Saturday, 4 June 2022

Project planning - Part 5


As all of my projects are wont to do, my patio makeover went right to the wire.  Ok, it's not absolutely 100% complete, but I'm claiming the win.

In April, having cleared the area, it looked like this.....

The first weekend PP was in hospital, my stepson and stepson-in-law came to put the gazebo together....

I wanted a focal point on the bare brick wall at the back, so I bought a piece of wooden trellis and attached tiles of faux greenery to it to create an exotic foliage screen....

With the foliage panel in place, it was time to replace the seating.  I tried a different configuration to provide a length of seating where PP could lie down if she wanted a nap.  The outdoor rug fills the floorspace perfectly.

In the cancer world, neuroendocrine tumors are the zebras because of their rarity and the NET cancer community has adopted the zebra as their 'mascot'.... so I just had to have one.  I made her rather fetching floral headdress and positioned her to emerge from the foliage.

Each summer I ring the changes with a different trompe l'oeil shower curtain on the fence at the back of the patio.  This year I've chosen an oval opening in a wooden fence leading onto a path with trees beyond.   I'll be adding more foliage around the panel to blur the edges between it and the existing fence.  

Colourful throws and cushions create a welcoming space to curl up with a book or a glass of something chilled.  Those square mandala cushions are the ones which took me an age to make but I'm so pleased with how they turned out.

I fixed a string of hundreds of LED lights all around the inside of the roof and along the rafters and made a floral garland to decorate the front.

Of course it's not completely finished.  I'm still making some curtains from waterproof fabric for the sides, as well as a little water feature and some hanging beaded lantern holders which will be fixed along the back edge over the seating area, but overall I'm really pleased with how it's turned out so far.  Let's hope we get some lovely summer weather in the months ahead to be able to enjoy it! 

Friday, 27 May 2022

Project planning - Part 4


Here we are, mere days away from the start of meteorological summer, and the new gazebo still isn't quite finished.  Not, as would usually be the case, due to any procrastination on my part, but because I've been 100% focussed on PP's post-surgical recovery, which is progressing well, if slowly.

No.... the delay has been due to having to completely re-think the roof, which has proved sadly lacking in the 'rain protection' stakes.  I had originally ordered a clear tarp, which was expertly lashed to the top by my garden rescue team, who assembled the gazebo.  However, after a few days of rain, water was pooling on the tarp and stretching it, creating deep puddles which I had to poke up from underneath, soaking everything within a 2m radius.

Back to the drawing board.

Lots of solutions presented themselves, mostly of the 'HOW MUCH?!?!?' variety.  PP had initially suggested using corrugated PVC for the roof, which I immediately shot down in flames as I loathe it, but as I trawled despondently through the various options, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that it might be the best, most cost-effective, easiest to fit option, as the corrugations would direct rainwater in one direction only, and water wouldn't run off the sides.   Fortunately, a kind family member was able to fit it in a few hours, rendering the new gazebo roof watertight.

Since then I've gradually added twinkling lights, and made a rather lovely floral garland to festoon along the front.  It just remains to finish off the seat cushions and work out the best configuration of throws and scatter cushions, then add the little finishing touches.  

I've set a tentative completion date of 1st June so we'll see how that goes.  Photos of the transformation will then be revealed.

*fingers firmly crossed*

Tuesday, 17 May 2022


Back in early April, I wrote that we were awaiting a phone call from King's College Hospital in London with the date for PP's surgery to remove her pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour.

Six weeks on, she's undergone surgery and has been home for 9 days now.  Unfortunately, the tumour was found to have grown from the head/neck of the pancreas, into the body, and the tail was badly atrophied and unviable, so the decision was made to proceed to a total pancreatectomy and splenectomy, which was our least favoured option, due to the life-changing implications.

Fortunately, the surgery went well, and after 24 hours in the high dependency unit, she was  transferred to a surgical ward, with tubes, wires and drains sprouting from every available orifice plus several more which the surgeons had created.  The following 9 days she spent in hospital were definitely a challenge, mainly due to the immediate onset of type 3c diabetes which is notoriously difficult to control, but gradually all the medical gubbins was removed and she was then able to move around, taking short walks down the ward corridor and back.

