30 October 2009

Thursday snips and snaps

Every bone in my body is aching from a heavy weeding job yesterday on the steep bank between the back verandah and the pool pump house. D came round early and got us started – me hacking away pretty indiscriminately and him carting tarp-fuls of heavy cuttings down to what is becoming a Mt Everest of a bonfire at the bottom of the paddock. There's little good stuff in this part of the garden that I want to save, and that which went down to be burnt includes great clumps of a very sticky vine which had a claw-like hold on a number of plants and which was full of clicking seed pods because I let it go too long. So in many cases it was easier to cut down everything – indifferent host plant and clinging weedy vine. Further over on the first terrace above the pool, I had to cut back several grevilleas to waist height and most of the flowering head of a big healthy bougainvillea wrapped around the pool fence, in order to free these plants from the vine. But they will all sprout again readily enough and already the area looks much better. I can't believe how long it is taking me to get the house and garden back under a semblance of control after the nine or so months in which all our energies had to be directed toward Allen's illness and recuperation.

I didn't run into our resident keelback during yesterday's pruning, and though that didn't disappoint me I have rather gotten used to having him around. Admittedly, I don't like the surprise of finding I'm stepping on him while I pause to look around for the hose – as happened a few days ago, when he must have been quietly resting on the bottom step as I came down toward the vegie patch. So the next day, when I found him in the same spot (he must be a slow learner), I just snapped this photo and then retreated back up the steps. He soon slithered off. But 'slither' really has too many negative connotations to be associated with such a quiet and harmless little fellow. Aren't there any positively charged action words to describe snake movements? I can't think of any right now. Anyway, my only concern now is how to keep Lucy from finding this little resident when Z&B come up for the Christmas break. As we recently saw four of the snakes around the house on the same day, I don't think there's much point in trying to move this one on – as the snake-catcher said he could do IF he happened to see the snake while he was here (which is not very likely). And as this is the only species of snake that can successfully eat poisonous cane toads, I should feel lucky that I have kellbacks living 'with' us (so the snake-catcher said!) And I do....really. But there's Lucy to think about.

All the while D* and I laboured away out there in the garden yesterday, N* was nearby, constructing a new little set of garden steps to replace a particularly slippery bit of sloping ground leading from the pool pump house down to the fruit tree area. We've always had to tread carefully there, especially when picking the fruit of the overhanging mulberry tree. Now I'll have some flat surfaces on which to set my ladder. And one more little corner will offer a more pleasing sight, after I plant some ground-covers on either side of the steps. The job isn't finished yet; there's one more step to go at the bottom and more 'fill' to be added (we're using 20ml Mary River gravel, because the stones are big enough NOT to be splashed out into nearby grassy areas when the rains come). Nev will be back next week, when A and I return from a few days in Brisbane, and he'll finish that project plus a couple of other small ones he's doing for me. More about those later.

Meanwhile in the house, A's favourite Blue Care visitor had arrived and was putting him through his paces. Usually I go off to run errands and get the groceries while a carer spends four hours with A. But this week I took advantage of her visit to have those hours in the garden without having to check on A, help him do this or that, or worry about whether he's OK. Blue Care sends us a carer every Thursday for four hours, and it's a great help to both of us. But as was the case with hospital nurses, the health management folk who do these rosters seem to think it's best not to be consistent in their staff assignments. No doubt the aim is to prevent 'clients' getting too attached to individual nurses or carers, and in the Intensive Care ward where A was nearly comatose for so long this policy didn't have too many negative consequences. At least I could look forward to having the 'best' nurses caring for A as often as the less inspiring ones (and while I'm sure they were all well qualified, at least to me some made more interesting companions for the day than others; more importantly, when he was lucid A could understand some of them and not others, and only a few of them could understand his very slurry early speech attempts). But now that A is able to function so much better, it's unfortunate for him and inconvenient for me that, just as a matter of Blue Care policy, we get different carers from time to time. 'Unfortunate' because it takes time for anyone to get used to A's communication style. And it takes him quite a bit of time to be comfortable enough with a new person to communicate at his optimum level. Then, I need to spend time explaining to every new person things about A and about the house. And each new carer seems to feel the need to read A's entire Blue Care file (which is getting pretty thick). But most importantly, A gets along so well with S (our favourite carer) and so looks forward to the hours he spends with her. So it's a shame when suddenly we get sent a different person, especially one whose communication skills leave a lot to be desired. S and A have a number of favourite activities – she's happy to help him with his puzzles and games, or help him bake a cake, or take a spin around the garden with him. But she also knows just how much to help, and how much to encourage him in his independence. Most of all, she likes conversation and encourages A in his speaking and writing activities. And his communication practice really benefits when he relates so well to his carer. All of the four carers we've had to date have been good, competent professionals, I 'm sure. But S just suits A so well. It's a shame we can't be sure of always getting her. I tried having a discrete word to Blue Care about our preferences, and that seemed to go down OK. So we'll see what happens in subsequent weeks.

