Greetings and Salutations!

Thanks to the prodding of several (you know who you are) I am today sitting again at the computer. The six month (yikes! nearly nine month) hiatus really wasn’t planned. It started simply enough. We came home from the mountains deciding it was time to start some major updates to our home and well, one thing led to another and before you know it it was spring and now it’s already summer again. If you are a homeowner there is always work to be done.

As you may remember, I think life is like a Galileo thermometer. 100_3556Projects percolate up to the top as a priority just like the temperature bubbles do in my thermometer. For some reason last fall the project bubbles filled all the available space. It started with the fact that I NEEDED to get rid of the popcorn ceiling in the house. “Why?” you ask. Well, it’s those darn DIY shows we keep watching: Popcorn ceiling out of date. Clean smooth ceiling up to date. I blame the DIY channels. Curse you HG TV for planting all these ideas in my mind.

But I digress. I will write about the popcorn ceiling project soon. I have pictures. It something you can do. This winter we also made the huge time investment to train the new dog. There will be pictures and hopefully some good descriptive visuals of that little beagle Sophie going to school. It began on the first day of class, very much like many kindergarteners, started with crying, yelling at the other ‘kids’ and hiding under the chair when the teacher called on her. Fortunately, the teacher did not kick the troublesome hound out of school, and though Sophie will always be the food sniffing, counter surfing hound after much, much work she actually passed the test and received her Canine Good Citizen certificate. It’s on my list to share with you… Somehow, I also managed to convince Bob to redo the window and door frames (still a work in progress) to Craftsman style… More pictures and yes, it is another project you can do yourself.

Those are for another day. Today I just wanted to tell you that we’re well just endlessly busy with those danged projects. I have not forgotten you.

Oh, but before I get back to that never ending list I want to tell you about what happened the other day. It all started when one of my ‘friends’ posted the scary fact that a person is never more than three feet from a spider. Then another ‘friend’ posted a picture of a GIANT centipede. Bugs were on my mind…

You know how you aren’t quite awake when you need a drink of water in the middle of the night? You leave your glasses on the night stand and walk by memory lightly touching the walls to the sink. That’s exactly what I was doing when, thanks to the light of the moon I spotted a giant black bug in the corner of the bathroom! So surprised was I that when I went to run to get my glasses (and turn on a light) I kicked over the cat food as well as knocking everything off the counter. It looked like a hurricane had passed through. But time was of the essence…I didn’t want that nasty bug wouldn’t hide on me and I ran to get my glasses then back into the room. Thankfully, lights turned on, the big black bug looked a little different:

Kill it!

Kill it!

Yes, it was the broom handle in the corner where I had left it.
Whew. I survived another crisis.
Have a great day!

One Woman, One Pry Bar and Determination

Today’s post is a “What I did this summer,” story. But the truth is it began over five years ago.

We have a small home in the Arizona mountains. Like much of the land in Strawberry it is on a steep hillside as it backs up to the Mogollon Rim. When the house was built we had to have fill dirt and rock brought in to give us a somewhat level foundation. From the back to the front of the house it’s still a three foot drop, but it was workable. As you can imagine where the bulldozer stopped leveling the ground there was a steep drop off with this fill dirt. In my eyes it wasn’t a very pretty sight. But it also wasn’t a priority.

Until the summer five years ago when I looked around and decided to make good use of the natural sandstone found everywhere on the property and build a stone wall up the hillside. The sandstone was so plentiful it seemed an easy job to level and stack. But it was not. The pry bar immediately gave a resounding thump as it bounced off a big rock. It was so heavy that after less than fifteen minutes I was ready to cry in frustration. Of course, Bob ran over to help (that’s how he is) which only irritated me more. This was to be my project but I couldn’t even move one single stone. There was a big ‘woe is me’ pity party, blaming myself for being out of shape and unable to manage the 5000 feet altitude.

You know how hindsight is 20-20? A short month later I had one of those moments. Yes, that’s when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Ah ha! It was a moment of clarity. Suddenly, the fatigue, shortness of breath and lack of strength made sense. If only it had been recognized sooner…but that’s a story for another day except to say, if you are a woman get your mammogram. My doctor had recommended a baseline study and with no family history of problems my prescription had been sitting on the counter waiting for the opportune time. Because of, well, priorities… Don’t be like me. Make your health a priority.

Fast forward five years to this summer.

100_3225

Planting a little peach tree right in the middle of the wall.

