Monday, December 14, 2020


No, this blog is not being cancelled though it has been a while since I posted.  Lately I have favored more direct social media like Instagram.  That is until I was labeled as possible misinformation.  My offense?  Posting a photo of a t shirt.

Neal received this shirt in August when he was given a shot in the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine trials.

We had both signed up for the study at Clinical Trials of Texas (CTT) the moment we heard about their need for thousands of local participants.  These are Stage III trials meaning that the vaccine had already passed basic safety testing on a limited basis and was ready for a wider population.  A chance to help out in a low risk scenario with a 50-50 shot at getting vaccinated early was our motivation.

We were interviewed about our health and placed in the queue after initial qualification.  He was contacted for an appointment in the Moderna trial and I was to await notice of the Pfizer trial.  Neal went in right away and got his shot in late August and a second shot a month later.

I thought it would be fun to post the shirt and a little about his experience.

Not so fast.  The genius Instagram censors decided to slap me with a label and I deleted the post immediately.

San Antonians stepped up in big numbers so the Pfizer vaccine trial also filled up before I could get an appointment.  Last week it was my turn to get the shot and a cool blue t shirt.  My trial's sponsor is Johnson & Johnson and the trade name is ENSEMBLE.

According to our initial briefing and the J&J website this vaccine is the best option for worldwide distribution as it can be shipped and stored in a refrigerator at 35-45F or even on ice instead of a specialized deep freeze.  ENSEMBLE is the first to test just one dose instead of two which also makes distribution easier in remote areas.

The participant process is straightforward but time consuming.  I'd compare it to starting over with a new doctor, they will ask every detail of medical history back to childhood and that takes a while over the phone.  Then you review it all over again at an in-person appointment which takes up most of the day. You will have your blood drawn and the nasal swab Covid-19 test.  If you qualify after a physical and consult with one of the study doctors you will get either a vaccine or placebo saline shot the day of your appointment.

We downloaded an e-diary app to track any reactions and/or symptoms experienced after the vaccine.  While we are considered volunteers, participants do receive some compensation for their time via an e-payment card which is funded based on meeting certain milestones.  All of this is explained in detail during a preliminary briefing and in written documentation which you sign along with consent forms.  While the study lasts two years, we were assured that ethics required they reveal whether we had the vaccine or placebo once FDA approval is granted and a viable vaccine is widely available.  This will likely occur during the next year.

The staff at CTT is excellent and patient focused.  Expect to sit a while in a very cold waiting area which was good for the busy staff but it took me a while to warm up once I got outside on a very warm 89F November day.  I was advised to be especially careful the next few weeks because contracting Covid-19 on top of the vaccine could worsen symptoms.  Otherwise, the biggest risk factor seemed to be spending most of the day indoors with a group.  Masks are required and social distancing is clearly marked on floors and chairs.

I received my dosage on Thursday afternoon.  Friday morning I awoke feeling quite tired and somewhat stuffy similar seasonal allergies.  We were given an oximeter to keep track of our oxygen levels and pulse so I began to test every half hour or so.  I was surprised to note my oxygen level did drop slightly for several hours and I had an elevated temperature for about the same length of time.  None of my symptoms met the specified level at which I should call their emergency line so I recorded them in the e-diary which continued to prompt me for input.  By Saturday afternoon I felt just fine and still cannot say whether I had the real vaccine or placebo.

This morning, Monday, I received a call from a CTT researcher to review the symptoms I reported over the weekend and check my progress.  After consultation with the doctor, she told me to begin reporting just twice a week until my follow-up appointment in January.  Neal also experienced an elevated temperature along with a sore arm after his vaccination in August.

