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Friday, 22 May 2015

Garden to mid May and a few interesting visitors

I'll start with a couple of birds that we rarely see here, which was a very pleasant surprise. We often see Song Thrushes, but not Mistle Thrushes. Looking at my garden bird list, we saw one in 2006, and probably haven't seen one since. Seeing one around on the lawn regularly has been great, and my OH has seen two. As they have been collecting beaksful of worms and grubs from the lawn, then flying off towards the more wooded area of the garden, we are assuming they are nesting here, which is rather exciting!

Funnily enough, having checked to see that we had actually seen these species before in the garden, I discovered three other species I'd forgotten to put on my garden bird list, so it now stands at 62! The full list can be seen on the page Bird Count at the top of the right sidebar.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus).

The other even more exciting sighting were two Turtle Doves, seen Weds afternoon. One flew off whilst the other decided to perch happily on the top of the swings (I knew they were good for something!), allowing us a great photo op through the kitchen window. We do hear them in summer, but they are very elusive creatures which are rarely seen. Beautiful birds.

Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur).

Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur).

We're also happy that after several years of Blue Tits checking out our nest boxes, a couple are actually nesting in one, and have been seen entering with beaksful of green caterpillars and exiting with fecal sacs. However, my OH has seen both Harry and Bertie actually standing ON the top of the box, so my not needed this year cucumber climbing frame has been put to good use around the trunk of the tree, so they can no longer climb up there.

One less happy find was a partially destroyed Long Tailed Tit nest. Some of it is lying on the ground - it was the feathers which alerted my OH that something was worth investigating. However it is possible that it is an old nest as there was dried up poo inside and little specks on the feathers which line the inside that could have been mites? Maybe it was used as a roost during cold weather although I am not sure if they do this. 

Their nests are a miracle of nature as they are so well camouflaged with lichen and moss on the outside and all held together with spiders' webs, making them very flexible so they don't normally drop out when it is windy. This was on a low (face height) branch of a Thuya tree, which is a conifer. The only other one I have found was in a conifer tree too.

More excitement in the butterfly department, with a new species recorded for my garden. My OH and I were chatting in the veg patch when a small unrecognisable butterfly flitted around us briefly. It then alighted on a plant and - "OMG camera quick!! It's a Green Hairstreak!!!". Suffice to say my camera was set on manual mode, and in my desperation to zoom in, focus and change the exposure, I only managed several blurs and this less than good photo before it flew off. But it was wonderful to see and really made my day. So I've now seen two different Hairstreaks here, and both in my veggie patch!

Finally! A Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) in my garden.

Just because they are always around, a common species now -
the Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria).

I also spotted this pretty little moth which I somehow even managed to get down on my knees to take. Can't ID it though - any ideas, mothy expert friends? It's about skipper size, ish.

A pretty unidentified moth.
Now IDed as the Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica).

In pond news we have tadpoles - gazillions of them. These are just a few.
All the more strange as we never spotted any frogspawn!

Japonica petals floating on the surface.

Now onto garden photos - the first was earlier in the month when the Bearded Irises were just opening up. The rest were taken during the second and third weeks of May.

Note that black cat sneaking out of the photo......

Our clematis never got pruned but I wonder why they say you should really.
This is 'Miss Bateman' looking splendid. We also decided that rather than have
annual trailing geraniums, we'd plant with lavender so we don't have to keep
disturbing the roots of the perennial plants. The rose is 'Gertrude Jekyll'.
A new paint job is way down the list of priorities this year!

Just a view of the side of the house.

I'm really pleased with the amount of flowers on
the Horse Chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) this year -
and they are very pretty flowers when you look close up
as they are not white like they appear from afar.

View of golden and purple shrubs.

I love dark foliage! Top is Weigela florida 'Alexander",
bottom left Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple',
and bottom right is Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo'.


Hallie has snuck in again.... my arch is looking lovely
and another reason not to prune your clematis!
The clematis is 'The President' and the rose is 'Zephirine Drouhin'.


Catmints by the side of the veg patch with some weeds that
have infiltrated - but the little yellow dots which are
buttercups look pretty, so they can stay. For this year!

View of the front bed.