* D and N each deserve to be the subject of separate posts, which I may write at another time!
A's favourite Blue Care visitor had arrived and was putting him through his paces. Usually I go off to run errands and get the groceries while a carer spends four hours with A. But this week I took advantage of her visit to have some hours in the garden without having to check on A, help him do this or that, or worry about whether he's OK.

Blue Care sends us a carer every Thursday for four hours, and it's a great help to both of us. But as was the case with hospital nurses, the health management folk who do these rosters seem to think it's best not to be consistent in their staff assignments. No doubt the aim is to prevent 'clients' getting too attached to individual nurses or carers, and in the Intensive Care ward where A was nearly comatose for so long this policy didn't have too many negative consequences. At least I could look forward to having the 'best' nurses caring for A as often as the less inspiring ones (and while I'm sure they were all well qualified, at least to me some made more interesting companions for the day than others; more importantly, when he was lucid A could understand some of them and not others, and only a few of them could understand his very slurry early speech attempts).

Now that A is able to function so much better, it's unfortunate for him and inconvenient for me that, just as a matter of Blue Care policy, we get different carers from time to time. 'Unfortunate' because it takes time for anyone to get used to A's communication style. And it takes him quite a bit of time to be comfortable enough with a new person to communicate at his optimum level. Then, I need to spend time explaining to every new person things about A and about the house. And each new carer seems to feel the need to read A's entire Blue Care file (which is getting pretty thick). But most importantly, A gets along so well with S (our favourite carer) and so looks forward to the hours he spends with her. So it's a shame when suddenly we get sent a different person, especially one whose communication skills leave a lot to be desired. S and A have a number of favourite activities – she's happy to help him with his puzzles and games, or help him bake a cake, or take a spin around the garden with him. But she also knows just how much to help, and how much to encourage him in his independence. Most of all, she likes conversation and encourages A in his speaking and writing activities. And his communication practice really benefits when he relates so well to his carer. All of the four carers we've had to date have been good, competent professionals, I 'm sure. But S just suits A so well. It's a shame we can't be sure of always getting her. I tried having a discrete word to Blue Care about our preferences, and that seemed to go down OK. So we'll see what happens in subsequent weeks.

The illustralion which closes this post shows one of the two-page spreads in the Penguins' Jigsaw Book (ISBN 978-1-74211-650-1), which we bought at an Australia Post shop recently for $9.99. The hard-cover book has five different 48-piece jigsaws, each with a bit of interesting information about one of five different kinds of penguins. (There were other books with different subjects, too.) Each of these puzzles is just enough of a challenge to give A a bit of practice with shapes and orientation – a kind of spatial awareness exercise which we think is useful to him.

22 October 2009

How can you help Allen?

In 2009 Allen and I participated in a weekly Aphasia Clinic at the University of Queensland* for two hours every Monday during Semester 2. Allen particularly enjoyed the chance to meet other people who have aphasia. The photo at left shows him (far left) with other aphasia clinic participants in October 2009.

There are very few people who have the same type of aphasia that Allen has – primary progressive aphasia. Only one of the other participants in this group also has PPA (unfortunately, she was away on a trip when the photo was taken). Other members of the group acquired aphasia as a result of strokes or injuries. But they all experience similar kinds of challenges in their daily lives.

As one of the activities during this clinic, participants developed a 'personal portfolio' containing highlights of their life and information about their family. On one page of the portfolio, there is some advice for family and friends about the best way to communicate with a person who has aphasia. Here is an excerpt from that page in Allen's portfolio:

• Allow me extra time to talk. Let me complete what I am trying to say before you jump in. Please be patient.
• If you can't understand me, encourage me to try another method – e.g. writing my message, pointing to an object or picture, or making gestures to help you to understand.
• Always look at my lips and face, to get additional visual information.
• Don’t be surprised if I speak slowly and exaggerate sounds.
• If you are unsure of what I am trying to say, repeat the information back to me so I can confirm that you have understood me correctly.
• Remember that I am an adult with a speech disorder, and not a child or a person with a mental disorder. Be respectful. You don’t have to exaggerate your speech and you don’t need to talk loudly. I can understand if you speak in a clear, ordinary voice.
• It’s a help if we have our conversation in a place with no other distractions and background noise.
• Always present a positive attitude.

