Did last week happen?


The day started as most of my Thursdays do. I hit the gym, got showered and headed to Long Island to visit my mother. She had a doctor’s appointment, then we were going to get lunch at our favorite diner. As we were leaving the medical complex, my mother and I noticed a car double parked in front of ours. Annoyed, mom said, “Look at this guy, we have to sit and wait now. I’m hungry!” We were both distracted by the inconvenience. Then, in a split second my mother tripped and I attempted to break her fall but she hit the cement, hard. I yelled for help, got out my phone but before I could call 911 a nurse appeared, then a doctor, then the paramedics. A crowd developed, the EMTS were asking her all sorts of questions. My mother was screaming in pain. Next thing I know I’m tailing the ambulance to North Shore Hospital’s Emergency Room.

The doctors said she fractured her hip and needed surgery, stat. I was sick to my stomach because I knew the implications. My mom has advanced emphysema. General anesthesia requires intubation which could be life threatening for her. She was scheduled for surgery the following day. We needed to speak with the surgical team but only had the opportunity a half hour before, during pre-op.  My sister Natalie is a physician and was advocating for us, thank God. The best option was a spinal tap but since my mother has a slight heart condition, Dr. Miller, the anesthesiologist said they’d need to administer an epidural instead, but warned it may not work, in which case, they’d have no choice but to intubate. “This is how old people die.” I thought. My whole family was terrified. While we waited, Dr. Miller had conversed with his colleagues. He came back a third time, “This is like a Grey’s Anatomy episode — I can’t believe it!” he said. The team felt the risk of the spinal tap affecting her heart was less than the risk of extubation. Meaning, when the vent is removed, my mother’s lungs probably didn’t have the capacity to “restart”. Dr. Miller was still worried about getting the spinal tap in due to the location of her injury. He informed us there was still a chance she might need general anesthesia /  intubation. My sister Natalie insisted someone notify us if they had to do this.

We waited.

45 minutes later Dr. Miller came out. His smile was so big — I don’t think I’ll ever forget his face. He put his thumbs up and said “We got it”.  My family started crying with relief. Natalie told us how rare it is for a doctor to scrub out of a surgery and then back in to tell a family news. Usually it’s a physician’s assistant. We met Dr. Miller for a total of 50 minutes that day and probably will never see him again. He was humble, reaching out to his superiors for input. He took a risk knowing the severity of my mother’s situation. He cared.

2019 didn’t start out how I expected. I felt like I lost three days of time in a foggy Twilight Zone waiting game. Now that the urgency has past, I’ve been thinking about what’s really important to me – my family and friends. A major event like this makes you realize the little day-to-day issues mean nothing. It was also a reminder that people care — even strangers — and that there is hope and goodness in our world, despite the doom and gloom we hear and read in the news. I’m going to keep these thoughts in the forefront of my mind as I continue on in 2019.

It will be a few months of rehabilitation for my mother but she’s on the mend. She’s a fighter! We have a running joke every time she has a health set back “Flo’s circling the drain but we plunged her out again!”

The Christmas Cactus

 The Christmas Cactus ready to bloom
Todd’s Dad’s’ Christmas Cactus

Last week I wrote about the iconic poinsettia many give to family and friends over the holidays. This week, I’m discussing the other seasonally appropriate gift-plant: the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera). Like it’s holiday competitor the poinsettia, you can buy a Christmas Cactus  just about anywhere and since the holidays have passed — they’re on sale now!

The plant is called a Christmas cactus because a drop in temperature is needed to produce blooms, therefore it’s most showy in December. It’s a welcome surprise to see the buds in the cold winter months when our gardens are barren and colorless. There are many cultivars, producing a variety of  colored blooms at different times of the year. The most popular that we see in the stores, the pinkish reds are one of the oldest species, the Buckleyi. Adding to their beauty is the crab like flattened stems (not leafs!) which are linked together forming their unique shape.

Unlike most cacti, these plants thrive in humid climates. This cactus is more like a succulent plant in appearance. They’re native to southeastern Brazilian rainforest. The Christmas Cactus grows on other organisms such as trees, plants and rocks! Plants like this are categorized as epiphytes. Differing from parasites, they rely on other structures  for physical support and do not negatively affect the host. You know, like Curzon Dax and Trill symbionts*.

The Christmas Cactus is easy to care for. Water every week or so when the soil completely dries out, Mist will encourage a very healthy plant. The cacti prefers sandy soil with organic matter and good drainage. Don’t worry about repotting your plant, it prefers a cramped root system.  65-75 temperature range is idea but it can handle up to 100F. To bloom, a drop of 50 degrees is needed. Also, its recommended to keep the plant in a room where the lights are always off in the evening. This will mimic its natural involvement and also help the blooming process. If cared for well, a Christmas cactus can live up to 30 years!

segment for propagation

Propagating the cactus is simple. Clip a Y-shaped cutting from a healthy stem tip. The cutting should consist of at least 3 joined segments. Let the clipping sit for one day without water. Then take a segment of at  least three and insert it a quarter of its length below the soil. Put in a few of these clipping to grow a full-looking plant. Place the pot in a well-lit area. Water the cutting sparingly at first to prevent rotting. After about two or three weeks the cutting should start showing signs of new growth which is usually reddish in color. Then you can water normally.

Here’s a great how-to video on propagating.

*Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, best show ever!

tagged in plants

The Poinsettia

How many poinsettias do you have in your living room right now? It’s custom to gift these lovely plants to friends and family during the holidays. You can find poinsettias just about anywhere this time of year – the supermarket, CVS, the hardware store, etc. Most of us throw them out when they start to lose leaves and look leggy. With some effort, you can learn how to care for this plant properly and enjoy it year round! I’ll share some tips and care instructions with you, but first, some history relating to this iconic Christmas symbol.