Totally self seeded in the gravel - Chives,
Love in a Mist, and Verbena bonariensis.

More self seedings, Ox-eye Daisies appeared a couple of years ago and
the pale bluey mauve flower in the middle foreground is Salsify!
I once grew it as a veg, then allowed it to flower......

Striped Shield Bugs (Graphosoma lineatum) on a plant they love - Bronze Fennel,
although sadly too many of these bugs and they destroy the growing tips,
which have the best bronze colour.

Honeysuckle which a neighbour gave me looking wonderful.

To finish off - look away if you don't like spiders! Although they are only tiny, promise! Another thing my OH spotted (he's my eyes these days as he's in the garden so much more than I am) - I just go out to look at the things he finds for me! ID is thanks to Amanda at the Quiet Walker blog, who posted the same spiders on this post, just before we found these.

Just what is the blob on the water butt?

Why it's baby spiders! These are Cross Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus) spiders.


Health update (possibly TMI for some)

I hardly know where to begin. I am not a pessimist, but I've got so used to things going downhill again every time they start to get better. After I finished the course of antibiotics which seemed to be drying up my abscess, despite making me sick and giving me diarrhoea, I felt great as the pain had subsided and the diarrhoea etc stopped almost immediately. So last weekend was the best I've felt in maybe five weeks, which is when I posted last saying I was feeling so much better.

However, Monday I started feeling a niggling pain from the abscess area which got worse as the day went on, coupled with a discomfort in my vagina too. Tuesday both got worse. Weds the vaginal pain subsided, only for the discharge to start again with a vengeance. Last time I mentioned this, I'd thought I had thrush and had seen a Gynae who took a swab and sent it off to a lab. It actually came back negative for fungal infections so it wasn't that. I've had this thankfully non smelly discharge on and off ever since my surgery but it always stops whilst I'm taking ABs.

We were going to contact the stoma nurse but she doesn't work Wednesdays, but by some sheer stroke of luck (and believe me, this is unusual!), my surgeon actually called my OH on his mobile to see how I was doing after the ABs!! When my OH explained, the surgeon said he wanted me to have an MRI scan as the CT scan had been inconclusive, especially as I can't have the iodine contrast dye due to my thyroid condition. He then called back about 10 mins later, saying they would fit me in that afternoon as soon as I could get to the hospital. Even more amazing!

The results of the scan were interesting, albeit difficult for a layman to understand. I don't have an abscess! Whatever it is seems to be caused by fat/liquid coming from the omentum which was used to pack out the void where some of my colon was removed and in the space where my rectum was. This is commonly done and is supposed to aid in healing. The omentum is a layer of lacy looking fat which covers the stomach and intestines and you may well know it as caul, which is what it is called on animals. It's used in certain dishes to wrap around meat, notably faggots. How or why this caused holes to appear in my perineal scar, I don't know, and I'm assuming what I'd thought was pus was in fact the liquid leaching out of me. As I said, too much for a layman to really understand, but my surgeon was pleased about this (we haven't spoken to him, but the doctor explaining the scan told us as she'd spoken to him before calling us in after the scan. By the way no waiting weeks for your results here, unlike the NHS.... ). Presumably it'll heal up eventually and that I carry on with the local nurses coming by every day to clean it and dress the wound. If it gets really painful I guess there will still be a surgical option, although the surgeon said he'd rather avoid that if possible.

I've also been to the hospital again today for a cytoscopy. This is having a camera up into your bladder! I hadn't mentioned that I'd seen a urologist a couple of weeks ago. I'd been waiting to see one for several months, only my dear surgeon who was supposed to organise it, had forgotten. My bladder has also not been working right since my surgery. I had a second urine analysis which didn't show any problems like UTIs this time so thankfully no need for any more ABs (I think I would have gone berserk if I'd needed to take more). The test, which I had been dreading, especially as I was already in pain in my nether regions, was actually (almost) a doddle. They give you some lidocaine over the entrance to and just inside the urethra, so when the flexible tube was inserted it was only a moment of discomfort, and once inside, although they fill your bladder with water, there was only a mild need to pee feeling and no pain. It only lasted about a minute! Just glad I don't have a penis though, it's much more pleasant for us women!!

