Time for Creativity!

My last few blog posts (like my life) have been all about saving money but this week I needed a creativity fix. I was vaguely pondering what to do when one of my neighbors put this on the sidewalk. Now putting things on the sidewalk is code in our locale for, “Please someone take this hideous thing that the dog has chewed to pieces because I just can’t stand to look at it for one more day. Plus I have replaced it with something better and/or found the dog a new home.’

So I sent my son and my husband over there and this is what they came back with:

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In fact I had to send them back for it because my husband thought it had woodworm (English version of termite damage!) and wouldn’t bring it over. It turned out to be dog tooth indentations and gnawing – poor bored dog!

But I liked the shape and figured the worst of the damage could be covered up. I spent Monday prepping and sanding the cabinet and filling most of the holes with filler. I say most because I ran out of filler. Then headed off to the store for supplies. Tuesday was painting and more painting. Luckily it is really dry and warm here so the paint dried within an hour. I decided to stencil a pattern on the drawer and it took me a while to figure out a pattern. I have a cricket (diecut) machine so I cut out my stencils to the size I wanted and got stippling.

Here is the cabinet half way done:

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To make this a useful pretty thing I decided to tile the top – plus I have never laid a tile in my life and wanted to have a go. I chose little white mosaic tiles, they come on a big sheet so it was really easy to use, plus they were the cheapest tile in the place. I added some trim to hide the edge of the tiles and some more dog damage and ended up with this:

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You can see Cesar taking a long look at it, no peeing or chewing allowed!

I’m thinking of using this as an outdoor buffet/cocktail cabinet but after the husband has seen it he wants it inside. I’m not so keen though, it is still a little, shall we say ‘rustic’? I don’t mind imperfections outside but I think it is a little rough for the dining room!

Well I got dirty and paint splattered, used a saw and learned how to tile. That’s a good couple of days work!

Cost of all materials: $75 or so.

Now, I really need a potting bench, I wonder if I can make one?

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Drought Tolerant Garden Update

A few weeks ago my family and I finished off our water wise back yard. It cost a lot of cash, both in terms of the plants/gravel/hospital bills after I realized I am nearer 50 than 40 and can no longer do the work of a 20 year old! It also took a big chunk of time too, which is free, but was totally worth it.

Being a keen gardener I especially enjoyed the planting aspect of the make over and I distinctly remember telling my husband who is a gardening novice, “Now, don’t panic but some of these plants might die on us, OK?” Well that time is here. We are in mourning for 6 out of our 8 woolly grevilleas, and one and a half sweet pea shrubs. I was very careful about buying only drought tolerant plants, we live in a desert after all but still I think I underestimated how often I would have to water to establish these plants. Hey, I’m from England, we have no shortage of rain our ground is soggy much of the year. But being philosophical about it helps. Learn and move on.

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Some of the sad looking plants I gave a hard prune and I can see some growth happening, others were christmas tree in January dry and got put in the green waste.

We have also had a near death experience:

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I caught this ceanothus just in time. I had read that they didn’t like to be watered, well they don’t but they have to get a good root system in place first. This was the only plant my husband planted himself and when all the leaves turned brown and started to fall off he thought he had killed it. In reality I think it was just super thirsty so I upped the frequency of watering from twice a week to three times a week and it breathed a sigh of relief and got to growing some new green leaves. It’s been a roller coaster of emotion for Alan!

Of course we have also had some wonderful successes:

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These salvias have been in bloom for about three weeks now and are growing well.

We have a six foot wall all around our garden and even so our neighbor dog, Molly likes to say hello to me every morning.

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This pic doesn’t really convey the full bounce of her jump!

In our food production area of the garden we have lots happening, here is my favorite this week:

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Meyer lemons, first time they have ever set fruit (in over 3 years!).

So the garden is looking lovely, and even with watering more to avoid the die off we are still using less water than we would trying to keep a lawn alive and we will soon be eating produce from the garden too. I love my garden!

The Rain Comes

This week we have had rain. Ok I know that it’s not news for most people but I live in the low desert area of Southern California so even a cloud can lead to ‘Live Team Coverage’ on the news. I love living where I do, I love the cold fall weather and winters and the red hot summers. I love getting the misters out in the summer and watching the leaves change color in the fall. I love being able to see the stars at night and that I can grow apples here (just!). But most of all I love when it rains. I am English after all! Spring here is a wonder, the dry dusty areas get flooded with water and suddenly what was ashy brown and barren becomes green and lush. The birds sing harder, the bees fly faster and I start drinking my morning coffee outside, looking at my garden and making plans.

Spring is hope in a rainstorm. And after a pretty awful March (hospital, pain, bills, sickness, calls from the school) hope is all I’ve got!

So, my goal this week is get outside. Every day, in some way and really notice and be grateful for the season. I am not a religious person so sometimes it is hard to know where to aim my thanks, perhaps it is enough to acknowledge it and enjoy it.

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My damson tree getting a little over excited.