Other projects finished, my attention turned back to the front yard. I dug out the pry bar and headed back over to the hillside. Five years of better health brings with it strength and to my surprise, ability. Ability to pound the pry bar into the ground. Ability to move big rocks. And ability to persevere. I began stacking the sandstone, learning as the project moved along how to make them level and how to lock them together. At first, I would wait on Bob to help move the big rocks and then came realization that one person can do a whole lot using a lever and fulcrum. Learning that the same small stone that keeps a rock wiggling when you stand on it can also be used as a pivot for a much larger rock. Slowly, and some days, ever so slowly, the wall began to take shape. Bob would call and ask what we accomplished that day and I’d tell him, “I moved one rock.” Some days I imagined myself like the ancient Egyptians building the pyramids but thank goodness I wasn’t. Still one rock at a time it was built.

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The finished product?

As summer ends is my rock wall finished? Maybe. Maybe not. I still haven’t decided. It’s far enough over and close enough to the brambly manzanita bushes that it could be done. Or it might be continued next summer. In the mean time we planted some vines in the cracks and a few lilacs dug up from Mom’s yard. Hopefully they will become well established over the winter.

Before leaving you’ll get a laugh from this picture that comes with an explanation. I asked Bob to take a flattering photo I could share (Rebecca says if I wanted a flattering picture I should have looked at myself in the mirror in those pants…) But I gave Bob my camera, the one he never uses, with instructions to take a panoramic picture, something he has never done. He tried to figure it out but my directions were pretty poor as was my impatience. Ha. As you can see, the picture turned out so terribly that it’s funny.

100_3425And that’s what I did this summer. Just call me the stone stacker.

And So???

I know. I know. Dear gentle readers, who followed us all the way up to the North Country and back, you are right to ask this very question. What happened to us? Did we just disappear? Did we melt in the heat? Well, honestly, time escaped me and until my air card required its monthly renewal I didn’t realize how much had passed.

After our return to the very HOT Valley of the Sun we had only a few days before Rebecca headed back to school. We are learning that medical school programs do not have to follow the same schedule as the regular university. Without Rebecca’s company we decided to let Bob fend for himself and Matthew and I headed up to Strawberry to work on a few projects. . . and that’s where we’ve been since.

My helper.

My helper.

You may remember we have a little place right on the side of the Mogollon Rim. It’s wonderful Ponderosa Pine country and at 6,000 feet it is always much cooler and peaceful than the metropolitan area of Phoenix. Once the monsoon season arrives it brings cooling rains most every afternoon and provides an amazing respite from the valley heat a short two hour drive away.

The monsoon brings welcome rain which is especially fun to watch from the front porch.

The monsoon brings welcome rain which is especially fun to watch from the front porch.

Anyway, there have been a number of items on my priority list begging for attention at the place. Since Matthew and I had no other commitments we thought we’d use this time to start tackling them. As we were working I remembered when last I had attempted to work on some of them. For example, I wanted to take the many sandstone rocks from the lot and build them into a stairway on part of the hill. I remember well heading out with my shovel in hand and trying to dig the dirt so that I could move the rocks around. I remember how quickly I became discouraged when I tired after chipping out what seemed like only a half shovel of dirt.

I blamed the high elevation. . . It takes time to become acclimated and be able to work at such altitudes.

I blamed the rocky soil. . .Who can shovel this hard rock filled caliche?

I blamed my age. . .After all, I was nearing that scary mid-life number.

I blamed everything but I didn’t realize the culprit. Longtime readers and my family know what it was. They know the answer. I discovered it in September four years ago. It was an insidious cancer that was so slow growing in my body that all its symptoms were able to be explained away.

Today I lecture people. I know the caregiver’s life is never her own. But there are times when we must make ourselves the priority. (And even though I had gone to the doctor I had put off getting that screening mammogram because. . . well. . . there were other things needing my attention. . .)

So there. After going through the hell of chemo and radiation therapy I came out on the other end, slightly worse for wear. I still have chemo brain and just hate when I can’t remember the _____.

Before

Before

and After.

and After.

But. Here I am and it is four years later. Matthew and I headed back to the mountains to see what we could accomplish. And this time, I’m pleased to report that I could shovel the dirt. And I could move the rocks. And we were able to trim the trees and use the weed eater—we hauled off three truck and trailer loads of brush. And we even worked on the inside of the house painting.

My rock staircase. A work in progress.

My rock staircase. A work in progress.

You may be asking when or if we will return to the valley. But I know if you are fighting the urge to turn down the air conditioner and sweating instead of sleeping at night you will understand that I am keeping the windows open and sometimes, well sometimes, the fan is just a little too cool. Ha. We’ll come back when the high temp drops under triple digits. Or. . .

100_1848. . . if Matthew’s satellite reception goes out.

And so. . . that is my report. I am happy to say we have been busy. But, never fear, I have been thinking of lots of other things to share, including a couple of product reviews and I promise to post them soon.