Happy Birthday to George!

Not too many Saturdays ago, we were blessed to gather and celebrate this boy’s 9th trip around the sun. George is our youngest grandchild and I’m still trying to take in the fact that he’s nine.

The birthday boy sat at one end of the table with Wayne and I seated to either side. As he chatted with us over our lunch of his mom’s homemade chicken pot pie, we both looked at one another in astonishment as to how much this boy knew and how well he communicated. When did the little boy disappear, and how did this more mature and articulate boy sneak up on us?

Most years the grandkids in my daughter’s family ask me to bake their birthday cake. This year George wanted cupcakes. More specifically, he wanted Pokémon cupcakes. I don’t know much about this gaming trend, so Beth sent me some Pinterest photos of what he had in mind. I had fun with it and came up with these.

I always look forward to seeing each grandchild’s reaction when they first see their birthday cake. Our all-smiles birthday boy wrapped me in an excited hug and told me his birthday cupcakes were perfect. (Grandma was all smiles too.)

I know that there may come a day when my grandkids no longer ask me to bake them a cake. Perhaps there may even come a day when this grandma can no longer bake them a cake. For now, we will just keep on celebrating each birthday milestone God grants us, and I’ll keep on doing my best to make their birthday cake wishes come true.

A-to-Z Caregiving Tips (F-G)

This is the third in a series of posts inspired by an article from Alzheimer’s TODAY called Tiny Gifts That Are TREMENDOUS, where Mary Kay Baum shared a helpful A-to-Z list of caregiving suggestions Thus far, I have given you my spin on A-B-C and my thoughts as a caregiver regarding D-E. Let me invite you to join me this week for F and G as I share how these excellent tips have played out in my own caregiving journey.

Thus far, I have given you my spin on A-B-C and my thoughts as a caregiver regarding D-E. Let me invite you to join me this week for F and G as I share how these excellent tips have played out in my own caregiving journey. [Click here to read the original article].

Fear not if I take a break from commotion.

We were celebrating a birthday at our house. Mom sat at her place at the table and enjoyed watching the festivity and seeing a few of her great-grandchildren. Though she didn’t contribute much to the conversation, my heart was warmed by her smile as she watched the birthday boy bask in the attention. After the candles were blown out and the cake was served, mom quietly stood up with the help of her walker and then scootched down the hall the short distance to her room. She was done with company. And that was okay.

On a previous occasion, when mom was living in a senior apartment, the residents were hosting Trick-or-Treat for the neighborhood kiddos. During our city’s Trick-or-Treat hours the residents gathered in their activity room and waited for the steady stream of costumed guests. I thought mom would enjoy seeing all of the kids and handing out candy with all of the other seniors in her building. She stayed for a few minutes, then went back to her apartment; it was just too much for her. I had invited a few kids from church to come to the event. When they arrived, I invited them to visit mom in her apartment. Mom enjoyed the smaller gathering so much more.

During this phase of her journey with Alzheimer’s it became my mission to keep her engaged by inviting people to see her. One or two people would join us for lunch; another day someone might come over to say hi and work a puzzle or engage with her by sitting with her at the table coloring. One family from church brought us pizza for supper one evening, then stayed for a bit so the girls could sort through a jar of buttons with mom.

Go with me and others on quiet nature walks.

May be an image of 1 person and smiling

Truth is, in the later stages of dementia, most days it was nearly impossible to get my mother outside of the house for a little fresh air. It was a treat when it happened.

If the weather was nice and I could coax mom outside, I’d get her seated in a wheelchair and push her to our neighborhood park.

She enjoyed watching the children play at the splash park, seeing dogs being walked along the pathways, and would occasionally engage a perfect stranger in conversation.

We didn’t stay long, as the charm of our outdoor excursion would soon be replaced by the fear of being able to find our way home. By the time I got her back in the house, she had already forgotten our little trip. Even though it was forgotten, the benefits of the fresh air and the infusion of joy would linger in her demeanor.

One day, out of the blue, mom wanted to “check the mail,” so I let her go outdoors with her walker. She enjoyed that little trek down to the curb and back.

Since she was in a good mood, dressed decently, and it was nearly dinner time, we decided to put her in the car and go for a drive to the nearest Culver’s for supper.

She thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it…especially the frozen custard.