The Penny Drops

I am starting my long journey back to health by actually listening to my body. It does a fantastic job of moving me where I want to go, doing what I ask it (generally) and asks for very little in return. As thanks for providing me with 46 years of pretty amazing service – it made a human! – I have treated it like crap. I have put poor quality fuel into it and neglected its service requirements. If it was an employee it would have quit a long time ago, probably changing the network passwords before it left for good measure. So, time to give it a bit of love I think, or a raise.

As my main problem has been back pain, I have taken this week to rest and move back into my family life and obligations slowly. My husband and (to a lesser extent teenage son) are still fetching and carrying for me but now I am up and about and moving much more than before I have resumed some tasks, like cooking (yay!) and laundry (bah!). I have stopped taking the medication, it’s there if I need it but I try my hardest to not take it. If my back hurts I want to know, not mask its message with addictive pills.

As part of getting back to normal I actually managed to find a taker for about a hundred old bricks we had lying around. We pulled up two old patios, the Ash tree in the back yard has grown so big it had done a good job itself of pulling it up on its own and they were pretty ugly. We put some raised vegetable beds there instead and I’m looking forward to planting in them soon.

The nice man who came to take the bricks suggested I read a book called Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. In a haze of muscle relaxants and vicodin I ordered it and when the haze cleared a couple of days later it arrived! Along with a foot peel called Baby Foot which must have been in my online cart and got ordered alongside it! Reading this book was like finding the missing puzzle piece to my problems. It made so much sense I couldn’t stand it! My problems, Mr Egoscue assures me is that I am using all the wrong muscles to stand/walk/bend/work out etc. OK there is much more to it than that but the key is to training the correct muscles to get their act together and give the poor overworked compensating muscles a damn rest. It solved a major question for me – which was how can I be so weak in some areas and still so strong in others? My arms and leg muscles are solid! I shifted 200 plus bags of gravel, I can walk for miles, I regularly hoist 25 pound bags of flour over my head (seriously!) But I’ve been doing it wrong for my entire life.

So I started the Pain Free program three days ago. The first day’s exercises, which are so simple I feel a bit guilty calling them exercises, I got my husband to eyeball what I was doing and point out when I wasn’t in the right position. A couple of the exercises were hard to complete because of the current back pain but I managed them all – there were only five and the total work-out took about 25 minutes. After I finished them I had this really weird feeling of my legs being a bit ‘wibbly wobbly’. Kind of like my hip joints were baggy. I know that sounds odd. I still had pain, even after the exercises but I figured one day isn’t going to do anything. The second day I re-read the exercises and realized I had done one of them incorrectly. Perhaps that is why I still had pain because the second and third day I had zero pain after completing the regimen. Zero pain is huge I tell ya! The pain came back later in the day. How tempting to do the work-out again? But the book specifically tells you not to do this, so I didn’t. I’m on day three now and it is definitely helping. I’ll keep up with it and report back on progress.

In the spirit of not completely giving in to a set back, I made the teenager of the house an offer he couldn’t refuse. Dig the remaining beds in the back yard for money! Now I know that this is probably bad parenting, he should offer to do it for the good of the family, right? Yeah I know and he does do chores (admittedly half heartedly sometimes) but this was a lot of garden and I would have to pay someone to do it, so I just sort of gave him first refusal. He roped in a really industrious friend and they spent almost the whole day digging. It was funny to see him organizing the work party. Another, less industrious friend, had agreed to come too, then at the last minute got a better offer of hanging out at the mall. Round here we call that a flake! His mall plans were then cancelled so he asked if he could come and work. The two boys already literally digging in decided no, they would be better without someone so unreliable, plus they would get less money. Real life work decisions in action!

While they were doing that I was grilling ribs for lunch, making potato salad, corn on the cob, lemonade etc. It was 80 degrees, and it so felt like summer. The boys did a fantastic job and the two beds are pretty much ready to be planted. Just got to buy the plants and mulch oh and provide my husband with all the porter he can drink (which these days sad to say is about two!) Well, at least he’s cheaper than the 14 year olds and he won’t want to listen to dub step while he’s working. He’s more of a Billy Bragg fan.

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I know it’s sideways, I just can’t figure out how to rotate. Story of my life really.

Better Than Awful

It’s been over a week since I updated my blog and it’s really been a roller coaster of a week. I really thought that after ending up in the hospital with severe back pain my week couldn’t get much worse, silly me. My adorable dog Panini also ended up in hospital – she got bitten by something (probably an ant, they are ferocious here) and licked the bite until it got infected. I tried some antibacterial cream but no luck. So my poor husband, as well as looking after me, doing all the housework, shopping, cooking and looking after our teenager had to take her to a vet. Turns out she also had a tooth infection. Over $400 later she’s on more meds than me, hating having to wear a cone of shame and is the very definition of hang dog.

Oh, and we got a leak in the shower, seeping onto our bedroom carpet.

The worst of it is that these are all things I would usually handle, but I’ve had to step back and let my poor frazzled husband deal with crisis after crisis. I hate being incapacitated! But it did clarify a number of things for me.

