Terraforming – Here on Earth, and on Mars

We borrowed our friend’s truck and got a couple of loads of free mulch.

I’m taking notes right now for Gliese 581: Zarmina’s World, which is a sequel to Gliese 581: Departure. Some of those notes include one of the sub-stories – the colony on Mars – and their efforts to terraform the red planet.

And I guess that got me to thinking about what I wanted to see in our yard – notably no more grass.

That’s years out, but here is the beginning of it. I’m laying down landscaping fabric and placing a thick layer of mulch on top. I can also do this with cardboard with less effective weed-blocking results.

A bird’s eye view from the upper back porch.

Eventually, these mulched areas will increase, as will the plantings within them. Between them, and around them I will lay brick and stone paths.

Our newest addition – a stray Dave began calling Gray – otherwise known as Porch Cat. He has basically moved in and wants desperately to come INSIDE the house, but we feed him and pet him and assure him that outside is where he is most welcome!

In five years or so, the areas now filled with grass will have bushes, flowers, trees, and groundcover. And it will be absolutely fantastic!

Columbine in bloom

For now, I’ve surrounded three of our trees with mulch and added in a section around the tree stump. Last year I planted daylilies and several other flowering plants there. Some came back, but the whole thing devolved into an overgrown mess. The mulch and landscape fabric will keep that from happening this time.

Today was the perfect day to work on this. It was nice and cool!

I can see it so clearly, the paradise of plants, and paths, that will begin to establish themselves over the next few years. I can’t wait to show you the vision I have of a terraformed yard. I think you will love it!

Our Asian pear is doing well! At its feet are iris, daylily and columbine.

Want free mulch?

If you are a resident of Jackson County you can go to any of three different locations and they will load up the “first ground mulch” for free into your truck. Here is the link.

They also have nicer mulch for sale starting at $16.95 per cubic yard (it’s a truck full).

Posted in Garden Planning, Mulch | 1 Comment

High Hopes and Fingers Crossed

High Hopes and Fingers Crossed

The weather is absolutely beautiful, isn’t it?! I have spent a good deal of the past four days outside gardening.

Just look at that front yard, it is about to take off and start blooming!

We’ve cleared parts of the yard, burned brush, planted seeds, and finished installing the rest of the hanging planters on our wraparound porch.

The hosta is from last year. I’d say it is well-established. This fall I hope to divide them and begin planting them in other shady spots throughout the property.

I’ve worked on the front yard of The Cottage as well, moving forward with plans for plenty of flowers and blooms year-round. It will take a couple of years for everything to fully develop, but we are definitely on our way.

Pretty, pretty tulips!

Ever since those punks hit The Cottage with their trashy graffiti, I have wondered what to do. Should I hold off on beautifying it until we are done with the inside? Do I risk having them damage it further, or even steal plants or planters?

And one of our favorite colors of tulip. As for the creeping charlie you see on the ground. I have given up. It may be a weed, but it is also an excellent groundcover. In some parts of the country, they actually intentionally plant it!

I tussled with this a while.

First iris blooms this year

I’m going forward with plans to create those decorative windows I mentioned in my last post, and I’ve decided to plant plenty of seeds and improve the outside of the building as much as possible.

The daylilies surrounding the TDN sign are well established and should bloom well this year.

This includes:

  • Finishing the painting (we have portions of the west wall that still need the green paint and some of the trim needs a second coat)
  • Transplanting more perennial bulbs and plants
  • Caring for any plants that sprout up
  • Installing the decorative windows in the open spaces of the front porch (they will have flat glass marbles, glued in place and then epoxy over them) with chains above and below anchoring them.
  • Add a tri-fold door to the end of the porch which has been decorated in Zentangle designs
  • Add curtains to the windows which prying eyes can easily access
  • Continue the brick path across the properties to join up with other brick paths

The stump from Thing One (one of the first cottonwood trees we cut down) will be one of the first blooming areas in the yard as I begin my mission of removing the turf and turning over half of an acre into a paradise of flowers, edible fruits, and more.

I guess you could say I’ve got high hopes and my fingers crossed that the punks will leave us alone and realize that this is a cared-for home, even if it isn’t occupied at the moment.

Our Mesabi cherry tree planted this spring. Fedco Trees has plenty of heirloom fruit and nut trees to choose from.

