can find some pansies and violas for your garden, they do have great personalities and are good company in the garden or in a pot on your porch!

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Although pansies are not a big draw for pollinators, this Swallowtail Butterfly seems at least curious.

 

 

 

 

Hearts & Cauliflower

February…the down hill-side of winter, signs of spring appearing, day light stretching past 5:00, the month to celebrate love. Mike’s birthday! It is also the month chosen to bring awareness to heart health. Today, February 5th, women’s heart health is specifically targeted with the “go red for women” campaign.  Having found out this week my cholesterol is higher than it has ever been, I’m a little uneasy about this focus on heart attacks and strokes. I want to stick my head in the sand and focus on the love part of February and make Valentines. But being a worrier, and half way through my sixties, I don’t have a peaceful easy feeling, especially when the doctor says I need to eat less grains and more meat (I, a vegetarian since my late 20s except for the occasional fish) to bring the equally high triglycerides down. Eating more meat is in conflict with many cancer prevention diets (yesterday was World Cancer Day, but I don’t need a special day to remind me of cancer, I worry about that every day.)

Due to digestive health challenges most the time I watch carefully what I eat. Reducing options leaves me feeling there’s nothing left to eat that is safe, let alone interesting. But forging ahead I’ve come up with some new food ideas, one being an adaptation of an adaptation. My latest low-fat, no-grain, cancer fighting yummy is an versatile sauce that adds interest and flavor to any meal. And you don’t have to have any health issues to appreciate it!

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Cauliflower hummus on stemmed veggies

My body doesn’t like beans so I make a cauliflower hummus that’s deliciously addictive. This creamy sauce/dip has the same flavor as the bean variety because the flavor of hummus comes from garlic, tahini, lemon and olive oil.  Tahini, rich in minerals and a good source of protein, does have a fair amount of fat. Besides the hummus, I often make other sauces with tahini, so to reduce my use of it, I came up with some new sauces, using the same grain-less, low-fat base…cauliflower.

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Cauliflower may not seem like a super star in the world of foods, but if you Google it you will find with the trend of Paleo diets, vegan diets and gluten-free diets, it has suddenly become very popular. It’s white color and mild flavor lends itself to many creative possibilities. The grainy texture, when cut up small, has been used as a substitute for dishes such as fried rice, and its ability to be creamy makes it masquerade as a stand in for mash potatoes. Cauliflower, like most veggies, has an abundance of potassium, and a few other nutrients.  In research done on the cancer fighting properties of cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is a star. It can be more digestible than broccoli for some people. In my book, cauliflower it is a super-star.

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Garlicky cauliflower cream sauce with goat cheese on quinoa

I’ve made two sauces to add flavor and interest to meals: a garlicky cream sauce and a lemon cream sauce.

As with the hummus, they both start with cooking the florets until they are soft enough to put a fork in. I steam mine in water, but you can also roast them, which adds a different flavor to recipes.

After the cauliflower is cooked, be sure to drain it well, using a slotted spoon, and put it in a blender or food processor. I use a small food processor and am happy with the texture, a blender would make it smoother.

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Cauliflower lemon sauce

For the basic sauce you can add your dietary preferences to enhance the creaminess. Butter and a little milk works, I use low fat coconut milk and no butter to keep the fat content down. In the hummus the tahini and olive oil (about 2 T. each) make it creamier.

If you want a garlic sauce, sauté enough chopped garlic for your taste, I use one large clove per two cups of cauliflower but more would be more garlicky and delicious! For additional flavor I had a pinch of salt, about 3 tablespoons coconut amino acids, and the spicy Vata churna I make. (see recipe on my recipe page.)

For a slightly cheesy sauce I add a mild local goat cheese, if you want it to be cheesier a stronger flavored soft cheese would work best, if it’s a hard cheese be sure it is grated fine.

For the lemon sauce, add to the coconut milk/cauliflower base a pinch of salt and the juice of half a lemon.