Many 'carers' also attended the Aphasia Clinic with their partners. They appreciated the opportunity this provided to share their experiences. Some of those carers are shown in this photo (including me, 'Chartreuse', standing.)

* The Aphasia Clinic is a program offered by the Communication Disability Centre (Division of Speech Pathology, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Queensland). Each week, clinic participants receive one hour of individualised speech therapy developed and delivered by a fourth-year speech therapy student working under the supervision of a Senior Lecturer from the Division of Speech Pathology. Participants and their carers then take part in a one-hour group-therapy session. The clinics meet during the university's two semester session times.

11 October 2009

Down in the vegie patch*

After a slow start to clear away a winter's worth of weeds, one half of my vegie patch is finally underway. It should be more advanced by now, but this season there have been a few goings-on (sic) that have kept me occupied indoors a bit more than usual. (Is that an appropriate use of sic? Not sure.)


I started this year with the potted things – well, styrofoamed things! I have a corner that gets a bit soggy after big rains, so I place some some old fruit boxes there, lifting the plants' roots up a bit to prevent 'wet feet'. Seems to work, but I can only grow certain things in that limited root-space. And while it's still dry I need to check these boxes frequently to make sure the plants don't dry out. At the moment there's a fine crop of basil coming on, and some rocket which is trying to run to seed earlier than I'd like. I keep snipping off the flowers and picking more leaves for the tasty greek salads we're having with nearly every meal. But I had better get another batch of rocket underway elsewhere because I don't think I can hold on to this lot much longer.

I have two kinds of tomatoes coming along nicely. The majority of plants were given to me by my daughter's father-in-law. He grew them from seed and I think they're little Tom Thumbs or some such. I also bought a punnet of six different old-fashioned sorts, just to see what these will produce (if they produce)! Each year I have trouble keeping my tomatoes safe from fruit bats – at least I think they're fruit bats. Whatever they are, they eat out the main part of every tomato and just leave an empty bell hanging. And since the best part of growing tomatoes is being able to have vine-ripened fruit, I don't like picking them too soon. So last year I used fruit-tree netting over each bamboo trellis. And while this worked, it did make picking the fruit and weeding around the plant a bit tiresome. I'm also wary of using netting in the garden since that python got tangled in one net. But unless I net, I have to share the crop with drop-in visitors.

If you look closely at the tomato photos, you will see that this year I've had to use string to reinforce the joints of my bamboo 'tomato towers'. Most of these structures are now several years old and ought to have been replaced this year. But I don't think A is going to be able to make any more of these so I'm trying to extend the life of those I've got. Some like the one pictured in a more sheltered area of the garden, have a longer lifespan. But in the vegetable patch, where the bamboo is subjected to lots of watering, the towers disintegrate in a couple of seasons. Those I'm using this year are in their third and probably last year of use. (That photo of Allen was taken in March 2007, when he had just completed the first of our current batch of tomato towers. The marigolds were supposed to be companion plants for the tomatoes, but in fact I planted them mainly for the pleasure they would give me while I weeded the vegies.)


This year I have a few 'blow-ins' too – well, not exactly blow-ins, but plants that either self-seeded from last year's crop or that sprung up from compost. The little jap pumpkin is the first fruit showing on a good number of pumpkin plants that either self-seeded, or are on two-year old plants. I'm unsure how some of these plants came to be, but ever since I planted the first pumpkin seedlings more than a year ago I've had pumpkin plants running over various parts of the garden. Some, like the one shown below, which is growing over an old chair, are in areas of the garden that are quite far away from where I originally planted pumpkins. One of last year's vines crawled up the hill there, but then seems to have taken root. Do pumpkin plants reproduce this way? I'm waiting to see if any of the flowers on that plant actually set fruit. But even if the plant doesn't fruit, I rather like the way it has colonised that old chair which hides one of my compost bins, so I'll probably let it go.


A number of young pawpaws (or papayas) have also climbed up out of a section of garden that hasn't yet been weeded and prepared for replanting. They could only come from seeds in last year's compost because I haven't yet got any fruiting pawpaws in the garden (one planted not long ago by friend L when she visited is still very young, and I'm about to plant a red pawpaw near that pumpkin-on-chair). I'll wait and decide what to do with these new ones when I finally weed that bed later this week. They'll probably have to move, though I may leave one in place to see how it goes.