Building Bridges

I’ve gone round and round with the neighbor directly to the west of The Cottage. And I’ve decided on a new tactic…

Look how tall one of our heirloom apple trees has gotten. I think it is at least ten feet tall now.


Is that a word? Why look, it IS a word!

  1. 1.
    the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.
    “pupils draw power from the positivity of their teachers”

I am continuing that brick path heading east towards our house.

In any case, positivity is my weapon of choice these days.

I planted these hanging baskets with a ton of low-growing wildflower seeds, nasturtium, and morning glories. I’m taking a chance here, but I do hope it pays off and no one decides to steal the hanging baskets.

Yesterday, when I was over there transplanting some iris and daylily, he came out. The truth be told, Dale is incredibly lonely. But within moments of greeting me, he begins a tirade of negativity (the opposite of positivity!). Everything from ethnic groups, the government, the homeless and those “awful people across the street” are his target. Everyone, it seems, is his enemy.

Some transplanted iris, daylily and a local perennial.

I tried something different. “Hey Dale, tell me something positive.”

He stopped, smiled a little, and said, “It’s a beautiful day out.”

We will cover the bottom of the deck soon and then I’ll probably transplant some honeysuckle so it will grow up the lattice.

“Yes, it is.”

Later, after course correcting him out of his diatribes a few more times he said, “So I guess what you are saying is that no one wants to hear me be so negative.”

Hmmm…what to do with this interesting piece of stump. Does anyone have any ideas?

I told him, “There’s a time and a place for it. What I’m saying is that, in some ways, I was a lot like you. And everything changed when I changed how I viewed the world. That’s all.”

Here is the other side of it

The way I see it is like this. You can spend your life expecting that folks and fate are going to screw you over, and the world will give you exactly that. Or you can expect that life is good, that most people are innately good, and most likely, the world will respond in kind.

The jerks that tagged The Cottage were punks. They made our pretty little house look like trash. But I can also point to a dozen people (at least) who have told me how pretty it is, remarked on how much they liked what we were doing, and even in a couple of instances, run off n’er-do-wells.

Our new firepit. It’s way too small. I prefer the industrial size, burn a car in it size, but unfortunately, the fire department would object.

I really wish I had gotten to see the little old ladies across the street from me hollering at some punks trying to break into the back of it last year. They ran those kids off before they had a chance to get up to mischief.

We brought the elephant ear outside and after months of low, indirect light, it is in deep shock. Dave watered it well. It will recover. No worries!

It is that memory that I hold close when I saw the graffiti. Not the other way around. You get out of this world exactly what you expect from it.

In any case, that was my bridge-building for the day.

High hopes, fingers crossed, and shoring up that old bridge. I will continue to hope for the best.

Each year my garden gets better and better. I love gardening!

Posted in Challenges, Community, Garden Planning, Goals/Dreams, The Cottage | Leave a comment

Spring Has Finally Sprung!

With the warmer weather comes all sorts of interesting (and sometimes annoying) folks.

Take the turds who did this to The Cottage sometime on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning…

And a close up…


So we painted over it, and I decided it was time to get the rest of the porch painted.

When our contractor up and abandoned us in December, I figured it was for the best. I had paid out over $6,000 in wages and didn’t have much to show for it. I’m all for high quality of work, but an unfinished job is just that – an unfinished job. At some point, you need to show up and get it done or bow out and let someone else clean up your half-finished mess.

The city codes inspector showing up on a sunny day in February lit a fire under my butt. We had to get the porch finished and the back wall of The Cottage covered with new siding (we had torn off the rotting lap siding and just had a Tyvek wrap on it).

I bit the bullet and hired a local contractor. They finished the porch in record time. And I hated it, but chalked it up to being my fault. I had simply said, “finish it” and given no input on how I wanted it finished. Most of the 4×4 timbers were split and/or gouged, the joins were terrible (gaps, screws showing), and I just paid the money and figured “heck, it’s DONE, right?”

Every time I look at the porch, I find myself hating it. This is what comes from feeling like my back was up against the wall. My dreams for a Craftsman style porch may be realized in a decade or so, but for now, what I have will do.

A homeschooling mama friend of mine had a great idea. “Paint it the same color as the house,” she suggested, “and then possibly hang drapes to soften it.”

The fence before being painted (and before the taggers got busy).

So I took the first half of the suggestion and implemented it. I will add the curtains in the corners later. The entire porch, including the floorboards, are now painted. And man oh man, it already looks better!

