Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Roller-Coaster of a Year

Here is my usual end-of-year roundup post. What a roller-coaster of a year it has been, to be sure! So much has happened that I scarcely know where to begin.Last December, I could never have imagined that our circumstances would change so much in a single year.

The most important event of the year was the death of my dear father on 6th December. I am so full of good and happy memories of this exceptional and wonderful person – a true Renaissance man with all his skills, interests and accomplishments – and I feel extraordinarily blessed to have had him as my father. His influence on my life has been profound, and as well as being a wonderful father, he was also my mentor and friend.

Eighteen months ago he first went into residential care with dementia, which had been slowly increasing over the past couple of years with his short-term memory beginning to fail, but with the onset of a severe UTI, its progress was exacerbated, and with each further infection which he suffered, he recovered less well, and his decline was steady up until the time he died. When he first went into the residential home, my mum was on her own in their cottage which was not ideally placed for an elderly person living alone with no access to transport – there were absolutely no amenities nearby, and with her increasing needs, my dear hubby was having to do a great deal of running around on her behalf, and for Dad, too, and we needed to centralise things.

Our original plan was to get both of them moved into more suitable accommodation, and then in 2014 when my hubby retires, we would move in with them, possibly converting the upstairs into a flat for ourselves, and we would continue to live there after they had both passed on, and for the past two or three years, we were house hunting with this scenario in mind. We looked at several houses that would have been absolutely ideal, but because we could not sell my parents’ house for some considerable time, we were not in a position to buy, and we lost them all. It was very disappointing at the time, but God knows best, and if we had managed to get one of them, and then the situation changed with Dad having to go into residential care, it would have been a total disaster! As it was, we then had to search for somewhere for us to move in straight away, and my hubby would have to commute to work rather than living more or less over the shop (which is not convenient, but workable, and it’s only for about 6 months anyway). It had to be organised so that my hubby and I would have the larger portion of the house, and Mum would have an annexe or single-bedroomed flat.

We were able to find the perfect place eventually, and things fell rapidly into place with an offer being made and accepted on my parents’ house, putting us in a position to buy. However, considerable work needed doing on the property, including the complete replacement of the roof, and so began the great adventure with Andy and the other builders – I was popping over two or three times a week and got really involved with everything that was going on, and had such fun! You can read the whole account with lots of photos if you look for posts entitled “Our New House” or “My New ARTHaven” in my blog archive. I had a major input into the design of the various alterations and renovations, and this has improved my own quality of life no end, with adaptations (including a stairlift) that mean that my hubby has to do far less for me these days – good for both of us as I enjoy more independence, and he is free of the burdens that took up so much of his time, especially as now he is having to spend more time driving, and of course there are always things that Mum needs doing.

The major renovations indoors are my new kitchen:

09 Reduced Work Surface in Kitchen

with its reduced-height work surface that I can sit at, to prepare food, wash up and cook. The other side has full-height units with cupboards underneath, and a new peninsula unit which makes the whole working area a lot more compact and manageable.

10 Peninsula Unit in Kitchen

I have a new utility room which also includes part of the back passage, with access through a lovely new arch.

09 Utility Room Sink

15 Arch 1st Coat Plastering Complete

I also have a newly formed airing cupboard (made to my own specifications) with new bi-fold doors, and we have a new glass panel in the back door which gives a nice view into the garden, and lets in loads more light.

04 Removable Slatted Shelves

02 Unfinished Work around Airing Cupboard

03 New Glass Panel with Cat Flap in Back Door

03 Boiler Wall Plastered

The new boiler replaces this one and its huge tank, which took up so much space in the old annexe kitchen:

10 Annexe Kitchen with Boiler and Tank

The door from the annexe kitchen has been blocked off, and the annexe kitchen has been completely redone, using units from the original main kitchen but with much nicer worktops.

20 Annexe Kitchen Worktop Ends Completed

Before the door from the annexe kitchen was blocked off, there was access from the annexe to our back passage and out through the back door. With this exit being blocked, there was only one entrance into the annexe, from the hall in the main house, and for safety, and also to maintain our privacy, we had a new door opened up from the annexe sitting room into the garden.

01 Annexe New Door and Window

Outside, we had a ramp built up from the back door to the garden steps, and sloping down each side, for easy access with the wheelchair.

15 Ramp from Side

At the top of the garden, the other main alteration was the building of my hubby’s magnificent new Man Cave, which he now has so well equipped that he could actually move in there – microwave, kettle, TV and radio!