Since she's been home (accompanied by a mini mountain of meds and equipment)  we've been in a daily whirlwind of blood tests, injections and the raft of medications she now needs.     Such a major surgery was always going to be challenging but we didn't realise quite how all consuming the aftermath would be.   We've yet to have an entire 'good day', although we can sometimes go  a few hours without a minor panic.  These mostly revolve around the management of her diabetes, which follows no rhyme or reason.  The hospital diabetic team couldn't get on top of it either, which I find slightly reassuring, and they are in regular contact to check her blood glucose levels and tweak her insulin.  

So, she's now adjusting to life without four of her abdominal organs while her body sets about repairing the extensive internal damage.  Externally, she has an impressive 18 inch scar right across her tummy from one side to the other.  Even more impressive is the skill involved in the stitches..... as someone who likes to think of herself as a skilled needlewoman I can certainly appreciate the handiwork displayed.

Other than our constant skirmishes with her diabetes, she's having to have daily anticoagulant injections which I dread giving her as apparently they sting like blazes.  She's also now on twice daily antibiotics, due the removal of her spleen, and will require regular vaccinations to make up for the lack of its infection fighting role.  Her digestive system has also taken a substantial hit and small, frequent, easily digestible meals/snacks are the order of the day.

We're cautiously optimistic that she will soon be able to step gingerly into my little car, for a jaunt down to the seafront for a bit of sea air and a short walk with frequent rest stops. 

While we try to adjust to our new lifestyle, I'm trying to find little pockets of time when I have a bit of spare energy, to work on my garden project.   I had hoped it would be completed by now, but for the past month I've been otherwise occupied.  However, by the end of May, it should be ready for use as a quirky outdoor rest and recuperation area.

*fingers crossed*

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Project planning - Part 3

Today I set about preparing my fabrics for the new gazebo seating cushions.  I've had the main fabric for a while.... a lovely mandala print in rich jewel colours.  I'd decided to make the cushion backs from plain cotton fabric, picking out two colours from the main fabric.  

So far, so straightforward.

I'm a homemade cushion veteran of many years, but I've always opted for simple openings.... envelope, buttons, snap poppers or velcro.  For some reason I've never tackled zipped cushion covers.  They just seemed like a bit of faff and unwarranted extra expense.  

Similarly I've never made piped cushions before either, for much the same reason.  However in order to do the lovely fabric justice, I decided to have a go at making 4 piped, zipped cushion covers.

How hard could it be?


Extensive Googling for "easy to sew zipped, piped cushion covers" revealed a plethora of video tutorials, all vying to be the easiest method EVER.  Naturally I didn't fall for their blatantly ludicrous claims and after some considerable time, selected one that I could actually understand.

I did briefly consider making my own piping, but sanity prevailed, so I cheated and bought some ready made, in two different colours to match the plain cotton backs.

Having cut out the front and back pieces, I then set about stitching the piping onto the fronts, facing in toward the centre as instructed.

Easy peasy!  Couldn't understand why on earth I'd never done this before.

Next, the zip.  I watched and re-watched my chosen video and each time I was sure that I knew what to do, but somehow, between my laptop in the office and my sewing machine in the workroom, a mere 10 steps away,  I got fuddled and ended up having several abortive attempts.  No matter how I pinned or basted I just couldn't get it right.   I think the piping was confusing me.

Eventually, after more hours than I care to admit, I finally managed to correctly pin one zip onto one cushion cover, ready to sew.  

Then the next conundrum.  How to set and use my sewing machine zipper foot.  It was the piping/zip debacle all over again.  No matter what side I attached to the machine, it was always wrong.  By then, my temper was most definitely frayed to a hairsbreadth, but I was doggedly determined to finish just one damn cushion cover or perish in the attempt.

After several false starts, including having to unpick stitches in the wrong place after having stitched on the wrong side of the sodding piping I finally had the zip inserted. 

Stitching the remaining seams on the CORRECT side of the *&@%ing piping was eventually achieved and it was finally time to turn the cover right side out and admire the results of several hours labour.



I couldn't undo the closed zip which was, of course, inside the cover, so I couldn't get to the zip pull.  

By this point, I was ready to throw the whole lot out the window and run amok through the house wailing like a banshee. 

No amount of trying to wiggle the zip from outside was successful and I couldn't bear to undo any more stitches so in the end, through gritted teeth, I managed to grip the zip pull through the fabric and millimetre by millimetre move it slowly along until finally I could get my finger inside to grab it.

Of course all of the above had left my pristine fabric looking as though it had been dragged through a hedge backwards so I had to steam iron the cover to within an inch of its life to get all the creases and unpicked stitch holes out.


One. Whole. Day.