I think the paint really pulls it all together, don’t you? If you look close, you can see our brand-new sensor light mounted in the porch ceiling.

Dave installed a motion sensor light in the ceiling of the front porch on Saturday night and then today he installed a burglar alarm.

pssst, would be burglars…It’s REALLY LOUD!

Next weekend we will install the motion sensor floodlights in the back.

Sloppy workmanship…

As you can see from the picture above, the 4×4 in the background is split, along most of its length. The one in the front was missing a chunk. Other 4×4 pieces are shredded in spots, and split in others. I have to wonder if they grabbed every crappy piece of wood they could find and assembled on the porch, just for me.

And did I mention that the porch does not actually fall within code? I’ve had two neighbors give me that bad news. I’ll figure out what to do about this later, but I hope to distract codes guy by hanging painter’s tarp curtains at the corners.

I’m also considering attaching some of the old windows. They will be fastened in place on the top and bottom with chain, and they will be decorated with designs in different colors of flat glass marbles.

Something like this…


Anyway, the idea is still brewing, so we will see how it plays out.

I also did a bit of gardening and laid some more brick down to begin working on a path that will eventually wind its way through the yard to our own front door.

I lay the bricks in place for months, then return and set them into the ground over pea gravel, with sand to hold them in place once they have compacted the earth a bit.

The tree stump has been filled with dirt and I’ve added a variety of flower seed in it. Hopefully this stump will be hopping with flowering plants in another month.

Around the base I’m planting perennials like daylilies.

All of the work from the years before is really showing. Here is a look down the edge of the city sidewalk. We have tulips, daylilies, and iris popping up and promising months of blooms!

There’s nothing quite like spring for the promise of flowers to come!

Already the bleeding hearts are blooming.

So I’m moving away from bulb planting to shrub planting. At least for this year. And to that end, I ordered a whole bunch of flowering shrubs and some trees from USA Nursery last night.

I, um, got a little carried away. I ordered:

  • 3 Hydrangea
  • 26 Althea (very small ones, I’ll probably need to grow them in buckets before transplanting them next year)
  • 15 Crape Myrtle
  • 40 Rugosa Rose (also very small)
  • 3 Forsythia
  • 5 Lilac
  • 4 Pussy Willow
  • 2 Rhododendron
  • 2 PawPaw trees
  • 2 Red Chokeberry
  • 6 Fountain Grass
  • 3 Burning Bush

So, that all adds up to 111 plants.

I’m not sure what happened. The free shipping and buttload of free plant offers just sucked me in. I spent $140, so that isn’t so bad, right? It ends up being, what, $1.26 per plant?

In any case, that’s IT for plant shopping for me for the year. I haven’t told my husband how many plants are coming in, he would absolutely freak. I’ll have to run by Suburban Lawn and Garden within the next week and get a bunch of their leftover empty garden pots that they give away for free. I’ll line up the Althea, and Rugosa Rose plants in those until they are at least a year older and I can see where they are once I plant them.

USA Nursery ships them at a 6-12″ size, so they are very small.

The Rosa Rugosa is a rosebush that grows up to 3-5 feet tall and forms a rather nasty hedge of thorny mayhem, which is softened only by the pretty blooms. The way I see it, the plant is hell to try and get through and that makes it perfect as a guardian for the back border of our property.

May your fences be pretty, yet sharp and thorny.

We also planted three fruit trees and four gooseberry bushes this weekend. The gooseberry bushes look absolutely lovely. I found them at Scenic Hill Farms and they are LARGE. I can’t wait to see them established and producing. Did you know that a mature plant can produce up to six pounds of fruit per year?

I’m reducing the size of my main garden, so we actually put some of the conditioned soil to work and planted the gooseberries in the southernmost row of the garden.

I’ve never eaten gooseberry pie. I hope I like it!

What are your garden plans?


Posted in Garden Planning, The Cottage, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

This Weekend’s Work


Bring on the Army!

The visit from the city earlier in the week lit a fire under my butt. So I called on some of those priority fixes…

  1. Stabilize The Cottage by finishing the south back wall with siding (the old lap siding had deteriorated too badly to keep), fix a small hole in the west wall, and finish the front porch.
  2. Get the two trees cut down (the maple tree in the dog yard that was very shallow-rooted and too close to the houses and the tall cottonwood tree near our fire pit)

I made some calls and picked an excellent tree guy Vic Vickers and also a highly recommended contractor – Lon Dorsey for the work.

