Monday, July 18, 2022

First Big Project of 2022

In late May, we made the decision to remove ten ailing blue spruce trees from the southwest side of the Formal Garden.  The trees were planted in 1992 and they had served their purpose.  Colorado blue spruce really don't last long in our high Wisconsin humidity and fall subject to needle cast in their twenties, leaving them with bare branches and looking very sad.  Time for a change.

We had a rock wall to move that was in the midst of the trees.  Joel came when he had time at night to lend us a hand.

 



The spruce trees were really on their last legs.  In 2019, the year we remodeled (and the roof was off) we had water standing on the lawn (and in five gallon pails in the house) for months which took a toll on the trees.
Carl and Joel cut the trees down and we limbed them up and made piles of the logs.  Luckily our neighbor was willing to take them for firewood.
Our granddaughter, Audrey, just turned six and is a great help around the garden.  Here she is doing her best to use the cant hook to turn the log over.

The log is winning!
After the trees were cut down over the course of two weeks, the next step was removing the stumps.  Joel has been encouraging me to learn to drive the excavator, and with his tutelage, I was able to pick up some branches and rocks.  Digging stumps, however, I left up to him.

After the stumps were removed we decided to transplant some young cedars into the place the old spruce trees stood.  We'd bought just over a dozen two foot tall 'North Pole' arborvitae several years ago when they were on clearance at a big box store and planted them out back in a holding area in case we needed them someday.

Below, the start of the twelve trees being planted.

The 'North Pole' trees had grown to around five feet over the last few years and though they are definitely a lot smaller than the spruce they replaced, we're getting used to the view.  At first, there's always the panic of wondering if we've done the right thing after tree removal.  As fate would have it, the very next week the severe storm went through, so we probably would have lost the mature trees anyway.  As it was, all the young cedars were tipped out of the ground by the high winds, but after standing them back up, they are fine.


The tiny cedars in the foreground look pretty silly in comparison to the still-standing spruce in the background, but in time we hope it looks less goofy.  In the rest of the now sunny spot we've now got, we planted a small vegetable garden.  I bought some onion seeds this spring and was pleased when all 120 of them germinated, along with 50 green peppers, a dozen tomatoes and over 100 ground cherry plants.  I'm not sure what we'll do with all of the ground cherries, but the plants are already producing.  

Further down in the lower part of the lawn, near to the creek bottom, we planted four River Birch as they can tolerate wetter soil conditions.  The trees are very small, but we got them for under $30 a piece and with a little luck, may see them grow a bit yet.


 

The old spruce trees had cast a lot of shade on the Formal Garden, but now that they're gone, the hostas don't seem to be suffering very much.  In fact, they seem to be enjoying the additional light.  The garden is less gloomy.



 
After the cedars were planted, we also removed two smaller raised beds that I'd given up on, 'Thing One and Thing Two'.  We are trying to downsize every year for the sake of maintenance.  My cancer diagnosis last year was the push we needed to make more sweeping changes faster, as the garden is too big for one person alone to handle.  We have to accept the fact we're not getting any younger and put more back into lawn and less into planting spaces.


We took the big rocks from the two abandoned beds and made another small wall in the shady area by the old footbridge.  Rocks don't need weeding and it looks pretty good for now.  Thank goodness for the old wrecker.

Carl had another rock he wanted to bring over from his dad's place so he took our tractor and the wrecker to fetch it a few weeks ago.  I followed with the car as he had to go down the busy highway and two sideroads with the rock swinging to and fro.  


I kept my distance, but no worries, the rock stayed in the chains until we got home.


We placed it in the hosta bed in the backyard.  More rocks, less weeding.  (More headaches for whoever takes this place over after we're gone.)  

I think this will be the only big garden project this year.  Weeding was the next thing to accomplish and we barely finished going through all the beds last week Saturday, just in time for the garden walk on Sunday, July 10.  