A WHOLE day to make ONE cushion cover.  


Thursday, 7 April 2022

Project planning - Part 2

A few weeks ago we had a spell of lovely warm, springlike weather, which enabled me to make a start on jet-washing the patio in preparation for my patio project.  

Jet washing is one of those jobs which is fun for the first 30 minutes but rapidly becomes a chore.  It's wet, dirty, messy work. 

The main patio area is paved with flagstones, which over the winter rarely get direct sunlight, and as a result they become black with mould/algae and dirt.  The area is bigger than it looks and I had to spread the cleaning over 5 days, tackling it in 30 minute stints.  It doesn't help that the water run-off goes into a gully round the edge, which should soak away, but takes hours and hours to do so.  As a result, once the gully is full I have to stop anyway.

The only edifying thing is that you can definitely see where you've been...

I did however have some welcome company in the shape of the little robin who frequents our garden and is becoming incredibly tame due to being fed delicious tidbits every day.  Here he is having his picnic mere feet away from me on the wrapped-up gazebo.

Inevitably though, the weather turned and winter has returned with a vengeance.  We had rain, hail and snow all in one day last week, so the remaining areas of paving and the steps have been put on hold.

I do however have lots of things to make for the intended makeover so I've been preparing fabrics for the cushions and drapes.  I'm undecided about whether to make any bunting from the leftover cushion fabrics.... my outdoor bunting last year ended up shredded by wind and rain and I don't want to subject my lovely new fabrics to the elements.  However, as the new gazebo will be covered, I suppose I could make a string of bunting for the most protected area at the back.

Today I'm clearing off the table in my workroom in order to set up my sewing machine and get started, so work should start later today.

I'm also making the decor, including a small water feature and a rather special lampshade.

The theme last year was Mediterranean.... think lemons and olives for a gin-inspired setting.  This year I'm going for a more exotic Moroccan/Bohemian vibe, with layers of jewel coloured throws and cushions.

Here are a few images from my inspiration mood board.....

The gazebo is just 2.4 metres square so there's not a lot of space to play with, but I have loads of ideas for how to achieve a really lush, exotic, opulent look.

Let's just hope I can successfully pull it off......

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

April already......

So, here we are in April.... quarter of the way through the year already.  How on earth did that happen?  This is normally my very favourite time of the year, with the coming of the lighter evenings, spring flowers blooming their heads off, and the promise of even longer, warmer days to come.

This spring though, is shaping up to be more challenging and difficult, as we are currently awaiting a call from King's College Hospital in London, with news of the date of PP's surgery.  It could come any day, and every time the phone rings we exchange looks of mixed trepidation and terror.

Six months into PP's cancer diagnosis and everything has changed.  During the first three months, when she had biopsy after biopsy, trying to identify the type of tumour, we were repeatedly assured that it was inoperable, due to its involvement with various major blood vessels.   We grudgingly accepted the view of the surgeons at the regional specialist HPB hospital but once a definitive diagnosis was confirmed, we requested that her subsequent treatment be carried out by a neuroendocrine tumour centre of excellence, so she was transferred to King's. 

Neuroendocrine tumours are rare, and don't respond to the usual cancer treatments of chemo and/or radiotherapy.  As with other cancers, surgery to remove the bugger is the 'gold standard', but as surgery was off the table, we resigned ourselves to her starting a monthly treatment, with a view to damping down tumour growth and hopefully preventing its spread. 

However, the new specialist team at King's requested another scan, so that their surgeons could review the location of the tumour, and following a multi-disciplinary meeting in January, we were told that their surgeon, who leads the liver transplant team and is therefore experienced in tricky vascular work, was prepared to offer surgery.  

Our relief was tempered with caution, especially when we went to meet with the surgeon, to learn more about the operation. 

The pancreas is a weird, tadpole-shaped organ, situated in a relatively inaccessible spot slap bang in major blood vessel central.  It has many functions.... producing enzymes to aid the digestion of food, secreting a variety of hormones and crucially, producing insulin to control blood sugars.  It is possible to live without a pancreas, but subsequently, life is...... complicated.

PP's surgery is major, life-changing stuff.  The surgeon will remove the head and neck of the pancreas, where the tumour resides.  He will also take the gall bladder, bile duct, bottom part of the stomach and the duodenum as well as various affected lymph nodes in the vicinity.  The recent scan also showed that the tail of the pancreas is atrophied, so probably not working well.  During surgery, if it looks too far gone he may have to remove the whole pancreas, in which case PP will also lose her spleen, which has major implications.  All of the remaining bits and pieces are then completely re-plumbed.