The garlic sauce is good on veggies, grains. The lemon sauce is also good on veggies and on fish. The sauces can be kept in the refrigerator and heated slightly when needed. I like to make them fresh but if there is some left over it tastes just as good the next day.

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Having fun felting hearts and adding beads! Our first crocuses emerged today, only to be drenched! Still, a lovely sign of spring!

 

As with all my recipes, these are basic ideas for you to experiment with and make your own.

Now I can get back to making Valentines and watching spring emerge!

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Happy February!

 

 

A year later

Remember when you watched cartoons growing up, the good and evil thoughts of a person would be depicted as a mini angel and devil sitting on opposite shoulders of some poor, conflicted, cartoon hero? These mini-characters represented the hero’s subconscious and often got into their own little comical battles, one finally triumphing over the other, the victor kicking the loser off his shoulder perch.

A year ago today I had a real life experience with those two. I wouldn’t say they were representatives of good and evil, but definitely two parts of my subconscious…the altruistic and the self-preserving.

Dr. Claire Buchhan, her eyes smiling, take with my iTouch as I was fading away. The iTouchwas for the music I listened t

Dr. Buchanan, eyes smiling, taken with my iTouch (for music during surgery) as I faded away.

It’s been one year today since I had a mastectomy, a day I remember well. There wasn’t too much drama and trauma to my experience, just anxiety, the anxiety I feel going into any surgery, and of course I wondered what life would be like with one breast. Thanks to the wonderful support of my husband Mike and cousin Shaun, and the most personable, down to earth, skilled team of doctors – surgeon Dr. Claire Buchanan, and the anesthesiologist (whose name I’ve forgotten), I felt in good hands, literally, and well cared for. The drama and trauma I witnessed was that of another woman who also had a mastectomy that day. Here is my weird mastectomy story:

 

Shaun sent me this photo from last yr., looking pretty relaxed for pre-masectomy! I was in good company!

Shaun sent me this photo from last yr., pretty relaxed for pre-mastectomy! I was in good company!

My surgery was in the afternoon and it was dark out when I was wheeled into the tiny, pie-shaped hospital room where I was to spend the night. Mike was not there, he was in the hospital cafeteria eating dinner with my sister-in-law, hospital staff had not reached him yet. I lay alone in the darkness, still groggy, and could hear a woman screaming right outside the door to my room. (She was actually in the next room.)

“You cut my breast off!”

“I’m bleeding!”

“There’s a hole in my chest!”

“You cut my breast off!”

“I’m going to die!”

These were the words she screamed, repetitively, as loud as she could, with great horror and panic in her voice. I lay there listening, apparently no one was able to calm her or stop her fearful, angry rant.

My first thought was “I need to get up and go to her, they don’t know how to deal with her.” This is the deep-seated social worker persona in me, the one who worked with people with schizophrenia, people having manic episodes, as well as people experiencing fearful traumas, such as domestic violence.

Then the other voice chimed in “Are you crazy! YOU just had a mastectomy yourself!” Nothing practical like “you can’t even get out of bed”, just the voice of reason…why would you even think of addressing her emotional trauma when you just had the same experience she had!

My little altruistic cartoon buddy got kicked out.  Self-preservation won, I not only came to my senses (which were pretty dull from drugs), but I tried to put the plaintive screams out of my head, which was not easy…they went on until 10 or 11 that night. (I learned the next day they finally got a psychiatric doctor to order a sedative, administered by injection, to calm her.)

Flowers sent to my hospital room last year by the crew at Sunshine Propane.

Flowers sent to my hospital room last year by the crew at Sunshine Propane.

I still felt compassion for this woman, and sad her issues were not addressed better and more immediate. The next day I got a peek at her, sitting in her room, still looking angry, but subdued. She looked life-worn.