They were able to come by, take a look at the property and give me quotes that were affordable. Little did I realize how quickly things would move – when I accepted their quotes, both parties said they could be here on Saturday!

And so here we are, Vic and his workers tackling both trees at once. And Lon Dorsey’s crew working on the porch today and knocking out the siding on Monday.

It is all quite exciting.

Gas Main Work

Meanwhile, our street is looking rather frightful. The city is replacing what I can only imagine is the original gas line in the area. This has entailed digging up enormous swaths of sidewalk, and then expanding to large, deep holes in the street pavement, all on the south side of the street.

Each time I’ve had to take my dad to an appointment it feels as if we are threading the eye of the needle, carefully moving around monstrous gaping holes and torn up sidewalk before crossing the street (far too slowly for my comfort) to get into the van on the opposite side.

The upside of this that we will have a brand-new safer gas main. The downside is of course, very limited parking options, a mess of mammoth proportions, and huge yellow pipes being assembled on our land.

The cost for all of the tree work was dramatically reduced when we told them we would not need them to haul it away. This means plenty of work for us over the next few months. We will create hugelkultur and mushroom growing biomes (more on that in another post). It saves us hundreds, and puts the wood to work.

I should have stronger upper arm strength by the end of it!


Magic in The Kitchen

Color me excited, but I made two new recipes today and I was oh so very proud of myself!

I had bought a head of cauliflower with the nebulous idea of making cauliflower cheese soup. I had forgotten this, and the cauliflower, for several weeks until this morning at breakfast.

Breakfast on one of the weekend days usually turns into a menu planning session. And since we were so busy yesterday, this morning ended up being the day for it. As I was thinking of meals, I spied my newest cookbook, one I picked up at World Market a weekend ago…

I hadn’t made anything out of it yet, but when my eyes fell on the recipe for Vegetarian Samosas, I was dying to try it out! It also asked for some cauliflower, so my mind was made up – dinner would be Cauliflower Cheese Soup and Samosas.

They turned out fabulous, but I marked the changes I would make next time. Oh, and we didn’t have black mustard seeds, yellow mustard seeds worked just as well.

Mix cuisines? Why not?!

Dave ate FOUR of these suckers. I look forward to obtaining some tamarind pulp so that we can make the tamarind dipping sauce next time. And a huge thanks to my husband for helping me create this recipe!

The Cauliflower Cheese Soup was kind of a fusion between a cream of vegetable and cheese soup. So I borrowed some ideas from two recipes in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Here is what I came up with:

  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 1/4 of an onion, finely diced (the rest of the onion went into the samosa)
  • 1 head of cauliflower, diced
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 cup American cheese, shredded (or torn into pieces)
  • 1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

Combine the chicken stock with the vegetables and bring to a boil over medium heat, cooking until vegetables are soft.

In a bowl, whisk the milk, cream, flour and seasonings together. Add to the broth and vegetables and stir until it has thickened and is bubbling. Reduce heat to its lowest setting and add the cheeses, stirring until fully melted. Serve immediately.

Two wins in the kitchen today!

Posted in Permaculture, Projects, Recipes, The Cottage | Comments Off on This Weekend’s Work

The Multi-Generational Family

Within seconds of waking up this morning, before my eyes had fully focused in the gloom, I was hit with yet another epiphany.

All of my life I’ve dreamed of what it would be like to have a multi-generational family under one roof, and now I have it.

And the reality is nothing like I imagined it.

As a child, I grew up missing my grandfathers. One died months before I was born and the other died when I was just six. I remember visiting my paternal grandfather’s grave with my grandmother. We brought plastic flowers and put them there near the simple plaque that rested on the ground. I cried for the man I had never met. Everyone told me that he was so looking forward to meeting me, that he would have loved me.

By that time, I was seven, and had recently lost my maternal grandfather, who I had only a few happy memories of visiting. A big man who smelled of pipe tobacco and gave me bone-cracking hugs, he had died soon after we moved far away, to Flagstaff, Arizona.

I felt robbed. What had I done to earn such misfortune? Not only were my grandfathers gone, but my great-grandparents were all long dead as well. I envied those who had multiple generations in their lives. I read about them in books, imagined what it would be like to grow up in a house with parents, grandparents, and siblings.