Once my mom made the move to assisted living memory care, getting her out of the front door was even more rare. This photo shows one of those sweet occasions when her great-granddaughter Violet managed to get her outside to sit on a shaded patio.

As Alzheimer’s continued its relentless march claiming bits and pieces of my mom’s brain, it was evident that mom’s world was shrinking right along with her memory. All too soon there came a day when the world outside of Mom’s front door became too scary of a place for her to venture.

That was the day when “go with me” became “be with me.”

Datura ‘Black Currant Swirl’

I planted D. metel ‘Black Currant Swirl’ earlier this summer hoping that it would become a tall and showy feature in the middle of my late summer garden. One of its nicest features are its flowers – pretty bell or trumpet shaped flowers in super-swirly shades of purple and white. The flowers are up-facing, rather than pendulous like the more commonly known ‘Angel’s Trumpet,’ a cousin in the closely related brugmansia family.

So, what’s not to like about Datura?

Well, for one thing, the entire plant is poisonous – leaves, flowers, seeds and all. For another, this plant does not have a pleasant aroma. The tag said something about gardeners praising it for its “night-blooming beauty and fragrance”. I guess I’m not hanging out in the garden late enough in the evening to catch a whiff of its beauty or its purportedly sweet fragrance because, to me, it has the aroma of dirty sweat socks. (Trust me, I’m a mom and an expert at sniffing down that odor.)

This plant sprouts walnut-sized green balls with knobby purple spikes, each fruit containing hundreds of seeds. Very poisonous seeds, so I’ve read. I have also read that it’s wise to remove the seed pods before maturity because they tend to self-seed and can become invasive…and the seeds can be viable for years to come.

Oh, great! Just what I need – another “invasive” in my garden. Hold on a sec while I don a pair of gloves and head outside armed with my trusty snippers.

There! I’m back. The surgery has been performed.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not sure I like this plant as a whole. I had such great expectations it would become a show-stopping centerpiece in my front yard’s most visible flowerbed.

Our two person jury is at an impasse. My husband really likes it. He thinks its cool and wants us to keep it. Me? Well, maybe it’ll grow on me, but I think it’s just ‘kinda meh’ and taking up valuable garden real estate . I’m thinking I’d be happier with another hibiscus strutting its late summer stuff in that spot.

‘Tie Dye’ Hibiscus (rose mallow) growing by the front door

Any thoughts or suggestions from my fellow gardeners?

Sorry, only five photos this week, but that’s it for my Six on Saturday. If you are a gardener (or just like to play in the dirt), you should really pop on over to our Six on Saturday host Jon’s blog “The Propagator”. You’ll find all sorts of gardens to tour with just a click, lots of inspiration, and collective wisdom from gardeners around the world – each sharing six things from their garden on Saturdays (unless they’re perpetually late bloggers like me).

Six on Saturday: Flower Partners

Let me invite you to join me for my ‘Six on Saturday’ writing challenge and a glimpse of my late summer flower garden.

“Some say that a garden just grows from seeds, but we think it grows from trying and failing and trying again. A garden is hard work, but so is most of the good, important stuff in life.”
― Joanna Gaines, We Are the Gardeners

Gardening does involve a good bit of trying and failing; I’ve had a bit of both this year. My garden is like a classroom, and I will confess that I am a bit of a YouTube junkie when it comes to learning about gardening. Early this summer I watched several Garden Obsessions videos from Proven Winners and was inspired by this video to grab three empty pots from the garage, fill ’em with soil, add some slow-release fertilizer, and choose three plants for each.

Pot #1: My Favorite

The first plant I chose from a local nursery was a beautiful coleus. I had admired some grown in pots at my workplace and just knew I would have to plant some this year. I thought a purple flower would pair up nicely with the chartreuse of the coleus, so chose Proven Winners’ Angelface Blue Angelonia, described on the tag as a summer snapdragon which should achieve a height of 18-30″. I also purchased a Fantasia Pelargonium (geranium) called ‘Summer Sizzle’ to add a punch of hot pink.

(Just noticed in the photo that the bunnies have been busy snapping off coleus on the right. Wascally Wabbits!!)

Pot #2: Pretty in Pink

This pot features another Proven Winners plant. It’s a Supertunia Mini Vista Pink Star. It looks so sweet spilling over the edges of the pot. This petunia hasn’t gone all leggy on me and is a self-cleaner, not requiring pinching and deadheading. I paired it with an annual Hawaiian Punch hibiscus, which is a truly dreamy shade of pink with a magenta throat. Deadheading (removing faded blooms) the hibiscus does promote new blooms, so it does require a little bit of fuss and bother, but totally worth it.