It's quite literally the definition of being gutted.

Even if he manages to salvage some of the pancreas, it may not work properly, so either way the likelihood is that she'll be diabetic.  Type 3C apparently, which no-one has ever heard of, but which is similar to Type 1 in that she'll be insulin dependent.  However not having any pancreas at all means that all the other things that it does, won't happen..... stuff like producing alpha and beta cells, and glucagon, the lack of which will make her diabetes difficult to control.

It's all very worrying and scary. 

She will be in hospital for around two weeks but thanks to the continuing uptick in Covid cases, (just wear the damn masks people..... sheesh!) during that time she will be allowed just one designated visitor for just one hour per day.  The journey time, door to door is 5 hours, so visiting days will also be challenging.

On days when I'm not able to visit we will take advantage of assorted tech solutions to video chat, talk and message.  I'm also hopeful that I'll be able to virtually 'sit in' on ward rounds/doctor visits etc.

I have a long and growing list of 'stuff to do' while she's in hospital..... cleaning the house to within an inch of its life, researching nutritious, easily digestible meals  organising the support she'll need when she gets home and generally making sure that things will run smoothly in the immediate post-surgery recovery phase.  

I'm also hoping that if the weather co-operates, my volunteer garden rescue team will be able to erect the new gazebo which is currently being stored on the patio, wrapped up against the recent snow/hail/rain storms and I'll then be able to create a cosy, covered seating area where she can relax and recuperate outdoors over the summer.

So, the next few months will most certainly be challenging, but we're ready to get on with it now, if only that phone would ring... 

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Project planning.......Part 1


Following a busy week with the online showcase, things are now settling down and I can set aside some time for my favourite thing... project planning.

Long time readers will know that I always like to have a project on the go, and I'm currently embarking on a fairly ambitious garden project.... an upgrade and makeover on the Gin Garden I created last spring.  Sadly, due to reasons outside my control, the Gin Garden never really took off last year.  Firstly the weather was very hit and miss from the minute it was finished.  Then I had two eye surgeries over the course of the summer and had to stay out of direct sunlight which really hurt my eyes.  Then we had the bombshell of PP's cancer diagnosis in September which completely blew everything out of the water, and an under-utilised Gin Garden was the least of our worries.

It's all been under covers since October last year and I really hope that the sofas have survived the winter unscathed.  As soon as we get the promise of a fine, sunny day I'll unveil it and give everything a thorough check over.  At the very least I expect to find it's turned into a spider hibernation unit.

Anyway, with the prospect of PP's ongoing treatment, and the possibility of major surgery, she'll need a fair amount of rest and recuperation, so I've changed tack on the whole area and have decided to go ahead with a wooden structure to cover the seating area, which will make it usable even if it's raining.   Over recent weeks I've investigated just about every pergola/gazebo on the market.  Which runs into hundreds.  Some were lovely but way too expensive.  Some were cheap but wouldn't fit in the awkward spot.  Some looked like a nightmare to assemble.  So after extensive investigation I finally decided on one in the mid-range price spot.... a simple, clean, uncluttered structure, which comes in kit form and claims to be easy to assemble, taking just 1/2 hour for 2 people.

30 minutes!?!?!

Yes I'm supremely sceptical too, but having looked at the various images I can see how it's put together and it is indeed a very simple construction.   However, even so..... 30 minutes!

Anyway, I've taken the plunge and ordered one.  It should arrive in the next 3 weeks and will have to stay under cover until the weather warms up enough to tackle erecting it.  We'll have to draft in some family help as we won't be able to do it on our own, due to the weight of some of the elements.  Plus of course I'll have to clear the area of all the leaves and detritus which have accumulated over the winter.  One of the problems with the area is that it's adjacent to a single storey roof and bits of moss and dirt get blown down onto it.  The roof gutters will need to be cleaned out and the worst bits of easily accessible clumps of moss will need to be knocked off the roof.  Only when the whole area is cleared and cleaned can we build the new structure, and it will have to go up in exactly the right position, as once it's up it will be way to heavy to move.  I'll also have to build in a slight fall from front to back.... just enough so that water will run off the covered top.

However, aside from the various problem-solving issues, I've also been planning the new theme, which is the REALLY fun part. 

Fingers crossed that spring arrives early and is fine and dry for the duration....