In February a garden club called and asked if we would join five other gardens for a garden walk scheduled for July 23.  We agreed, but a few weeks ago, I received another call and the organizers decided the walk was canceled.  I did plant a lot more flowers this year in anticipation, but, well, stuff happens.  The July 10 group seemed to think the yard was ok.  

The worst part of getting ready for garden walks, is getting ready for garden walks, if you know what I mean.  Weeding, primping, pruning, tidying up, putting hoses, wheelbarrows, stuff away, sweep the porch, wash the windows, rake the driveway, deadhead everything, it all takes a vast amount of time and energy.  It's almost like taking a final exam in school and being timed on the test.  When the bus pulls in, it's time to put down your shovels.  Time's up.  

Anyway, the July 10 tour group was very kind and made all the work worth it.  It would have been nice to have two in a row since, as Carl says, 'The garden's all dressed up and has nowhere to go.'  If all goes well, we'll still have our annual booyah party in August, so at least a few more people will hopefully enjoy the views.   




 Our next step is to start at the beginning of the gardens and go through them one more time, weeding and deadheading, which shouldn't be as bad as the first time through, since we were able to mulch fairly heavily.  My back has been giving me a lot of trouble lately, even before gardening season (gardening actually makes it feel better, it's getting out of a chair and sleeping that's been a problem) so I was sent off to a pain management doctor for an MRI and found I have degenerative disc disease.  I went through two experimental injection sessions to the medial branch nerves which worked for a few hours, so the next step is to try a medial branch ablation procedure which may (or may not) provide relief for six months to a year or more.  The first procedure is the end of the month.  I'm not looking forward to it, but we'll see how it goes.

 


Maybe we'll have to switch to gardening in raised beds. 

 

 


Friday, July 15, 2022

Stormy June

 One month ago, Wednesday, June 15, 2022, a severe storm ripped through our neighborhood.  Weather warnings had been ongoing all day long and when I saw that a prominent storm chasing YouTuber named Reed Timmer was tornado hunting in Wisconsin, it wasn't a good sign.  We had been weeding all day in the high heat and humidity and when the sky turned dark at around 5:30 pm we decided to retreat to the house. 

I had just poured a glass of water when Carl said, "Do you hear it?"

Yes, I did.  The sound of a freight train approaching and coming in fast.

I took my beverage and headed downstairs to the basement.  Seated on a chair in the midst of the clutter we have still to deal with since the remodel, I sighed with a rather defeatist attitude.  Of course it is the safest course of action to go to the basement during a storm, but even beyond safety reasons, I had no desire to watch our house be destroyed in less than a minute. 

Carl opted to stay seated in our bay window overlooking the garden, which of course, is not a safe option, but almost identical to the way things went in the early 1980's when the last tornado tore up our neighborhood and my father's barn with it. 

At that time, Carl had remained upstairs taking photos of the most alarming lightning we'd ever seen in our 23 years of life while I was cowering in the basement with our German Shepherd dog, Sparky.  As the storm grew increasingly worse and the power went out, I remember yelling for Carl until he finally relented and came downstairs to join us.  As the storm started to abate, I climbed up on a chair to look out the west basement window and at the next lightning flash, I said, "Dad's barn is gone."  

 We gingerly climbed up the basement stairs to see if we still had a roof, and miraculously, our house and my parents were entirely intact, but the path of destruction through the neighborhood and beyond was terrible.  Luckily, we lost no cattle and no one was hurt, but it was a mess back then.

Below is a before and after of our barn in 1980.

 

 

I'm also including a link to my post of that storm: Our Barn

Fast forward 40 years and the storm path was nearly identically repeated, only this time just a quarter-mile to our west.  I went out on the front porch to see how the house had fared and a car turned into our driveway.  

A man rolled down his window and yelled, "Are you okay?!" 

I gave him the thumb's up and he waved and headed back west.  He'd had to turn around because a huge oak tree had come down in the woods and landed entirely across the road. 

Joel called me and said that the big cottonwood tree was down on the northwest corner of the farm.  The tree was a landmark for us as it was huge for as long as I could remember. 