Pot #3: A Little Help from my Friend

Sticking with my purple, pink and green color scheme, I planted this third pot with a bit of lavender for the purple and Pentas Bee Bright Pink for the pink. Instead of purchasing another plant, I decided to dig up a little something from my garden to use as a filler – some sort of heuchera. It looks like I needn’t have worried about a third plant, as a squirrel chose to plant a sunflower smack-dab in the middle of the pot. The squirrel probably stole the seed from my birdfeeder, but I’m really hoping he procured one of the seeds from the little plot of sunflowers I planted which met their demise earlier this summer (story a bit further down in this post). We shall see. Anyway, this pot makes me smile every day.

A Walk in the Park

It’s not my garden, but I took a walk in a park I found near my work place (I’ll post about that later), and absolutely adored this sweet pairing in the park’s glorious meadow.

The Upside and Downside of Sunflowers

I set out this summer to plant these sunflowers here and there dotted throughout my existing flowerbeds. You can read about my great expectations for that garden here: Year of the Sunflower. Well, none of those seeds made it past the dinner table of my yard’s resident bunnies. I wrote about their late night marauding in an update you’ll find here.

Thankfully, they didn’t get into one of the raised beds where I had planted a packet of Livingston ‘Little Dorrit’ sunflower seeds, planted on the south-facing side of the first raised bed, since it was supposed to attain a height of 2-4′. Its packet declares “Little Dorrit produces a large, rich yellow head with a deep chocolate center. The large, green foliage accents the shorter stems and brilliant blooms.”

It ended up being closer to the 4′ prediction in height and did not disappoint in its beauty.

Well, that’s it for now. My Six on Saturday. Now, let’s see yours!

My Battle with Creeping Bellflower

It’s pretty disheartening fighting a war you will likely never win. But my battle with Campanula Rapunculoides, also known as ‘Creeping Bellflower’ has been going on in my garden for nearly two decades — ever since receiving the flower as a tagalong companion of another digging from a fellow gardener’s plentiful flowerbed. To the other gardener’s credit, she did warn me that the gifted flower might have a problematic plant tagging along. I wish I had heeded the warning and not planted the gifted plant, or just put it in a pot for a season or two, for an invasive I have come to know as creeping bellflower was indeed lurking in the soil.

This beautiful adversary is not to be confused with its better behaved look-alike, Campanula Rotundifolia, or harebells. I am personally familiar with this confusion between such similar plants, having mistakenly applied an herbicide to a little group of harebells. Sadly, as you can imagine, I had more success killing the wanted plant than I did with the unwanted invasive.

Creeping Bellflower is a bodacious beauty with a bit of folklore in its story of how it became a gardener’s curse. As I recall, it’s somehow linked to the story of how the Rapunzel of fairytales got her name. Unable to resist the allure of beautiful Campanula Rapunucloides’s lavender bells, her father stole a beautiful flower from the garden of the local enchantress and planted it in his own garden. The evil witch got her revenge by hiding Rapunzel away in a tower and cursing this flower to be a rover that takes over gardens in its path.

First year Campanula Rapunculoides rosettes invading the area surrounding a favorite peony
The plant creates these beautiful flowers the second year

Fairytale curse aside, it really does look pretty intermingling with other plants.

So why get rid of it?

The problem is, this innocent looking bit of gorgeousness is so prolific, it will wage war and spread like a cancer in your garden in just a few seasons using several tactical manuevers to conquer every bit of garden space it can. The plant, also known as Rover Bellflower, is a biennial which produces a small rosette of leaves its first year, then flowers the next with the flowers producing seeds which will start the whole cycle again.

Fortifying its stronghold in the gardener’s territory, each plant sends out long, thin fingers of white lateral roots just under the surface of the soil. These slightly hairy fingers push their way through the roots of nearby plants, entangling the two plants in a messy, conflict-destined skirmish for territorial rights. This persistent perennial also sends down thick, tuberous water-seeking roots. Once nestled under the earth, a rhizome is created from which future generations of the plant will thrust their way upwards. Pulling the plant while you are weeding your flowerbeds will definitely help prevent it from going to seed (each plant produces thousands of seeds), but any portion of the root or its tiny hairs left behind will regenerate and produce a new generation of unwanted roving garden thugs camouflaged in lovely purple-ness. To complicate matters, the plant has a tuber which resides about a foot beneath the soil.

