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CafePress Update

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Have you ever thought it might be you?

I’m still plodding on with the CafePress store. I try and work it into my day so I don’t spend all day doing it, but it is seriously addictive. I have spent hours at a time noodling away, it’s like a crack habit! I look up from my computer and realize it’s dark outside, my kid has gone to bed, the dogs are even in their beds and the husband has a pair of noise canceling head phones on while he is reading, to block out my tip tapping on the keyboard. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration but I have taken a break and realized that I am thirsty, hungry, need to go the the toilet etc. I am officially in the zone.
  • Time spent so far? Exorbitant!
  • Sales so far? Non-existant!
  • Fun had? Enormous!

I’ll keep on, keeping on.

 

 

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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!

Cafepress Store

My recent aim to increase the amount of cash that comes into our collective family money bucket (or teacup really in our case) has pushed me to try a new thing. I like new things. I have mulled over designing t-shirts for a while. I see myself as an ideas person primarily so I thought it would be time to actually take an idea and do something with it, hopefully it will result in a few dollars. So I sat down with a pen and pad and started to design a t-shirt. Then I realized that I have absolutely no talent at all for drawing, which was a bit of a surprise because I am a pretty creative person. But no, I can’t draw a straight line or a black cat in a coal mine at midnight. So, (business buzzword alert) I leveraged my resources and got my husband to draw it for me. He’s a graphic designer. He’s pictures I’m words. I had read a brief write up somewhere once for cafepress and have ordered products from them in the past but got serious and went and read up as much as I could. There wasn’t much actually and here are the distilled, cliff-notes version:

  • create a design
  • upload design to cafepress
  • choose what product to apply design to
  • watch the cash come rolling in

Nice, I thought. So, I got a few designs together via my design team/husband and got to work. There are two ways to sell on cafepress, the first is via a store front which is a template website you set up and have control over. It is free to set up a store if you choose the no up-front option, which I did because let’s face it people I pick up pennies on the street so I’m not likely to pay for anything unproven am I? The second is in their marketplace, which I’ll cover in another post because there is quite a lot to say about the marketplace. After you set up your account you have an option to create a new store. I then spent ages trying to get back to this page before I realized that up in the far right hand corner of the members page is an amorphous blob that is supposed to be a person. Click on this and the drop down menu has a shops option. This is the page you are looking for (sorry but it was just May 4th and the force is strong in me). Anyway, this page is where it’s all happening. This isn’t a tutorial so you’ll have to figure it all out on your own from here – or ask me a question, I’ll answer if I can. The store option is pretty cool though, you get to choose products to apply your designs to, apply them and then choose a mark up. I liked fantasizing how much money I could make. Would anyone pay $169.99 for a king sized duvet cover with my design on? It seems a lot to me, but I am cheap! Maybe it’s not high to others. The base price for that item on cafepress is $159.99 by the way so I would only actually be getting $10 of that $169.99, I’m not gouging or anything. Other items seemed more realistic to me and as I have ordered some of these items in the past I know that the quality and customer service is excellent. I uploaded a few designs and chose products, added write ups and generally noodled around for a day. It was fun. Now I have my own store my husband came up with the name Cursory Rhymes because we take nursery rhymes and monkey with them. I like the tag line “Messing with your childhood for financial gain.” he’s not so sure! Go have a look:   www.cafepress.com/CursoryRhymes. Of course I want some samples to show off, but until someone else buys something I’m going to resist. The next thing to do is get people to visit my store and hopefully buy stuff. Hmmmm. Marketing. Not my strong suit but I am reasonably smart, I’ll have a go. Here is my first design, I love it! Feel free to comment.

 

Money money money

I have been quiet for the last few weeks. Not in my life, just in my blog. I decided to have a bit of a break and focus on just doing stuff. Well, stuff has been done, a lot of stuff.

I decided that my next topic of focus would be financial. With a ton of medical bills arriving we need laser focus for the next few months. Laser, I say. As I am a stay at home parent – and will be for the next four years or so – I feel bad that I don’t bring any money into our lives. There are two ways of attacking this, first save money and them earn some! Simple, right? Right!

I already earn a bit of cash here and there on Amazon’s mTurk. But it can be an enormous time suck for relatively little. For those who don’t know, it is a portal where small jobs or parts of jobs (called hits) are listed for workers to complete. I have completed hits for one penny and hits for $20. I’ve been doing it for over a year now (but not consistently). I usually do this for a thing I want, then transfer the money to my bank account, then stop until I want another thing. It’s reliable and I’ve never had any trouble with it, but it can get incredibly dull and if you don’t choose your hits wisely the hourly wage can be pitiful. Mind you I earned enough to fix our roof so that made me very happy. And I didn’t even have to put office shoes on. I decided to give mTurking another
go being a bit more choosy about what hits I complete. As I can type faster than I can talk I decided to concentrate on transcription tasks and stop after a certain dollar amount each day. It’s a start and as I get a bit more practice in I expect to get faster. It can be interesting too, I have transcribed presentations on investing, blogging (very useful), interviews about football draft picks (less interesting to a UK native who has no clue at all what is going on on the field) and crafting. As I am a keen knitter and recovering crafter I have actually enjoyed these hits. I aim to earn $10 a day but usually get a bit carried away and do a bit more. So $20 a day is good for me, this usually takes me three hours or so. Yes, it’s less than minimum wage but it’s better than nothing. I’m that person who picks up pennies on the ground. Hey, that’s MONEY you are walking by people! Cash money!