On my follow-up visit two weeks later, I asked the surgeon what it was like to tell someone who may have mental illness that they have breast cancer. (I don’t know that the screaming woman had a diagnosed psychiatric disability, her explosive anger and fear may have been triggered by the surgery and/or medications.) My doctor told me she has had people explode at her, threatening her life, when she told them they had breast cancer, and they weren’t people with mental illness.

Life is so messy, there are so many challenges for us all.

Here I am a year later. Not an easy year. A month after the mastectomy I had a skin cancer removed from my lip.  Once I recovered from the mastectomy I began the task of closing my mom’s estate, she died a month before the surgery. Like most people with one or more cancer experiences (this was my third go-around with breast cancer), I live with the great unknown. It’s like an umbrella over you, sometimes blocking the sun with its shadow, but you constantly try to close it and put it away somewhere in the corner of your mind. The preventive meds I’m supposed to be taking cause too many bad side effects and aggravate other health conditions. When on them deep muscle and joint pain cause me to be dysfunctional. The oncologist says I’m one of the small number of women who can’t ‘tolerate’ them.  I follow a protocol of supplements. I’m trying to learn better self-care.  My self-preservation cartoon-character was strong and loud that night a year ago, but I too often ignore her in day-to-day living.

It has also been a year of deep appreciation. I’m acutely aware of multiple little blessings in my life. Often over shadowed by the BIG challenges, they accumulate and fill me up.

I hope the woman in the room next door has had even half the blessings and love I’ve had this past year. It would sooth her soul.

IMG_3641Note to readers: Very grateful to those who took time to do the poll in my last post. It was very helpful to get feedback. Equal votes for Nature and personal stories, photos appreciated (sorry for that lack of in this post), a few requests for more recipes, and comments that let me know I’m doing ok and should continue to give voice to my muse! Thank you!  I have lots of December nature topics floating around, hope to catch one soon!

 

 

What’s it all about…..

Remember the song Alfie, from the 1966 movie (and 2004 remake) of the same name?

The movie is a rather dark story of an emotionally detached philanderer who uses and abuses women. In spite of several ‘wake up calls’….the birth of a son to an ex-girl friend; witnessing an abortion, the result of a one-night stand; a mental break down; the possibility of TB…he continues his narcissist ways, ending up lonely and alone. The film won awards…but it was not a happy story.

The song, when later recorded by Dionne Warwick, (original soundtrack by Cher) was a huge hit. Philosophical about life, love, etc., the usual themes of ‘60s songs, instead of short verses and a repetitive chorus, the lyrics of the song flow poetically. I didn’t care for the movie, but at sixteen there was a lot about life and love I was trying to figure out. I liked the mood of the song.

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The first bloom today on our early blooming “Christmas” Rhody

The opening lines still pop into my head occasionally when I’m tired of this crazy journey. They did so today as I sat watching the heavy rainfall.

“What’s it all about, Alfie?”

A few hours after my mother’s death I learn I have metastasized breast cancer, later it’s discovered I have three types of breast cancer. Two months later skin cancer. There are psychoanalysts and mystic types who could make much of this…losing one’s breast and mom at the same time, the symbolism is rich and multi-cultural…left side of body, the Yin, or feminine side; breast, that which nurtures us, we begin life at our mothers’ breasts, etc., etc.

I’m big on symbolism and feel we are often offered non-verbal, visual clues to help us understanding life, but this one leaves me disinterested. I’m focused on scar tissue, range of motion, lymphedemia prevention, side effects of meds, and this big, numb, red scar on and above my lip where cancer was scraped out. What’s THAT all about?

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The first of our Snow Drops brave the heavy rain today.

“Is it just for the moment that we live?”

This second line of the 60s song has more meaning to me now than at sixteen. Like so many, I live with the specter of cancer, not knowing…Is it gone? Is it still there? Is it somewhere else? Will it come back? This can drive my days, my fears, my thoughts, or I can focus on living for and in each moment. Can I? Does anyone?