My reality was far different. There was me and there was my dad. Or sometimes, my mom. My parents had divorced a few months before my mom’s dad had died and we were 1,000 miles from our nearest relatives, nearly all of them in Missouri. It was a solitary existence, one that would haunt me for decades.

That last sentence sounded rather melodramatic, but it is the truth. In some ways, I feel as if I have been battling loneliness all of my life. Perhaps it is why I started a family at the age of 18. I wanted to live my life surrounded by family – and if I had to make it happen by myself then so be it.

And just as I dreamed of having children, I dreamed also of the “good old days” when aging parents were taken care of, not in this new normal of nursing homes and retirement communities, but at home, with their families, where they belonged.

I saw worth in it. I imagined what my grandfathers could have taught me. The stories they could have told me, the things that they had seen. I dreamed of what it could have been like for me, surrounded by love, not alone in apartments and houses for hours on end, with books and television my only companions.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.”

And this morning I realized that I have continued to work towards that goal, that of the multi-generational family, all of my life. I have always seen its worth.

Dream and reality aren’t the same, though. Reality is far more messy.

Reality is that I can count the bones on my father’s body as I bathe him. They are better now, not so obvious now that he has gained ten pounds under my care. His clothes fit better, his attention span lasts longer, and he is improving.

Reality is that my eldest daughter wants nothing to do with him. NOTHING. He has asked, and I have explained, as best as I could, that their relationship is their own to fix, and not something I will involve myself in.

Reality is that we have pooled our resources and that, for however long this lasts, it benefits all involved. I am home more, the house runs relatively smoothly and is cleaner and more meals are fixed here. We are not suffering, and there are financial and emotional rewards to this new paradigm.

It also means that when my dad blew his whistle to call me last night, waking me up from sleep, it was to ask for band-aids to be put all over his feet as a “preventative measure” for the diabetic neuropathy he continues to deny he has. I said “no” by the way and grumpily told him to please refrain from waking me up with weird fixes for known issues.

It means learning things that I never knew, or don’t remember. Hearing the stories for the first time as he shares his wealth of knowledge and experiences gained over the past seventy years.

Reality is having to endure for the 126th time, the “novel” business idea (i.e. scheme for how to use other people’s money) to fund his unrealistic dreams for when he “returns to Panama and builds that Queen Anne.”

It means involving him in Em’s homeschooling. “Read to him from your Time Life for Kids series,” I say. She does, and he listens and then shares a story with her. She remains lukewarm towards him, but I hope that will change, that he will tell her some funny stories and that she will find worth and interest in him.

Reality is that some days he loves my cooking and other times he doesn’t. “These aren’t REAL tacos,” he says, frowning at the crunchy taco shell I bought at Aldi’s. “Someday I’ll show you what REAL tacos are like.” I say nothing some days, other times I snap back at him.


It means that there is another adult to talk to and spend time with each day. But someone who needs me, too, which has its moments of nice. I’m busy showing him all of the interesting series on Netflix as well – Sense8, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and more. We have established a routine of sorts.

Reality is that he can be petulant, demanding, imperious and a general asshole.

Yes, I just called my dad an asshole. And he is. Just as he can be sweet and kind and thoughtful.

He’s a human being, after all, and we all have a little (or lot) of asshole in us.

The end result of all of this? Two months ago (plus one day), I boarded a plane to Panama City, Panama. I had no idea what was going to happen or how radically my life would change. And for all of the positives, there are negatives. For all of the ups, there are downs. But one lone fact remains.

I dreamed of a life with a multi-generational family. I wanted it, desperately. That lonely little girl, with hours and hours and HOURS of just tv and books and the occasional interactions with children she did not understand or could not relate to, grew up. And she got that life she dreamed of, with all of the twists and turns she couldn’t even conceptualize of at the time.

She got her wish. It might not be in the neat little package she imagined. It might have manifested with puke in the sink and shit on the floor. Tears, laughter, mad as hell moments, and a lot of repeated “to the LEFT!” as a walker scrapes paint off of a door older than either of them. It may be full of interrupted sleep, multiple doctor visits and an army of home health nurses. It might mean that your relationship with your eldest is strained and silent and painful and the break she and you both have taken feels like abandonment. It might mean that your youngest still has a way to go before she sees the old man in the front parlor as anything more than a pain in the ass she does not understand.