04 Laying the Garage Roof Felt

He has graciously allowed me one corner to store my new buggy. This is something else new this year. Two years ago, almost to the day of Dad’s death, my uncle died, and since then, his mobility scooter had been sitting in their garage, and my aunt said I could have it, so a little while after we moved (mid Sept.) my hubby drove up to Staffordshire to collect it. My new-found independence! I can get to the shops on my own, and go visiting!

Upstairs, more magic! My beautiful new en-suite bathroom (which my hubby calls my “girlie bathroom”) was created from the original separate bathroom and loo. It is the last word in modernity and glamour, and with the addition of some very stylish grab rails and walk-in shower, it is well suited to my needs.

01 Bathroom Counter and Arch

02 Bath and Mirror

04 Shower

05 Counter with Ornaments

This bathroom, my beautiful new kitchen and utility room and airing cupboard, and all the other renovations, work so well for me! We both so enjoy living in this house now that it has been upgraded to our own specifications.

Last, but not least, is my fabulous new purpose-built ARTHaven. Ever since I semi-converted my office in the old house to double as a studio, neither use worked properly, and I hankered after a space built for my requirements. One of the features that attracted me about the upstairs of the new house was one of the bedrooms which had a partitioned off space with a washbasin (called a “dressing room” on the agents’ particulars) and I realised that this space could become my office, with the ARTHaven beyond. (By the way, the awful floral wallpaper in the hall and landing has now been replaced with cream emulsion, which shows off our pictures much better, and is far more restful on the eye!)

01 Office and ARTHaven from the Landing

It was made to measure! My big desk fits across the end of the office with 6 inches to spare!

01 Office

(The office is a bit tidier than this now. Not a lot, but a bit!!) The washbasin at the other end of the room has been replaced by a sink, which will be wonderful for my art work.

03 Sink

It has been left open at the front deliberately, for easy access for storage. There is now a small microwave on a corner shelf above, for dyeing and other procedures.

Into the ARTHaven proper, I designed the layout myself, and Andy the Magician brought it to life for me! The continuous curving MDF work surface is supported on el-cheapo open-fronted kitchen base units, and is divided into different work zones. I had a brainwave that since I could only sit at one work zone at a time, why waste precious storage space by having several empty spaces under the work surface? Andy put base units on castors, so that they can be pulled out when I want to sit there, and these units also provide another surface to put things on while I work.

03 Gen View

There are wall units above the work surface, with extra shelves, and over the blocked-off fireplace is my display area, for showing off small artworks, both my own, and gifts from fellow artists.

07 Textile and Drawing Zones

06 Display Area

On the final wall, backing onto the office, is an area of free-standing storage with a large, deep MDF shelf above for storing all those large flat items that we find so difficult to find homes for.

10 Storage Zone

There is still a lot of sorting to do in there before I get it how I want it, but I have started working in there and it is an absolute dream… the window faces more or less due north, so I have none of the problems I had before, with dazzling afternoon sun. I have ample power points around the room, and excellent LED lighting over each work zone, and have I have also set up a rig for my new video camera. The original carpeted floorboards have been covered with a beautiful light wood laminate flooring which makes cleaning up easy. It is an absolute dream of a room and I keep pinching myself, wondering when I’m going to wake up!

The trouble is, with all the activity of the past year, and the tremendous amount of work involved in sorting my parents’ house and getting Mum moved up to my sister’s till the new house was ready, sorting and packing all of our own stuff, moving in while the builders were still here, and then all the unpacking, and then the emotional upheaval of my dear dad’s passing, and the work involved in planning and taking part in his funeral, have left me feeling exhausted, and not able to spend as much time in there as I had hoped, but in the New Year I am sure that things will settle down and I will get into a better routine at last.

We had a lot of stress getting Mum moved in and settled. She is better now, but we have had a rocky start and at one time I did wonder whether this arrangement was going to work at all. Things are better now, and she does realise that even if it’s not what she really wants, which is to be back in her old house, living the independent life she once enjoyed, it is the only possibility apart from a residential home which she won’t consider, and as her friends keep reminding her, that she is very fortunate to have us under the same roof. So many of her widowed friends live alone, and far from their children. We see Mum every day and help her with things, and take her out, and generally keep an eye on her and make sure she’s OK. She’s had several episodes of bashing her legs (twice on Christmas day!!) necessitating visits to casualty to have them dressed, but apart from that and her severe deafness, she is remarkably fit for 92, and is still cooking for herself. We share a delightful young lady who cleans for us, and my hubby has a much smaller and more manageable garden to deal with – it is so lovely, and when he retires next year, he will have more time to enjoy it.