As you can see in all these photos, this year I'm using bales of straw as my main garden mulch –  except down in the paddock, where I hope to get some sugar cane rolls delivered this week, to use around the weeping lilly pillys and other natives I planted during the winter. I would like to have something more substantial as mulch, but it's just too difficult to cart heavy loads around to all the different garden levels. Straw is fine, and does break down quickly to help feed the soil. But it has to be renewed often. Still, now that I've managed to learn how to reverse my trailer into even tricky spots, it's easy enough to get another six bales of straw down to the vegetable garden without any back-breaking labor.


Speaking of which, a whole trailerload of rich composty soil and a dozen little boulders are waiting right now to be unloaded. I plan to use all of that to build a more interesting strip of garden around the front edge of the inground water tank, where I think I'll plant herbs instead of the rather dreary little plants I've had there for several years. Now that the new balustrade and pergola have been built around the rear half of this tank, I need something more interesting in the foreground. And it would be a lot easier, when I realise I forgot to pick the herbs for my evening cooking, if I didn't have to take a torch and walk down a flight of stairs to the vegetable garden after dark. Allen and I once tumbled hand-in-hand down those stairs last year, trying to do just that. Being able to take just a few steps off the back verandah instead would be much safer.

Oh, and what else got planted this week? Half a dozen eggplant seedlings, four zucchini plants, a punnet of snow peas (a little late, these, but they're doing well) and some silver beet. Heaps of parsley is well advanced, of course, and four strawberry plants I put in a few weeks ago as an experiment have just begun flowering – these, too, are a bit late for this climate and I've never tried to grow strawberries before, so I don't know how they'll do.


When I get the other half of the vegetable garden weeded, I will squeeze in a few flowers, too. The vegetable patch, which is regularly watered, is the only safe place to grow flowers in my garden. So I always fit in some colour down there – and also in a few pots placed nearby enough to take advantage of the watering regimen. Petunias and lobelias are doing well already, in pots under the macadamia tree at one end of the vegetable garden. The tree gives them – and me, when I need to take a break – a bit of protection from the fierce midday sun. Oh, and that hippeastrum is not near the vegetable garden at all, but I couldn't resist including it in this post. I totally forgot my friend K had planted some of these bulbs along the edges of an ugly clay bank at one side of my studio. At the same time I planted a good ground-covering grevillea nearby and that has now totally covered the bank with its saw-toothed leaves and, for much of the year, red toothbrush-type flowers. So I forgot about the hippeastrum plants. But more than two years later, A and I were walking down past this spot for his daily exercise, and lo and behold: one hippeastrum has suddenly thrust up through the ground cover these four magnificent trumpets! Now I'm waiting to see if others will follow. These little surprises are the best part of having a large garden that you can't always stay on top of (or so I rationalise)!

* Postscript: Once you settle on a dictionary, you really must stick with it. If you start making exceptions, there's no telling where you'll end up. Hence, I use 'vegie' with one 'g', because that's what the online Macquarie says, and Macquarie is my choice! Even a 'fuzzy search' of 'veggie' takes you back to 'vegie', without any alternative spelling being offered. I know you'll find a lot more 'veggies' on the web and elsewhere than 'vegies'. But please: no comments about my spelling. I'd like to use 'veggie'. Really I would. It looks more like what the word sounds like. But the habits of an editor's lifetime just die too hard.

10 October 2009

It must be Spring



Looking up over the top of our new tank-top pergola toward R&L's property next door, I was suddenly struck by a glorious explosion of golden blossom that seems to have appeared almost overnight. The 'tree' is something they refer to as (I think) a Brazilian tree fern, a fast-growing, rather spindly plant, more like a tree than a fern, which is leafless for most of winter but then bears cascades of these beautiful yellow flowers in early Spring before resprouting its fern-like leaves again. It towers over the two-storey tall corner verandah of their house, and I'm afraid it may have weedy characteristics, because L has shown me several spin-off seedlings in various corners of her property that seem to have grown to one metre in no time. But I haven't found any sprouting in my yard, so it can't be too intrusive. And it is a wonderful sight against a blue sky, especially with a pink galah in the foreground, just out of sight in the big picture because I wasn't able to capture him in the same frame. He was waiting for me to go back into the house so he could take a closer look at the bird-feeding tray, which was already empty at this afternoon hour (but he wasn't to know that).

About me

My photo
I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.