To illustrate my point, I put all the money I find on the street and all those dimes that I find in the washing machine in a mason jar in my laundry area. I just needed to buy some laundry detergent ingredients (I make my own more about that another time) and I got it for free (well free to me). That makes me smile!

So for next week, more on earning some cash and more on saving it.

Ps I didn’t get paid or anything to review mTurk, although I probably could somehow! I just thought a real person’s experiences might be useful. I’m happy to answer questions if anyone has any, just leave a comment.

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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.

Advance to Go

The task I set myself this week was continue with the Egoscue method of pain relief. I’m well into my third week of the routine and as now my pain has significantly reduced – by about 80% – I moved into the extra innings exercises. I have found almost immediate relief using this method and was wondering what would happen when I ‘Level Up’ to the additional ones. Would I be totally pain free? Would I be improved Bionic Woman style? Would I now be able to hoist a fallen tree off railroad tracks? As unlikely as that scenario might sound to you, it could happen. It could, I live in a very windy place. Only today a large branch broke off the tree in my back yard. It’s just lucky that there isn’t a metro line running through my back yard or I’d have been in big trouble! So, I got ready to complete a full set of e-cises and…..nothing. No magical improvement at all! I was somewhat disappointed and still not a superhero. I’ve been doing the deluxe version for five days and honestly I think the extra ones are redundant. I’m sure they aren’t really but they take sooo much longer than the first set. (Like 30 minutes more) and worst of all? They are dull! Three of the four are lying down with various legs supported by a chair. Lying down for 25 minutes – at the start of the day when I should be doing other stuff. I’m not much of a lying down kind of person and I suppose it shows how much I’ve improved if I’m itching to get up to do the ironing! There were whole weeks where the ironing never entered my head. Apparently it never entered anyone else’s either because when I finally got around to it yesterday the pile was around three feet tall and I am not exaggerating. It has taken me two mornings of hard labor to get it under control. And as anyone who has had a painful back knows, Ironing is tough on a spine. Oh, I see. Perhaps the ironing marathon has taken it’s toll? I had no idea we had so many clothes. And I don’t iron everything, only collared shirts, pants and the stuff that had been left in the dryer for a week. But perhaps if I continue the e-cises and don’t do four straight hours of twisting at waist level, two days in a row, I might get some better results. Ok. Let’s try that.

Also in the category of probably should have known better, my husband and I finally finished our drought tolerant back yard. Lots of digging (for him) lots of planting (for me) and lots of mulch later (both of us) we are done! This is a project we have been working on since late last year and it feels great to finally have it complete.

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My attempt at Native American art in our now completed drought tolerant back yard.

My next post will show the plants we chose.

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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Even More Disaster

Thinking that my bad back was on the mend I had spent last week back on my feet, still not lifting anything if at all possible but getting on with anything at waist level or above that I could. I decided to concentrate on creativity and decided to rescue an office chair we have had outside since we moved 3 years ago. It was peeling varnish, dog knawed foot bits and covered in dust, dirt and cobwebs. Here’s a pict of before:

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So I cleaned it up, sanded it and painted it. It took me a couple of house to sand it and give it it’s first coat of paint. Several layers of paint later I have a great office chair and the dining room chair can go back into. the dining room.

Cost of project: $16 for the cushion. Everything else we had in our garage
It’s not perfect but I think it looks better.

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So after the weekend I had a productive week until yesterday. My back felt better enough to do a small amount of housework, hemming jeans, doing the ironing etc. I had gotten back to walking the hell hounds every day and finished with my son’s grounding.

Early in the morning, doing nothing but standing still I had a back spasm out of the blue. A big one serious enough to make me think about gathering things to the couch and getting re-started on one of my Mum’s cross stitches and resting for the rest of the day. This I did.

All went well until I started with more and more muscle spasms during the afternoon. Now I should point out that I am in the British mould -tough it out, stiff upper lip, “is it broken or bleeding? No? Shake it off! But after a couple of hours the spasms started getting worse and worse until I was actually screaming in pain. The pain would come at random and I came to be able to feel when they were about to hit and meditate through it sometimes but towards the end even the slightest noise, the dog barking or door opening made me spasm.

My husband came home early and called the doctor who was great and sent a prescription for a muscle relaxant. It didn’t work though and after seeing two spasms (and me screaming through them) he called an ambulance.

Getting onto the gurney was the most excruciating pain I have ever been through (and I gave birth once!). My BP was up around 175/110 and thankfully the paramedics gave me a small shot of morphine to take the edge off the pain. It did help some but only a little.

So I spent yesterday in the ER on shed loads of morphine, carisoprodol, Vicodin, dramadol, and a host of other stuff. After some serious tests (CT scan, ultrasound, blood work) was diagnosed with severe muscle spasms.
After a night in the hospital with wonderful staff and a cocktail of drugs, I was discharged on Friday afternoon.

So here I am, in bed counting the hours until the next pain pill. The spasms are less frequent and weaker so I can move somewhat. But the drugs are making me sleepy again so time to stop for now.

I will not let this totally derail me

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My drought tolerant plants have cheared me up no end!

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.