The pictures below are from a few years ago:


 After the 1981 storm, the cottonwood had taken a beating, too, and it bore the scars of having been struck by lightning many times. 

Now, it is no more.


While I was still on the phone with Joel that night, he said, "Oh, no! Dale's barn is down, too!"

 Dale is the young farmer who has been renting our land for over a decade.  What a mess he has to deal with, and how eerily similar to the storm 41 years ago and our barn's destruction.

The neighbors have been helping each other with what they can, luckily no one was hurt.  Our area was hit very hard by this storm, trees were down, roof damage, barns and sheds destroyed and at least  one home was damaged beyond repair.

We drove our excavator over to the barn site at 1AM to avoid highway traffic.  Joel assisted with removing the biggest parts of the wreckage.





 Clean up is still ongoing a month later.

We were without power from Wednesday, June 15 until Sunday, June 19, at 7PM.  This is the longest stretch of power outage I can remember in sixty-four years.  The damage was so extensive; we had crews from Iowa and a few other states here working on the downed power lines all over the county.

Once again, we were lucky that our house was spared.  A big spruce and part of a cedar went down near the garden, but didn't wreck anything else.  We lost about fifteen trees in the Back Eight that we're taking our time dealing with and at Carl's parent's property, there's another dozen that are out by the roots, but no damage to buildings.  

The power outage was a bit of a dilemma, though we were lucky to own a generator and that we'd just had it tuned up by a friend of Joel's a month earlier.  We could keep the freezers and sump pump going by running the generator for a few hours.  Also, luckily for all of us, the temperatures remained cool for the five days after the storm, not the 90's we'd had before.  Living in the country, when the power goes out, there's no water either, so bathing is out of the question.  Our nearby towns were without power, too, so if we needed groceries and gasoline for the generators we had to drive to Green Bay. 

Our friend Ann came on Saturday with hot water in insulated jugs so we could wash our hands and do some dishes.  What a blessing that was!  In between times, Carl and I kept weeding the garden during the day here and there and life seemed almost normal again, until night, that is.

I had boiled a bunch of eggs the day before the storm, so for those five days we ate eggs, cold cuts, cereal and cabbage.  I have sleep apnea and for the first time in over a decade, I had no CPAP which made sleeping a struggle, but hey, I survived.  We didn't get much sleep anyway because the battery powered sump pump alarm would go off every hour and with a generator running wide open next to the bedroom window, well, sleep was elusive.

We were blessed to have come through another storm with no injuries. 

I will say candlelight suppers are okay, but the romance wears off pretty quickly.  

Nothing beats a hot shower.

 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Life as a Fat Flattie

 Well, I've been gone a long time once again.  There's a lot to catch up on, so here goes.
I'm still recovering from my double mastectomy back in September of 2021.  I'd probably be further along with the healing process had I not needed a second, revision surgery to correct the mess the breast surgeon left behind.  I'm not a vain woman, but I cannot believe the surgeon was serious when she said she 'did the best she could'.  What I was left with was a travesty.  I have shown pictures of my scars to friends and their gasps of shock and disbelief say it all. 

All I can say after going through the experience is this: Make sure the surgeon shows you pictures of their work. If I had seen what this doctor's results looked like, I'd have literally run from her.  There is a thing called 'Flat Denial' when it comes to doctors, and it's not right. 

I was able to find a plastic surgeon who took on the challenge of correcting what she could on March 3, 2022.  Another surgery, twenty inches of incisions, drains, and compression garments.  Though the end result is not perfect, it is at least easier to look at myself in a mirror.  Sort of. 

I've had so many doctor appointments; up to three times a week, and it's hard to get much done when we're constantly heading to one clinic or another.  Physical therapy has been a godsend for me, though.  I've had around fifteen sessions since last September and with work and luck, I've been able to regain a good part of my range of motion.  I still need to keep at the stretching for life now.