“Live for the moment,” “be in the moment”, or as the 70s phrase made popular by Ram Dass puts it, “Be here now”. This is something the mystics have been teaching for eons. I think the meaning in this ‘60s song was not so life affirming, and had more to do with Alfie’s pleasure seeking ways, getting what he wanted in the moment, to hell with the impact on others and the future. But like art, we can interpret the lyrics as we see fit. So in answering the question it poses…

Yes! It is just for this moment that we live. This breath we are taking, this scene we are witnessing, this person we are with, this song we are hearing, or the silence we are experiencing, this is all we can experience, we cannot experience the future, or relive the past…. it is beyond us to know what the next moment will bring, or the next, or the next.  To try to experience this moment fully, whatever it is offering, is a challenge,  yet I believe one with great rewards.

It sounds good, who wants to be worrying about the future or rehashing the past? (During the years of caring for mom I  made this practice an art form in the middle of the night.) But short of ancient saints and rishis, and maybe a few modern day mystics, where do we find examples of living in the moment? The answer is simple. In Nature.

A late summer chipmunk is very focused on eating a blueberry.

A late summer chipmunk is very focused on eating a blueberry.

It is easy to dismiss the seemingly living in the moment practices found in animals and plants by saying they do not think so how could they be mulling over or anticipating the future or worrying about the past. It is true, they may not be ‘hard wired’ like we are to fret. But much research has shown animals not only think, learn, figure out complex problems, have complex communication systems, they also have good memories. Plants, even water, respond to the emotions and ‘vibes’ of those around them and thrive or die accordingly. There is evidence animals worry, in the moment, but I have not read that other life forms sit around thinking about the future or the past. The worried look or reaction of an animal to a person or situation seems to be what is real, not what is imagined could happen. Animal anxiety may be a response to something remembered, but it is not mulled over. Research shows animals exhibit what is called anti-predation behavior,  meaning they are (appropriately) aware of and respond to concerns about predation.  When in that mode, that is what they are focused on. If an animal is anxious, that is their experience in that moment. I still argue animals are wonderful examples of living in the moment. Not all moments are joyful for them any more than for us, but when doing whatever is required, that is where their awareness is.

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Tiny fungi, found today growing on this dead Salmonberry, look like tiny blooms.

How do I know this? Well I don’t, it’s just my hunch. I read about animals, and sometimes about plants, but I certainly don’t read the latest so I could be wrong, but when I walk in the woods and watch birds, squirrels, chipmunks go about their ways, or get glimpses of deer watching me from afar, and when I see green leaf buds and early blooms of plants, I feel that is where and when I can practice living in the moment the most. I feel everything around me is showing me the way.

Our human lives, full of responsibilities, require us to plan and think about the future, but there is no requirement to worry about it, nor does that planning have to pull us away from experiencing what is in front of us. Try it, go watch something wild, or even your pet, especially when they are being ‘wild’, allow yourself to “be here now” with the sages of Mother Nature! Focus on what they focus on, if you are not one who meditates, learning to focus as other critters focus is a great way to “be in the moment”. When Abby is watching a squirrel, there is nothing else on her mind, just that moment, and that squirrel!

The lyrics in the middle of the song Alfie don’t resonant with me, I never remember them, but it is February, the month to celebrate and consider love, so I leave you with this last lovely line of the song……

“When you walk let your heart lead the way and you’ll find love any day…”

To me this speaks of how we can fill those moments of our lives, not with self-gratification, as Alfie did, to his own detriment, but through loving and caring for and about others.  That’s what is all about…..Alfie.

(note: Around here lately, when those lines come to mind, I sing “what’s it all about, Abby?” Seems to fit just as well, perhaps better, and she is a much better role model for understanding life and love!)

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Tiny ground cover violets seem to ignore winter and bloom most months.

“Are you Jewish?”

these flowers have nothing to do with this post, just thought it needed a little color, and since Crysthemums are a favorite of mine, and the flower for my November birthday

these flowers have nothing to do with this post, just thought it needed a little color. Chrysanthemums are a favorite of mine, and the flower for November birthdays, so they seemed appropriate. Check out last year’s “In Defense of November And Sweet Potato Soup.”