The conclusions there were what had been suspected all along, that there was some neurological ("what's that?" "oh right, nerve, why don't you speak in patient language, mutter mutter") damage, for which I have some pills to take. As far as the urologist is concerned, it is nothing to worry about and is just likely due to trauma from both the radiotherapy and the surgery, much as the vaginal problems probably are (I had the same discharge after the radiotherapy, which eventually went away of its own accord as I recovered from that, before my surgery). So I guess I have to be patient and that at least some of these things will resolve over time..... though they've had nearly three months..... well, we'll see. Probably having chemo isn't helping with my ability to heal. I've also been really tired this week, but that could be a delayed reaction to last week's chemo, which didn't give me nausea this time, which is most surprising. The effects I get seem to change each time! One good thing is that I managed to gain a whole pound since round 4 of chemo, instead of losing 2 pounds which I usually do. So I can end this great long essay on a positive note. :-)

I will catch up with your blogs over the weekend, as I haven't felt up to it much this week. Have a great weekend, everyone! xx

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Veg patch and Pollinator Meadow in May

What's better than one Painted Lady in your garden? Why, two of course! I was so happy to see the return of these migratory beauties last week. They made a beeline for the Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) in my Pollinator Meadow, which is quite a hit with butterflies.

I've gone back through my old posts and labelled the Pollinator Meadow posts as for some reason I never did that. If you are interested in how it looked the first year (2012) when it was mostly annuals, plus lots of bees and other insects on the plants, here's a link, and a post about it from last year with lots more critters including bee flies and crab spiders is here.

I was lucky they posed like this showing both sides of the wings although
I only managed one snap before one flew off, so got lucky!

The day before there was just the one Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui).

White butterflies love this plant too - here's a Small White (Pieris rapae).
Dame's Rocket is a brassica and they can use it as a host plant,
but I've never discovered any caterpillars on it.

And a Comma (Polygonia c-album).

This I think is a female Green Veined White (Pieris napi).
These Heartsease Violas self seed all over the veg patch and the strawberries
have gone wild into the Pollinator Meadow now too!

The Pollinator Meadow is the patch with the white flowers. It was originally about 1.5 metres wide by about 5 metres long, but it's spread this year as you'll see in the photos below.

In the middle of this plot in the foreground is a patch of self seeded coriander!

The shadier end of the Pollinator Meadow, which now has colonised the metre wide strip
of bare soil in front where I grew some veggies last year!

There are quite a few Aquilegias snuck in now, and I was pleased
to see some different colours from the usual dark blue
and purple that I mostly have.

Some bug life going on in there too - lots of Hairy Shieldbugs
(Dolycoris baccarum) on a Verbascum (I've no idea if they eat this plant)
and Woundwort Shieldbugs (Eysarcoris venustissimus) on the Hedge Woundwort.
I can't manage decent macros right now as they are too low down!

One of my other flower strips from last year has been taken over by
Dame's Rocket too and there's hardly any room to sow the annual
flowers I was going to as so many plants have self seeded!

And here's another of my flower strips by the fence -
there's just room to get in a few more annual seeds.

Same strip - the Hollyhocks are getting huge!
There's also Opium Poppy, Feverfew, Sunflowers, Gladioli and Phacelia.

I managed one job last week on my hands and knees - weeding around one of my
strawberry patches and putting some straw down. It's not worth putting up the netting
so we'll share these strawbs with both birds and slugs alike. :-)

Onto some veggies - my OH's spud patch after its first earthing up, and another
row of strawberries which haven't had straw put down.... yet. If at all!

A variety of lettuce he sowed earlier into this cold frame - the lid's been taken off now.
There's Cos, Batavia and Little Gem here.

Another view of the veg patch looking colourful - just the way I like it.

I had a brief look at some of the fruit trees and whilst I see tons of cherries that have set, as far as the plums go there are some greengages, but barely a damson and none that I can see on my purple plum. But that's just how it goes and we're lucky we had a good plum year last year and I got to make tons of greengage jam. I haven't checked the orchard yet for apples and pears. Should have plenty of soft fruit as usual although I'm not going to be picking a lot so the birds or the neighbours will have to enjoy them! There is one preserving job we do plan to do even if my OH has to do most of it (poor guy), and that's make elderflower cordial, as we both love it. But it's somewhat easier to do than make jam!