But like Eleanor said, “Life is what you make it.”

And overall? Life is good.

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Bathtub Epiphanies

All it took was lukewarm water to cement the idea in my head.

Well, that and a stolen wheelbarrow.

I’ll explain.

On Saturday, the weather was fantastic, and I was eager to get back out in the yard and get to work. I had already raked most of the leaves from the front and east side yard. I had disposed of trash, mounded the leaves into a nice hump at the base of our curved front porch, and even stomped them down. They will create a lovely nitrogen-rich base for planting after I add some soil to the top of them, put in the plants, and then mulch on top.

That was Thursday’s work.

On Saturday I was determined to continue clear dead brush, fallen branches from the trees, and any additional leaves. The sticks and brush would go in the burn pile, the leaves into the garden for additional mulch.

The wheelbarrow, however, was nowhere to be found.

This is a direct result of our trusting natures. We assume that folks will not come onto our property and steal from us. For the most part, that’s true. We have honestly had very good luck with that, despite there being no fence (other than the one enclosing the dog yard).

And we have put off putting a fence in because we did not own a contiguous line of property until November. Now we can enclose it, and started to work on the fence late last year, just in time for the cold weather to set in.

As I settled into the bathtub, the hot water fully open and the cold water fully closed, the water was warm enough, for a while. By the time the tub was filled, it was only lukewarm water coming from the tap.

Our water heater is from 1983 and has been on a death watch for the past four years.

This, combined with the theft of our wheelbarrow, made me realize that we needed to rearrange our priorities this year. Instead of focusing on The Cottage, we need to address some real issues here at our house. Here is the list I came up with:

  • Finish installing back fence
  • Order storm doors and have them installed
  • Buy new water heater
  • Finish tuckpointing foundation inside and outside (get it DONE this year!)
  • Install front fence and enclose entire property (put locks on all of the gates)
  • Replace attic stair treads
  • Take down Thing 3 (a cottonwood that causes Dave and the kiddo no end of allergy misery each year), trim the old tree nearest to The Cottage, and remove the maple inside of the dog yard (this tree is too close to the house, has a very shallow root system and could seriously damage the house if it were felled in a storm.

The Cottage needs a few more fixes to be stabilized, though. Those include:

  • Install burglar alarm (this weekend)
  • Back wall siding (contract this out)
  • Fix hole on west side (contract this out)
  • Re-attach drain pipe (this weekend)
  • Clear front yard (I’ll handle during the week)
  • Cut down tree (contract this out)
  • Clear brush in back, along with tarps, spread grass seed (2/25 & 2/26)
  • Re-install steps to back door (2/25 & 2/26)
  • Plant hill with more perennials (I’ll handle during this week)

The Cottage, once it has these fixes, will be stable. It has a new roof, new windows, and it will be protected from any possible break-ins until we can resume work on it next year. We are on track to pay off all of the debts incurred with the fixes so far by April 2019 and still have a budget for future fixes/work.

Meanwhile, we can direct some of our funds towards the much-needed repairs and fixes on our property, which will make it safer and no longer be a pass-through free supply store for miscreants to easily access.

Bathtub epiphanies are quite productive!

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My New Life

Yes, my dad now lives in my front parlor. It was an underused section of our home, so it works out quite well!

I’ve been pretty quiet, but that is because I’m getting used to this new life – one in which I’m the primary caregiver to my dad. It takes up most of my days, between multiple home health visits, to doctor’s appointments, and occasionally I get to escape and go to [drum roll please] clean other people’s houses.

It is…challenging.

So much of what has happened in the past month has unfolded on Facebook, so while it may seem as if I’ve bene remarkably close-mouthed, it has been because I’ve already said it on Facebook, or directly in the new manuscript When God Laughs.

I have to treat this as an opportunity because in many ways it is one. I am tethered here to this house, but I’m also here, near my computer.

The Little Engine That Could is a lesson I learned early in life. One for which my dad is rather grateful he taught me!

Right now, I feel like a short order cook. I’m still on a learning curve as far as cooking for a diabetic diet, which is necessary to deal with my dad’s Type 2 diabetes and my own pre-diabetes. Today I met with a dietitian who helped me get some meal plans going.

I’ve juggled doctor’s visits, applications for Medicaid, and a ton of home health visits. I am also struggling with my own health issues which include plantar fasciitis in my right foot and a recurring spasm running up and down my back. And I’m not lucky enough to have health insurance.