Since the tumor was removed entirely with surgery and I had no lymph node involvement, the next step was endocrine therapy with aromatase inhibitors for five to ten years.  I did try them for six and a half weeks, but the side effects made me miserable.  The oncologist wasn't thrilled with my decision to not take the drugs any longer, but he understood.  I have a ten percent chance of recurrence if I do not take them, which would be lowered to six percent if I did.  For as awful as I felt, four percent didn't seem to be enough of a benefit, and sad to say, there are no guarantees for any of us.   

What many women don't realize (well, ok, perhaps this isn't a problem for thin women) but after a mastectomy, hiding in plain sight from me under what used to be bosoms, is a belly.  Many women in support groups refer to it as the 'Buddah Belly' which is pretty self-explanatory.  Once my ample chest was gone I look like Winnie the Pooh's long-lost cousin, Karen Pooh.  Ugh, it's not pretty.

I did not opt for reconstruction since, knowing me, I'd probably puncture an implant with a tree branch or tractor steering wheel.  Plus, the additional surgeries needed and more pain just doesn't seem worth it to me.  I decided to stay flat, which, with the exception of the botched surgery, I still do not regret.  Except, when I see my profile from the side.  As Piglet from the aforementioned Winnie the Pooh would say, "Oh, d.d.d.d.d.ear........!"  Oh dear, indeed.

Yes, I can be fitted for custom made prostheses, but I haven't taken that step yet.  From what I've heard, they are heavy, hot and annoying and I'd have to wear a bra again.  One perk of all of this is no more of those torture devices.  Still, I did invest in some relatively affordable, lightweight foam breast forms that I do like.  In addition, a kind organization made me some Knitted Knockers, which are also very nice.  I especially like having something to protect my scars and tender chest wall, and also a diversion from the stares I sometimes receive. 

The biggest problem with the prosthetics during the summer is sweat.  In no time at all, the foam forms soak up the moisture and it's like wearing a wet sponge on your chest wall.  No fun!  So, pride out the window, I go flat and often forget about how I look.  That is, until a neighbor stopped in the other day.

I haven't seen this neighbor in over a year and in his defense, he didn't know about my surgery.  After a long look at me, he asked how I'd been.    I told him about the mastectomies and he said, "Yeah, I noticed." 

Now, why this would bother me a bit, I don't know.  Of course it's obvious, it's just that I forget from time to time.  Then I get paranoid and think I should always make sure to have a prosthesis on so people aren't uncomfortable around me.  Then the sane part of me thinks why?  No matter what I do, people who know what happened look at me either way, if I'm flat or if I'm stuffing my shirt. 

It's a strange turn of events to be self conscious at sixty-four years old about my chest, or lack thereof.  Before the breast cancer, when I was still well-endowed, I was always self conscious about whether my shirts were gapping or how I looked in certain garments, and had done my share of slouching in order to not 'put myself out there'.  I tried to hide the best I could.  Turn about is fair play, they say, so here I am, flat, and trying to do the opposite?  How silly.  Life is far too short.

When I do go out in public, I wear my fake boobs, or foobs, as many  of us in this 'club no one wants to be in' refer to prosthetics.  Women's clothes are cut for breasts, so it just looks better and balances out the ol' belly, too.  

Carl and I are getting ready for a garden bus tour this coming Sunday and have been weeding like mad.  It was a very hot, humid day today and of course, I wasn't wearing the foobs at all, but wouldn't you know, I walked into the handle of the lawn seeder this afternoon, right in the scar line.  Ouch.  I'll survive, but it would have been better had I been sporting the foam rubber for protection.

 So, anyway, enough about this topic.  Nothing like getting everything off my chest.  

 No pun intended.  :-)



Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Saga Continues

The demon mammogram machine, may I never see another one again.
 

 So when we last left the saga, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had made my decision to go flat.  (Which is a big change for this big girl; flat is not something I have ever been since I was a teenager.)

Carl and I left the 'team' meeting and headed back home once again.  I was told scheduling would be calling me with a surgery date, and the call came a few days later. 