My husband Mike, the propane mr-fix-it guy, goes into people’s homes to fix appliances. Over the years he has grown fond of many customers he sees regularly, not only for fix-its, but for the annual maintenance service Sunshine Propane offers its customers. He has seen customers go through the usual life changing events we all experience – illnesses, travels, deaths of spouses and partners, retirements, job changes, kids growing up, grandkids being born. So it was not unusual when at the home of a couple in the midst of a crisis, a distressed wife began telling  him of her husband being taken to the hospital in an ambulance the night before for an apparent heart attack.  Mike listened sympathetically, then said, “I will pray for him.” She responded, “are you Jewish?”, to which Mike answered, “I’m Hindu” (not sure why he gave that answer, except our particular spiritual path draws from the teachings of the Christian Bible and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita).  She said, “Well, I guess that’s good too. We have Catholics, Presbyterians, and Methodists praying but no Jewish people.”

This story has been a sweet favorite of ours since it happened, several years ago.  In her despair, she wanted to make sure all bases were covered, (no doubt not thinking of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and the multitude of other religions and spiritual traditions she may not have been familiar with.) It was ok with her if her husband received Hindu prayers! Of course one’s particular church, religion, or spiritual beliefs are not what’s important, what is important is the positive focus, with intention, asking for healing and the best outcome for the one being prayed for.

Recently I wrote in an email to friends, many of whom are not ‘religious’ but want to offer support, “some of you don’t ‘pray’ per se……for those of us who have a relationship with God, Great Spirit, Divine Mother….praying ‘to’ whatever divine manifestation we attune with connects us to a greater power. But positive affirmations tossed to the wind, the sun, the ocean, a tree, a totem animal…..wherever you feel a connection, is fabulous! Works for me!”.  

As I count down the days until I have a mastectomy, I, like the woman in the story, want to cover all the bases! Tonight, while talking about support from others, Mike, who is feeling the spousal worry and concern of his customer, said “but is there anyone Jewish praying for you?”.  We both laughed. A lighter moment shared. During my ‘good moments’ I feel, and greatly appreciate, the blessings and love that come from various people and places as I face this life changing surgery and the unknown that lays beyond it.  During my ‘bad moments’, I feel scared, alone, and experience the stages of grief one goes through when losing part of their body and facing a potentially life ending challenge. IMG_0305 A myriad of doctor appointments, tests, biopsies, etc. have pulled me out of my “home” environment and into the city, clinics, and hospitals. When home I’ve been too tired, achy and ill to do much except pick away at the paper work and tasks involved in wrapping up my mother’s life (an interesting expression, but that’s for another post!).

Yesterday, we took a deliciously long walk along the Dosewallips River in a gray drizzle, watching the rushing water as it lapped along the river banks, inches from flood stage.  I felt “at home” for the first time in weeks, maybe months.  In a large puddle I noticed a reflection of curved light and looking up saw a faint, but distinctive rainbow. A moment later our heads turned from the fading rainbow as the screech of an eagle flying over caught our attention. Walking to a stream next to the river, we unintentionally disturbed a Great Blue Heron hunting in the rushes.  In the dim light of a late November day, skies gray with cloud cover, the only colors muted tones of dull winter greens and shades of brown, we stood a long time as the drizzle became a light rain and watched American Dippers splash and bop in the cold water. It was such a comfort. I slept better last night than I had in weeks. Thank you Mother Nature for your prayer. And thank you readers, friends, for any prayers you feel inclined to offer on my behalf….of any faith, to any Divine Being…..or to the wind and the rushing river.

This is the same spot in the river I sat and wrote about the "Girl In The Purple Swimsuit", in fact where I sat is well underwater!"

This is the same spot in the river I sat and wrote the “Girl In The Turquoise Swimsuit“, in fact where I sat is well underwater!”