In my less than expert opinion, getting rid of weeds and unwanted vegetation without the use of chemicals should always be the gardener’s first line of defense. My personal first line of defense is to take out the enemies I can see, thus preventing the flowers from going to seed. I usually head outside to weed just after a good rain has softened the earth. If I can keep each year’s growth de-flowered, I theorize that the root system will eventually be exhausted, weaken and die. My next tactic involves a shovel and painstaking removal of the plant’s root system. As I have mentioned in a previous post, these insidious non-native plants have made my state’s list of invasive plants, so I bag them up and dispose of them according to their recommendation. My county has a special process for disposing of invasives, so I take them to an appointed drop-off place where they will be properly handled and destroyed. It is NOT a good idea to add these to your compost heap.

Smothering the plants when they are in the first-year rosette stage of growth can be somewhat effective in preventing the current generation of plants from making progress, but does very little to attack “the root of the problem” – that fibrous tuber lurking beneath the earth. I do occasionally use this method, especially in pathways and garden edges (see photos below), but generally take the time to dig out whatever I can and then lay down layers of newspaper or sheets of black plastic, topped with a few inches of mulch. Smothering buys me a year or two of reprieve, but the war isn’t won.

I may make some enemies here, but I think the battle with creeping bellflower requires judicious use of an appropriate chemical over the course of several seasons. Applying an herbicide directly to the plant and allowing the plant to systemically take the chemical to its own arsenal of innermost growth paraphernalia is the most effective way to eradicate this particular foe.

I had a moderate degree of success in a few infested areas where I have used Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup. No other weed killer that I have tried has been able to kill this invasive plant. However, a great deal of care needs to be taken when applying glyphosate, as it is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will also kill nearby plants and grass if it comes in contact with them.

Sadly, Roundup is also known to harm beneficial insects, which is a huge problem in these days of endangered bee and butterfly populations. For this reason, whenever I judiciously use Roundup (or any herbicide), I carefully remove the tempting flowers from any plant I am treating. I choose a day when the air is rather still and when rain is not predicted for a few days. Armed with gloves to protect my skin, and a sheet of cardboard, I set to work on a group of plants. Using the cardboard to shield any nearby plants, I target and spray the leaves of the plants I am trying to eradicate. Within a few hours the leaves begin to carry the herbicide to the underground parts of the weed, the leaves begin to brown and then shrivel and die.

Another great concern related to the use of glyphosate is that it has been classified as a carcinogenic in the United States since 2015, so care must be taken to avoid or minimize personal exposure to it. In fact, this herbicide may no longer be available for purchase in the near future. Bayer (Monsanto’s parent company) has announced that it will be removing Roundup from retail store shelves by 2023 due to costly lawsuits related to cancer cases.

A Canadian blog-reader of mine, Lyle Tremblay, has given me another weapon to try. Lyle once read a post I had written about my war with this plant and contacted me personally to tell me that he was working on a chemical answer to this problem which is prolific in his country as well. Lyle sent me a sample of his experimental treatment and asked me to trial his product in my garden. It was just a small sampling, so I chose a little corner of my garden that was deeply infested with bellflower. I applied the herbicide, as per his instructions. It’s two chemicals, each applied separately.

It’s a somewhat tedious process, due to the need to paint two different chemicals on the leaves, but it worked. The area I treated in early summer has remained free of the weed, while the surrounding area is still infested.

This treated area remains bellflower-free.

If you are in a similar war with this foe and would like to learn more about Lyle’s experiment, you may contact him directly via email: maracon1@shaw.ca

Alzheimer’s: When Harsh Words Fly

I work a few days each week as a baker of all things sweet at a beautiful assisted living and memory care home – the very same place where my dear mom spent her last year on earth. The people who reside here are placed for various needs, most of them needing more help than family can provide with matters related to living life with short-term memory loss. In my short time there as an employee I am getting to know and love each resident, but I do have a few favorites. One of those favorites is as sweet as she is feisty. One minute she can be doling out compliments and kisses, the next she’s telling me to stick my mixer where the sun don’t shine.

But I love her to pieces.