Soon I hope to be back in the swing of things – creating art, gardening (counting the days until spring arrives!), cooking and more.

I’m a big believer in the saying, “When one door closes another one opens.” I also believe in rolling with the punches. Take the situation at hand and make the best of it. Staying here, in my new role as caretaker, allows me to focus on home, writing, and family. And when I look at it that way, a livable pattern emerges which gives me a plan of action.

More writing, more time for home, more cooking adventures, and more time for art and gardening. Watch out, world!

These two make my life really shine. Every day!

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I Just Call It Nesting

A lovely little spot to sit and relax in our bedroom suite. This is the room our bed used to be in.

A friend asked me the other day what I was doing for self-care. The answer is a little odd, but, in times of stress, I tend to nest.

I guess I wouldn’t consider it self-care, because I’m inevitably moving heavy furniture in and out of rooms, pushing, shoving, and generally creating a mess of belongings that need to be re-distributed throughout the rest of the house.

Since the eldest has moved out, well, even before, I had promised my dear husband a bigger room for his office. He is the main breadwinner, yet he has the smallest room (other than a bathroom) in the house for his office.

A view from the “inner room” to the new sitting room and the hallway beyond. And my sweet Bella, sitting pretty as you please.

I suggested we move his desk into the room vacated by Danielle and possibly put the treadmill in it as well…and maybe the dog cages too. And then the small old office could fit a double bed, nightstand and maybe a dresser. It would be cramped, which was kind of perfect. It gives off that “you are welcome to stay, but not for too long” kind of feel.

Instead, the old office is now a mess of two dog cages, a large aquarium, and a treadmill lodged in the middle. So much for that guest room…

Meanwhile, while we were moving furniture around, I had a vision for how I wanted our double bedroom to look. Our room consists of two 12×12 bedrooms with a wide opening between them. And for the last couple of years, the king-size bed has been in the “outer room” which is closest to the hallway. The bed filled the room, giving it a cramped feeling, and the dog kennels and treadmill in the “inner room” made it a hodge podge of underused space.

So we switched things around, putting the king bed into the “inner room” and turning the “outer room” into a place for my dressers and a sitting area, complete with the marble-topped table that was displaced by my dad moving into our front parlor.

I spent the day on Sunday moving things about.

Now that I have a proper sitting room, I think I need to get to work on putting something on those blank walls. What do you think?

The marble topped table that was in my front parlor before my dad moved in. The wooden sculpture was created by my maternal uncle and The Little Engine That Could was a mantra of my parents whenever I cried and said I couldn’t do anything. It kind of symbolizes how I live my life – never give up!

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Sometimes It Takes a Village

Dad looking spiffy now that he is clean-shaven and had a bath.

Well, folks, I’m back home in the States, albeit $4,000 and eleven pounds lighter.

My dad’s finances were drained by the three different hospital stays and medical expenses. I spent money I didn’t have getting there, staying there, and coming back.

All in all, it’s been a lot of stress, with plenty of challenging moments.

We flew back on New Year’s Day and that was an exhausting experience all on its own. We spent a day recuperating (sort of) and friends came over and were kind enough to give Dad the bath he had been looking forward to so much.

The front parlor has room for two chairs, a twin bed and a desk. He has everything he needs. I even found curtains for the transition into the living room.

Yesterday, however, was spent waiting in a clinic, then going to the ER at Truman Medical Center, and ending with an admission to the hospital. They are concerned about his weight loss, anemia, and possible internal bleeding.

I’ve managed two nights’ of halfway decent sleep – the first in over two weeks. And I will be leaving soon to visit my Dad in the hospital.

I am an incredibly independent and resourceful creature. I scrimp and save, and do whatever I can to make those dollars work for me. But this? This has really pushed us to the wall. My dad doesn’t get much in Social Security and we are also facing penalties for him not signing up for Medicare Part B at age 65. (He was in Panama and thought he would stay there forever, so it made sense at the time) Also, he won’t be eligible for Part B for six months, so any non-hospital fees are completely on him (and consequently us).

The pocket doors in the front entry open and allow easy access to the front door or the bathroom.

I need help.

He needs help.

If you have any to spare, even ten dollars, it would help. In a few weeks, I’ve got a credit card bill due that is rather…intimidating. And I can use all the help I can get.