A bit more about our experience with vaccines.  Neal was quick to volunteer for this study even though he was once intentionally injected with live Swine flu vaccine which he was not allowed to decline as an active duty Air Force officer.  He was very ill for several days but did recover well.  The same year I believe I had both the Swine flu and the Russian flu within about 6 months though I was not tested.  I was very ill for about two weeks and took several weeks more to feel back to normal.  For that reason we have both taken the annual flu shot for 42 years in a row.  With no ill effects unless you count a sore arm and occasional tiredness the next day.  That's nothing compared to being ill with the real flu which is something neither of us choose to experience again.  During our years riding crowded Metro trains in Washington DC winters we did contract an occasional virus and possibly a mild bout of flu.  We strongly believe that our annual flu shots help prevent flu and/or lessen the symptoms if we do get it. 

So why did I decide to blog about this instead of my usual social media post?  I thought you might have a few questions and it's way easier to write long responses on a laptop keyboard than my phone.  The above paragraph likely would have triggered the censors at Instagram to slap another potential misinformation label on my opinion and personal experience.  More importantly, this is where I can say what I think and add my own labels.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

National Wildflower Week 2020

National Wildflower Week is always the first full week in May and usually ends on Mother's Day.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center used to celebrate with a wonderful tour of Austin gardens which focused on native plants and wildflowers but they discontinued the tour a few years ago and I couldn't find much information out there.  I did find the following quote on a holiday calendar website.

"...commemorates the colorful blossoms that bring our landscapes to life. Whether they are on mountainsides, pastures or our own back yards, wildflowers create habitat, help conserve water and reduce erosion."

I'll celebrate with a tour of the colorful blossoms that bring my "own back yard" to life each spring.

We've had a bit of everything during our spring wildflower season in South Texas.

This week Greenthreads (Thelesperma filifolium) hit their peak so we'll start in the front garden.  Their seeds originally blew in on the wind or floated down the street on rainwater and I just let them grow.  We never water or cultivate them in any way.  A combination of annual and perennial, they will fade in the summer and return in the fall.

Texas Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) are amazingly resilient even after they were hit by a light frost in late February.

They weren't slowed down a bit and bloomed beautifully on schedule.

I've been pulling their spent stems and spreading the last of the seeds this week.

While we're on the subject of blue flowers, Heartleaf Skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) are pretty blue flowers which only show up in the spring.  The gray foliage will soon die back and the roots bide their time underground until next spring.  If I accidentally dig them up when dormant I just tuck the roots back under the soil and no harm done.

A recent addition are Texas Bluebonnets in the front yard, mostly around the Yucca Rostrata.  We pull these as soon as they scatter most of their seeds.  Bluebonnets for all their blooming beauty are ugly seed setters.  Bright yellow Damianita is a native wildflower as well though this plant seeded over from a purchased plant so it is cultivated.

Our May wildflowers had a close call with a neighbor's lawn service.  I found this note on my door one recent afternoon.  He was obviously at the wrong house; actually, the wrong street entirely.  There has always been confusion over street names and numbers here because the street name changes on a curve which is not so obvious and the numbers start over.  You can see the curve in the Yucca photo above.   All the houses in the background are on a different street.  The intended recipient's house has the same number and is just up the hill about a block away.

When I called they advised me that he did not spray anything on my yard.  Our security video confirmed that he did not spray.  An App 3 mix has weed killer and fertilizer both of which could kill our native Buffalo Grass "lawn."   


Let's see what he saw that day.

Gaillardia pulchella or Blanket Flower

Monarda citriodora or Beebalm

On video the lawn guy was seen scratching his head and looking confused by this scene. 

We've had ongoing problems with burnout streaks in our Buffalo Grass and now we think it's possible weedkiller is flowing downhill through our yard to the creek during rains.

I mentioned Bluebonnets are ugly seeders and the brown spots in the photo below are Bluebonnets going to seed.  Not something we want to leave in the front landscape for weeks.

The cat prefers wildflowers to a perfect lawn too.

Happy Wildflower Week and Happy Mother's Day too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wildlife Wednesday May 2020

Investigating the decline of a potted agave is the subject of this May's Wildlife Wednesday post.