I think she holds a special place in my heart because she reminds me in small ways of my mom (pictured here), who also had some bad days as she wrestled with Alzheimer’s in her later years of life.

In the years before Alzheimer’s, my mom was never one to use foul language; the worst I ever heard come from her mouth when I was a kid was an under her breath, “Shhh-ugar!” Yet, in the throes of the later stages of Alzheimer’s, my mom would occasionally make me blush with her language. If she were in her right mind, she’d be truly embarrassed.

Not long ago my new friend had a really bad day — I knew from the minute I walked in the door that morning that it was going to be a doozy when she began swearing at me for just saying, “Good morning.”

When any of our residents are having a bad day, I can’t really help much, as I’m “just the baker” and not directly involved in resident care. However, there is always one thing I can do. As my hands keep busy at the work of baking desserts, I can pray for those caring for the special needs of the residents. On that morning, I prayed for everyone involved in doing what was best for her, each one doing so with compassion and grace. All the while, I fought back tears for this dear woman who was living out one of my biggest fears for my future. You see, I struggle with the fear that Alzheimer’s may one day strip the filters from my tongue and that I might use uncharacteristically foul and abusive language.

So, how should caregivers deal with the foul language issue in their loved one with dementia? To answer that question, let me share a link to a super-helpful article from Very Well Health which discusses this problem and lists many suggestions. You’ll also find some internal links to explore on related issues: Relationship Between Foul Language and Dementia

My personal go-to tactic is the one in this article called “Redirect and Distract”. Where my mom was concerned, I would say something like, “Are you hungry? Would you like me to fix you a sandwich?” My mom loved sandwiches, so I kept a little stash of halved sandwiches in the fridge.

Other times I would distract her with an activity. I’d just walk away from her angry outburst and grab her coloring books and colored pencils and begin coloring. Nine times out of ten, she’d join me in a few minutes.

Coloring cards Momma received in the mail each week from her friend (and ours) Suzy.

Another thing I did on many occasions was to grab my collection of buttons and pour them out onto a towel on the kitchen table. I’d just quietly start sorting the buttons into color groupings, or line them up in rows. Mom could not resist this little sorting activity. Before long, she’d be calm and would join me.

Sorting buttons was a favorite calm-down activity for my mom

I wrote about these two and several other activities in my post Dementia Friendly Activities. The key thing was for me to be quiet and resist the urge to argue or add defensive words. Talking during one of her outbursts would only add fuel to the war of words raging uncontrollably in her head.

My friend at work has a similar calm-down button: her sweet tooth. I can sometimes redirect her downward spiral by offering her a cookie.

Since I’m the baker, I’ll sometimes say, “I need your help. Could you taste test this for me?” My friend also likes a slice of buttered bread with a cup of milk. Paying attention to what she enjoys and asks for in her calmer moments equips me with ideas for dealing with the tense moments.

Proverbs 31 Woman

While I dread the thought of ever having Alzheimer’s, I do trust the Lord with my future knowing that He will provide what I need should this be in His plan for me. It is my prayer that the Lord will keep my tongue sweet and gracious, and that the “law of kindness” will always be on my tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)

Front Row Charmer

Hemerocallis ‘Eenie Fanfare’ is fairly new to my upper Midwest garden. Purchased in August of 2019 after it had already bloomed, she found a place gracing the edge of a little strip of full-sun garden nestled alongside our backyard’s flagstone pathway. She’s a tough girl, having survived a crazy winter and a 2020 attempt on her life by a hungry rabbit. Standing a demure 10-12 inches tall, I may purchase two more to flank either side of her to create a little short-stuff trio. A few years down the road (barring further late-night snacking by the rabbits), I hope to be able to divide these little beauties and create a grouping in another flowerbed.

Her thick grass-like leaves are a lush green and will provide visual interest long after the flowers fade. Her plant tag says she’s supposed to be “velvety red,” but I would describe ‘Eenie Fanfare’s’ flower as a very dark pink (almost red) with a lovely chartreuse throat, and a thin white pencil-edge outlining each slightly crimped petal. She may be getting a little too much sun. In my gardening experience, red-petaled daylilies stay truer in color if given a bit of shade and protection from late afternoon sun. I’d like to experiment with this plant beneath the dappled light of my locust tree.

I would encourage my daylily-loving friends to give her a whirl in your garden. She’s a charmer, so be sure to give her a front-row seat.

“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.”

Martin Luther