Here is the link. I hope you will be able to help and also to share it with your friends and family. It would really make my day.

GoFund Me for Dad’s medical expenses

Meanwhile, I’ve been nesting and doing my best to create a safe, comfortable and welcoming room for him in our house. We took these photos yesterday…

He might be in the hospital now, but today or tomorrow I hope to bring him back home where he belongs.

He told my husband that while he was in the Panamanian hospital, he saw patients surrounded by family. He said that he realized then that he might die, alone, without anyone who loved him. He told Dave, “Thank you for opening your home to me.”

My dad and I have had our differences, and I have no illusions that it will be smooth sailing from here on out. But I know this – his presence in my home is a welcome one. For as long as he has, I hope that he knows he has a place here in our lives.

That is what I want for my family.

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And…I’m in Panama

Sunrise – shot from the first flight from Kansas City to Houston

For those of you who aren’t connected with me on Facebook…SURPRISE! I’m in Panama City, Panama!

Leaving Houston on the way to Miami

That sounds much more upbeat than what it has actually been. See, this hasn’t exactly been a touristy fun kind of visit.

I didn’t get to see the Panama canals, but I did see plenty of container ships leaving and heading for the open sea.

My dad has lived in Panama for about 15 years now. He’s an American citizen, born here in Missouri, but he has always loved traveling.

A shot from the taxi window – Panama City, Panama

As he has aged, and reported falling and various other medical issues – like diabetes and the vision issues that often accompanies diabetes – I have worried. But my dad is rather obstinate (that is a significant understatement, by the way). He has lived his life on his terms.

Camilo, the taxi driver who is a friend of the owner of the house I’m staying it. Camilo keeps trying to teach me Spanish. And I’m a willing but incompetent student. “Oh Christina, tu Espanol es pequito mal!” Yes it is, Camilo, yes it is.

Last Monday, December 19th, was to be a “writing day.” The kiddo was off at a friend’s for a playdate, my husband was working, and I, I was going to hit my current manuscript full force.

By 12:30 I had over 1,200 words written and I took a break to eat a bit of lunch. At 12:45, just as I had resumed writing, the phone rang. I looked at the number, didn’t recognize it, and considered not answering.

This is Timothy, my dad’s childhood bear. Timothy travels everywhere with Dad. He has never left him behind.

Too many years in call centers and in offices precluded that. And I’m glad I did, because the person on the other end was a friend of my dad’s calling to let me know he was very ill and currently in a Panamanian hospital.

My dad in Hospitale Santa Fe in Panama City, Panama.

Less than 48 hours later I was on a plane flying out of the country for the first time, terrified of the situation I would find, and completely lost in a foreign country. Did I also mention that my knowledge of the Spanish language is pretty much nonexistent?!

A street near the house where I am staying

There have been many ups and downs since as I struggled to orient myself in Panama City, deal with bureaucracy and medical issues, and even the task of finding food and transport and lodging.

It has been a terrifying, stressful, and sometimes exhilarating ride – and it isn’t done yet.

View of the Panama City skyline from my dad’s doctor’s office

I’ve had to deal with issues like – expired visas, learning how to care for my father, arrange for tickets, and monitor his medical issues with as much dignity and respect as I can.

My father is practically a skeleton, has aged decades in just one short year, and is suffering from out of control diabetes, severe malnutrition, a head wound, memory issues, prostate issues, bowel issues and is very frail.

A view of the Panama City skyline from my dad’s doctor’s office

Our plane tickets were purchased for the earliest possible departure date, Sunday, and I have just one piece of paper left to procure for Immigration. I have managed to secure the help of one of his friends here, Nanci, who speaks very good English, and my new friend Camilo, a taxi driver to make sure we make it to the airport on time.

There have been so many dragons to defeat and mountains to climb in the past eight days since my boots hit the ground here. I can’t do it justice in just one post. Suffice it to say, my life, as well as the lives of my children, husband and dad are going to change significantly in the coming weeks and months as we learn to incorporate my obstinate and willful father into our family dynamic. I will be learning what it is to be a caretaker too. Our lives are changing in a massive way.

I’m also going to write a book on this whole experience. I’m titling it, “When God Laughs.”

That fateful Monday, I had declared the day to be a “writing day.” And you may have heard the saying, “Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.”

This artwork that I was working on the day before THE CALL hits too close to home with the idea of travel and roads.

More later, when I’m back stateside.

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