September 13, 2021.

Ok, I had almost a month before the big, flat, surgery.

But first we had another big day coming up in a few weeks, the wedding of Alan and Leslie and a lot of work to get done.   Since we've never been responsible for an entire outdoor wedding before, the one thing no one can control is the weather.  The weekend before the wedding, it rained incessantly, 4" worth and we had standing puddles.




What would we do if the wedding weekend was a washout as well?  The couple had hired a caterer for the meal, and the tents and chairs were to be delivered, along with a dance floor, but we hoped for dry weather.  A soggy bridal couple and wedding guests would be no fun.

 We had cut down seven large declining spruce trees to make room for the wedding tent three weeks before the wedding.  Since I've been absent from writing, I need to mention we acquired a used excavator for use on the farm this past spring.  It has come in so useful already and we will be using it to remodel some of the gardens around here, too, as well as take down my mother's house.  (If we had owned one of these machines back in 2001, it would have been a lot easier to toss the big rocks around in the quarry garden, that's for sure.)



As usual, Joel hard at work helping his parental units with the garden.

I really wasn't on my game with the surgery pending in less than a month, so I didn't take as many photos as I normally would have.  We had Joel dig up the stumps from the old spruce trees and then replanted a new lawn which came up quite well, until the monsoon rains arrived and made the entire 'dance floor' area into a shallow 3" deep pond.

Carl and Joel rigged up sump pumps and pumped the water day in and day out.  Luckily, just a day or two before the wedding, the sun finally came out and the standing water was gone.  It was still soggy, though.

The groom, Alan, came out the day before the wedding and with Joel, supervised setting up the chairs for the ceremony, the tables and the signs.  He and Leslie did a wonderful job. 

I wish I'd taken more pictures, but my mind was all in a tizzy. 

Thankfully, Alan and Leslie's wedding day was picture perfect, no rain, pleasant temperatures and, thanks to Alan for having our yard sprayed for mosquitoes, no bugs during the ceremony. 





We were so happy for them!  They hired a Mariachi band to play for their wedding which was wonderful.  (I will have to see if I can do a post on their wedding using photos from the photographer.)

The wedding supper went beautifully, and the dance went on until around 10PM when the mosquitoes set in again.  The lights from the tent must have attracted them, but even though the evening was cut a little short, it was a beautiful wedding.

The next day was our annual booyah party and Joel was here bright and early with his friend Paul to start cooking for the crowd.  I didn't spend a great deal of time outside with the company as most of them were in the house surveying the remodel.  Once again, my hat is off to Joel for handling the outdoor activities.  Carl and I spent the day giving house tours. 

Once the weekend was over, it was time to start cooking in preparation for my upcoming surgery.  I made large batches of lasagna, chili, soups, stews, and cookies and froze them.  I knew I wouldn't be cooking for quite some time.  Carl can cook, but this was going to be a hard time for both of us and besides, the cooking took my mind off of the surgery to come.

I also went around and took pictures of the garden as I knew I wouldn't be able to do much with the flowers after the surgery for some time.
 












There were a lot of doctor appointments leading up to the surgery date.  Blood tests, covid test, heart monitoring, just to name a few.

Sunday night before my September 13 surgery, I was a bundle of nerves.  I was supposed to take a shower the night before with some special soap and again the morning of.  As I entered the shower Sunday night, I had a panic attack.  I'd never had one before, so I guess I can't say if it's exactly what happened, but I was a wreck.  I cried so hard standing under the water, letting it run over my head and down my body, knowing this would be the last time I'd be whole again.  I was scared.  Terrified.

After the crying jag passed, I felt a bit more calm.  I couldn't breathe, but I wasn't hysterical any longer.  We crawled into bed and I fought to sleep.  I had to be up again by 4AM to take another shower and report for surgery by 5AM. 

We were in the car for the bleak drive into the hospital by 4:15 AM.  Neither of us said much; we both had heavy hearts.