It’s interesting to me that this plant is a tropical native to South America, yet it’s know as a winter ornamental here in the states. The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) grows wild on the pacific slope in Mexico and can reach a height of 16 feet! The lavish colored parts of poinsettias that most of us think of as the flowers are actually leaves. There are over 100 cultivated species today.

Why is this plant associated with Christmas? The story begins during the 15th century in Mexico where legend tells of a girl named Pepita or Maria who was too poor to give a gift for the celebration of Jesus’s birthday. An angel inspired the little girl to gather weeds roadside for a bouquet to present to the altar. The weeds blossomed and the plant was beautiful and red. In the 17th century a franciscan friar included the native species in a Christmas mass and from then on, they’ve been connected to Christmas. It is also said that the star shaped leaves symbolize the star of Bethlehem and the red color signifies the blood of Christ.

Thank you Susan and Eric Gottlieb for gifting me this beautiful

Thank you Susan and Eric Gottlieb for gifting me this beautiful Poinsettia.

Joel Roberts Poinsetta was an American physician, diplomat  and amateur botanist. While in South America he became enamored with Flor de Nochebuena, the Christmas Eve flower. He brought the species back to the U.S. and by 1836 the plant was widely known as the “poinsettia” named after the diplomat.

Caring for a poinsettia is difficult but it’s a rewarding task. My father has successfully cared for his year after year. I haven’t’ had such luck but I will try again this year!  Note that the leaves are toxic to cats and small dogs so keep them out of your pets reach.

The plant  likes a sunny location, east facing. 66-75 degrees is ideal and avoid sudden temperature changes and even contact with cold window glass. Let the soil dry out in between watering, this is important to its survival. Mist often. It’s very tricky to get a  to poinsettia to “bloom”. Here’s the best step by step I found from HGTV.com.

Let the plant dry out gradually starting in April. Water just enough to keep the stem from shriveling, and put the plant in a spot that stays about 60 degrees.

In mid-May, prune the stems to 4” high and repot in a slightly larger container (use potting soil with good drainage.). Move the poinsettia to a warm location with good light, resume watering. When new growth emerges, use a complete fertilizer every two weeks.

In July, pinch back the stems. Pinch again in mid-August. Poinsettias need 10 weeks of 12 hours or less of sunlight each day to show color. For Christmas flowers, keep the plant in complete darkness from 5pm to 8am daily, starting around Oct. 1.

Next week I’ll discuss the other plant commonly given around the holidays, the Christmas Cactus!

tagged in christmas, plant care

Bryan’s Auto Saved My Marriage and a Palm Tree

The crew at Bryan's Auto, with the palm tree! (1)
It all started over some cocktails, poolside at my sister’s house on Long Island. “If we don’t find a new home for the palm tree, we’re going to leave it outside over winter and hope for the best, but it probably won’t make it.” Natalie said. Sip… three vodka clubs later… “As a certified NYC Citizen Tree Pruner, I can’t let this gorgeous species die! I will take the tree!”

Famous last words.

My sister made an impulse purchase three years ago, buying a palm tree from Florida for her new backyard pool oasis. It became a burden, though. It needs water every three days and pruning often, which requires a ladder to reach the towering palms. And most inconvenient, the 10 foot tall tree needs to be moved indoors every winter.

October rolls around and I get a call from Natalie. “We’ll have to make arrangements to get the palm tree to you soon, before the first frost.” It took me a minute to register what she was talking about. The vodka clubs. The palm tree. It came back real quick.

Of course, I didn’t mention anything about this at the time to my husband, so, I had to “ask” him. “It’s pretty big. I think we’re gonna need the pickup. The tree will die if we don’t take it!” Matt agreed with one stipulation — he didn’t want any part of the transport or logistics of getting it inside.

Two weeks ago I went to my sister’s house for my niece’s birthday party. This was as good as a time as any to take the palm tree home with me. My brother-in-law helped get it in the truck and secured it for my two hour drive back to Rockaway. I’d posted a message on Facebook for some help getting it off the truck and into our back bungalow, which has very high ceilings. No one responded. Matt had a recording session with Simon Chardiet and we had Greg and Ashley’s wedding at the Brewery that evening. There was only a small window of time to get it inside. The tree would freeze and die overnight if left out.

“I said it was a palm TREE!” Matt was totally freaking out, “10 feet tall?? I’m in the middle of a session. I don’t have time for this shit!!!” he yelled. I suppose there was a slight miscommunication on the actual size of the tree. “And… ummm.. I can’t find anyone to help bring it in…” His face turned red, I thought I saw steam flying out of his ears like Yosemite Sam. He interrupted his work and brought the ginormous palm tree inside. “This is not staying here, you better find a home for it.” Door slams shut.

The next morning I woke up and my first thought was “the palm tree situation”. I started frantically texting friends, “Do you know anyone who wants a beautiful palm tree, it’s free!!? It’s just a little big, about 10 ft tall.” After a few hours I got a text back from my friend Melissa Draugsvold, “Bryan Bernath of Bryan’s Auto wants the tree!” I couldn’t believe it.

Bryan was happy and excited to take it and he has a huge garage to house the tree over winter. He sent Tow Joe over with his truck. He and his guy easily moved the tree out, onto the truck and drove away! I texted Bryan, “Tree in transport” and thanked him for saving my marriage and the palm tree. “Come visit it anytime you like!” Bryan responded.

If you’d like to see the beautiful palm tree or need an oil change, inspection or new breaks, visit Bryan’s Auto, 87-15 Beach Channel Dr, Far Rockaway, NY – 718.474.3032. Their good people!

tagged in cars