I have more garden photos from the rest of the garden, and critters, but will post them separately. 

I'm also feeling loads better!!!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Latest health update and first Swallowtail

Half of me would prefer not to dwell on the horrid side of life, but I think it's a good idea to keep up with my 'journey', as one day I hope I can look back on this nightmare period and think - thank god that's over! And if my updates are at all helpful to anyone who finds themselves, or a friend or relative, in a similar position (although I truly hope not), then if there is anything helpful here then it will have been worthwhile. 

So where was I last? A couple of weeks ago one of the abscesses had got worse but it was deemed by the powers that be not bad enough to warrant taking more antibiotics. However a few days later one of the home nurses discovered that the two abscesses had joined up! Worse was to come when I suddenly started having even worse pain as a new inflammation had started up the top end of my butt crack. By this time they realised that I had one abscess that had become a tunnel behind my entire perineal surgical scar.

So (and these things always seem to happen on Fridays when my stoma nurse doesn't work, and/or it's a public holiday in France as it was that day, and other than 'Urgences' there is no-one to contact over the weekend) we called the nurse first thing last Monday to explain the new situation and she was able to see me that afternoon. She'd been in touch with my surgeon and this time they'd decided this did warrant another course of ABs, plus an urgent MRI scan to see better what was going on in there.

I had a hideous time with her as she's pretty brutal and always inflicts some pain, but this was like nothing I'd experienced before. Her view is that you've got to be cruel to be kind in order to clean it out as best you can, which aids the healing, but I could have done without her sticking tools up all the tiniest holes into the abscess. I even swore in English. Well I swear a lot better in English than in French. At the end I burst into tears, not just from the awful experience (heck, most medical people would give you a local anaesthetic for that level of pain), but mostly the absolute feeling of frustration and hopelessness, this having gone on for so long now. Mostly also because, whilst I can put up with the pain or discomfort from radiotherapy burns and from chemo because they serve a purpose, to kill off tumours and cancer cells, this serves absolutely nothing and just adds to my general misery.

I manage to get in for a scan a few days later and to my delight it was actually a CT scan which only lasted 5 mins, as they hadn't been able to fit me in for an MRI scan, which is a noisy horrible thing that goes on for about 45 mins. The doc or technician said she could see nothing out of the ordinary.

So, all was going well with my abscess seeming to dry out somewhat and the pain started reducing, when all of a sudden on Thursday evening I started having diarrhoea! This got worse, along with nausea and I even threw up which is the first time since all this started - I've not even thrown up from the chemo so far. I had 24 hours of worse nausea than I get from the chemo. A bit of research lead me to finding that it was caused by the ABs! Honestly, I know more about septic tank workings than the human body - I'm well aware that ABs can disrupt the good/bad bacteria balance in a septic tank but hadn't thought that the same thing can happen to gut flora!

My OH has scoured the supermarkets and bought some probiotic yoghurt drinks so I'll keep taking those in the hope that I can get my poor guts back to normal working order eventually. They are still gurgling like you wouldn't believe.

My biggest problem now is lack of appetite and weight loss. I lose weight with each chemo session and haven't had much appetite since it started. I am now as skinny as I was at my worst last year after I suffered sudden weight loss around May/June last year, which was the start of all my problems (including the thyroid problem). I have some high calorie, high protein drinks which will help, but I hate having no appetite as I love my food normally, but when you are feeling nauseous, there's absolutely nothing you can do about it; you just can't eat. 

I'm seeing the stoma nurse tomorrow during my chemo session (damn public hols in France in May have meant my usual Thu/Fri sessions have been brought forward), so it will be interesting to see what she says about the abscess. If it doesn't clear, then it'll be back to hospital to have my scar cut open so they can clean the area out properly, then presumably stitch me up again. Then I'll have to go through the recuperation and healing of that all over again, but I'm willing to go through this if it rids me of the sodding abscess so I can start to move forward with my life!

Still, life is not all bad, I saw my first Swallowtail of the season yesterday! And I managed to scoff home grown asparagus for dinner, no problems with lack of appetite there. :-)

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) feeding on kale flowers.