Firstly, we are a great team, my hubby and me. Together we Get Stuff Done. We divide and conquer the jobs that need doing and if I work hard during my day at home, I know he works just as hard at work (and then has a horrible commute home on what are officially the worst roads in the country). We kill it during the week so we can relax at the weekend. Our system, while so hopelessly out of date to the feminist in me, works for our family.

His employer, and specifically his boss, are worth their weight in gold. Having someone say, during a crisis, “family first, stay off as long as you need.” and actually mean it, is a benefit that is priceless, and not taxable!

Buying a house on one level was a stroke of genius.

There are some things, like digging the garden, that it is ultimately cheaper to pay someone to do than do myself and end up in this much pain and with these many bills. My health is important to this family too and constantly putting myself last is reckless, and counterproductive. I am dreading getting the bills for my trip to the ER, admittance into the hospital and the tests I underwent while there. We have good insurance through the fantastic employer but still our deductible is $5,000 and I fully expect to meet it in this visit. Although I have had a vulnerable back all my adult life, I have known that there are things I should do to avoid a crisis like this (lose weight and strengthen stomach muscles) but I have neglected to do them in the guise of putting others before myself. False economy!

The good news is that I don’t have a tumor, ruptured discs or bone issues (thank you CT scan). I also don’t have ovarian cancer (thank you ultrasound) or gallstones (thank you blood tests) although I do have more ovarian cysts and for some reason a lung that doesn’t fully inflate. Who knew? Might explain the hatred of exercise or why I am so bad at swimming.

So, for the foreseeable future exercise is out. When I’m no longer in pain I will start the core exercises but until then will concentrate on losing weight.

I had started last year using the free MyFitnessPal app. and I lost 23 pounds. Unfortunately I slipped off the wagon and put 5 back on. I was expecting more, so far off the wagon had I slipped (hello toast with butter and marmite). So, although gaining was bad it was better than the awful I expected when I weighed myself this morning. It had been several months since I weighed myself and getting on the scales this morning was easy once I acknowledged the points in this blog.

The app I use is great, it’s really a fancy food journal but with some great added features. I love it and it really helps me plan and control my food intake. So my goal for this week is to use MyFitnessPal every day and not go over my calorie goal.

Sounds easy, right? Right?

Panini in her cone of shame, normally I would bend down to take the picture but, well you know, agonizing pain and all that, so you get a lovely picture of my feet too, and those slippers are comfy OK? Don’t judge me.

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Breaking the Cycle

This week I have been focusing myself on my back garden. It has been an ongoing project for the last two years or so but late last year my family and I spent serious time improving it. We pretty much gave up our Christmas/New Year break to re-landscape it into a water-wise garden. Our area is having severe water shortages – there has been hardly any rain since we moved here almost three years ago – so we decided to remove our back lawn and put down gravel. Any rain will soak through the gravel and landscape fabric underneath it, plus it looks much nicer than the weedy dust bowl that was there before. The turf had long since gone when we moved in and when I realized I was watering a large expanse of weeds I stopped, they died off and our garden reverted to the desert it is. As I like to line dry my clothes it has been especially annoying as either our clothes have to be dried in the dryer (expensive) or we look like extras from Ice Cold in Alex. The gravel and laying out of new beds made a huge improvement but now it is warming up a bit it is time to plant!

I spent a couple of days raking leaves up from the gravel, filling up our green waste bin quickly, and digging the remnants of weed grass out of the first bed. A couple of days ago I decided to buy plants and had a happy hour choosing drought tolerant plants and arranging them in their pots where I wanted them to go. Sticking to my one hour max was hard but I managed it. But then yesterday – disaster. After popping out to buy mulch and some potting compost I overdid the final bit of digging and strained my back. So here I am, able to stand (for a while), and walk slowly but absolutely no bending at all. Argh! I was doing so well. I had continued with the yoga and dog walking and was feeling great. The dogs were happier too.

Now my old habit would be to give up everything until my back was better. No exercise at all, eating poorly and generally wallowing in self pity in my PJs. This time however, I have decided not to follow that pattern. Ok the yoga will have to wait, I will do some very gentle stretching in place until I can get back to it (could be a couple of weeks but I’m hoping sooner), walking the dogs is just not possible as the slightest pull forward sends my back into spasm, uneven ground is a killer too and as I look like a little hunched old lady I am a bit embarrassed, especially when crossing the road. Drivers can be so impatient! But there are some gardening tasks I can still do, I have some plants to put into containers if my 14 year old will be my substitute spine and lift them down when they’re done. I suspect he will as the parole board (me and my husband) met last week and granted him early conditional release from his grounding starting the week after next.

I have some stuff in the garden to freecycle so I can arrange that. I can also still cook. So I am spending the day (slowly but doggedly) filling up the freezer. I make all our bread. It’s a no knead recipe luckily as I tried kneading briefly and paid the price (which is why I am sitting down typing this now). I started doing it a couple of years ago and now hate having to buy it. My bread costs under $1 a loaf and tastes so much nicer than the stuff at the supermarket. I know what’s in it too. I usually make it fresh every couple of days but it freezes well and the way I see it, it will save me time next week. More time for rehabilitation.

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Drought tolerant plants waiting for their permanent home.