First task was to dump out the pot.  The agave was in bad shape, with many crowding pups, so no loss.  But it was a surprise to discover large tunnels in the soil under the agave.  Watson, the game is afoot!

And there was a resident of those tunnels, which revealed itself to be an Ox Beetle.  At least according to iNaturalist which I am learning to use after taking an online class sponsored by the San Antonio Botanical Gardens.  Online gardening classes are a bright spot in the current status of staying at home more.

These Beetles are huge!  Biggest I've seen in the garden.

They are said to dig holes about a quarter in size.  This exit opening was much larger. some Japanese film from the 60's.  The bug that ate my agave.  But really, it was just tunneling.

Ox Beetles are native to an area ranging from Florida to Arizona.  For observation we placed it on the bottom of the pot.

Most likely a male, he was easy to flip over for a moment to show the detail on his belly.  Nice pecs.  Note the eyes on the end of protruding thingies.

(NOTE: No Beetles were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Ox Beetles are beneficial in the garden because they recycle decaying vegetation and aerate soil.  So this guy simply took advantage of the root bound agave and likely caused no harm at all.

After enduring a bit of our hassle he was happily released into the garden and not expected to return.

Doe, the female deer, are hanging around the compost waiting for treats as I do a lot of springtime cleanup.  They just dropped their fawns.  Probably hungry.  Hi girls!

Wildlife Wednesday is hosted by Tina at "My Gardener Says..." on the first Wednesday of each month.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Happy Easter

I've always enjoyed spending time in the garden and even more so these last few weeks.  This year has been especially nice with rain and cooler weather so I'll share a few inspiring views from this morning:

An Angel with a broken wing

Belinda's Dream roses

The Flower Bed with pink Phlox (I'm guessing this is Phlox Pilosa)

New Grapes forming on Blanc du Bois vines which we grow for the birds.

A view of the circle garden overflowing with blooms this week.

Poppies courtesy of the neighbors

Enjoy your Easter!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Wildlife Wednesday March 2020: Raptor encounter

Caracara or Mexican Eagles have taken up residence in our neighborhood.  Sightings are excitedly reported on the Nextdoor website most often when a neighbor spots one for the first time.  It's no wonder since that bright orange beak and sharp black and white coloring stand out against our late winter landscape.

So why did the Caracara to fly away?  The appearance of an American Black Vulture was the likely cause.  While the Caracara birds live full time in the trees behind our fence the black vultures appear when something dies.  We have an abundance of common wildlife in our little wooded area.  With so many skunks, possums, raccoons, and other animals roaming around there's going to be a few deaths along the way.

Turkey Vultures are more common around here but the American Black Vulture seems to turn up when there's something to eat.

They both hunt by looking around on the ground and using their sense of smell.

The Caracara decides to leave whatever it is to the vultures.

You can find more on Wildlife Wednesday at "My Gardener Says...." where Tina has a post on the cutest birds she fondly calls "Butter Butts."

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Wildlife Wednesday February 2020: Another Squirrel's Tale

Our resident Squirrel is at it again!  Nest building season.

The deck is littered with her clippings.  

Even the chairs have to be brushed off before we can sit.

Her success rate is low.  Chewed sprouts are promptly dropped to the ground or deck below and she makes no effort to retrieve the lost clippings.  At this rate I wonder how she will ever complete her nest.

Time out to check the watering can.  We keep bowls of water for wildlife throughout the garden so no need to dip into the can.

And then back to clipping oak sprouts. 

The view from the golf course includes multiple birds and turtles.  Egrets, Cormorants, whistling ducks, Egyptian Geese?  Egyptian Geese are "introduced" in North America.  Primarily found in Florida, Texas, and California.  More study is needed here.

Whitetail deer mating season is finished and this big guy is on his own as new fawns will arrive soon.  He will naturally shed his antlers soon.

He has been injured in the flank.  Possibly in a fight with another buck.  Looks like it's not deep and will heal.

Joining Tina at "My Gardener Says..." for Wildlife Wednesday on the first Wednesday of each month.