On the health front, my M.E. has remained remarkably stable despite the stresses and the huge amount of physical work I have been involved with. I had a fairly big dip shortly after we moved, with extreme exhaustion and badly swollen legs, and a recent severe cold which has left me coughing still, but apart from that I am now quite a bit better. Back in the summer I had a positive result on my first bowel cancer screening test, necessitating a colonoscopy which revealed not cancer (thank goodness!) but ulcerative colitis, for which I am now taking medication which has reduced my bowel symptoms by about half.

We have moved from an area where “broadband” was a complete joke, to the outskirts of a town that rejoices in fibre-optic broadband, which is so fast that it leaves us breathless! For the first time we can now access catch-up TV, and recently got a wireless box for our Sky satellite TV setup, enabling us to watch this on our smart TV.

Because of everything that has gone on this year, I have been much less productive on the art front than in previous years, but I did manage to make myself a smart pair of mixed-media spoke guards for my wheelchair before I started packing up well in advance of the move:

44 Wheelchair with Spoke Guards

These incorporated some of the fabric flowers I received from Judy in Australia, in a swap.

I also started work on an album all about Dad’s life. If things had been different, I would like to have had it completed in time for his funeral so that everyone could have looked at it and seen all his amazing accomplishments, but that was not to be, and it remained packed in a box for months. I have now got it all out again, and am beginning to scan material for use on subsequent pages to the only page I have yet been able to create, on his ancestry.

01 Album Resurrected in New ARTHaven

Since the move, I have made a mixed-media card for a friend, using one of Ryn’s moth stamps and angelina fibre, against an inked and embossed background:

Angelina Moth for Lucy

I have also started making some door plates for the downstairs of our house, where the beautiful art deco originals have been removed. I took a mould from one from upstairs and have been experimenting with different materials to make them from.

02 Original and Mould

04 Mould and Plates Made from Polyfilla One Fill

When trimmed up and painted with a faux vintage metal effect, I am hoping they will be indistinguishable from the originals.

With everything that has been going on over the past two or three years, with my parents gradually becoming less able to cope, and culminating with the events of this year, my hubby and I have not had a holiday for three years. I am hoping very much that we will be able to get away for a fortnight together after he retires next summer. We could both do with it!

Plans for the coming year also include finishing unpacking the remaining boxes, and getting my big spice rack and various other things fixed up, utility room cupboards to be organised, and touching up bits of painting around the house. I am planning to continue organising my new ARTHaven, and as time goes on, incorporate my art into its beautification – I have lots of storage boxes which I would like to decorate, and I’d like to make some wall art, bunting and other decorative features. I also want to return to my Zentangle art which has been seriously neglected of late – this, along with my knitting and other sedentary activities could well have been done from the comfort of the recliner, but I have simply not felt inclined, with everything else that had to be done.

My most imminent, and very exciting activity for the New Year will be the arrival of my new iMac computer, and learning how to use it. I currently have two laptop PCs which are now about seven years old and starting to show their age with the huge demands I put on them with the video work I am now doing, and when I considered updating them, was put off by Windoze 8 which doesn’t appeal to me at all, as I believe Microsoft have lost the plot somewhat. I have been fed up with Windoze for years, with its constant security problems and the workflow being incessantly interrupted by upgrades of this and that, and the general lack of integration of the system. I have often wished I’d started off with Mac in the first place, but once I’d got caught up in Windoze I had so much invested in it that I thought it would be impossible to change at this late stage. However, I have now discovered that there are ways of running Windoze software on the Mac, and ways of integrating my data with the new operating system, and after a discussion on Boxing Day with our nephew, who has used Mac for years, and playing with his Mac Book, I have finally decided to take the plunge. It is due for delivery in the first or second week of January. I am super-excited. Watch out for progress reports!

Further plans include developing my mixed-media art skills and experimenting further with different materials. I want to pursue my interest in working with reflective surfaces, and I am really keen to get started with Gelli printing. Now that I have work zones set up, and my sewing machine can be permanently out, I want to expand the parameters of my mixed-media work and incorporate textile, fibre and stitch into my work, and begin experimenting with dyeing and fabric printing again – something I used to do many years ago. The boundaries between all these disciplines are increasingly becoming broken down, and it is a very exciting time to be exploring new techniques, with all the wonderful materials and equipment at our disposal these days. I just hope and pray for enough energy to be able to get really stuck in in my wonderful new ARTHaven during the coming year!

To close, I want to pay tribute to my wonderful hubby. Over this past year, he has worked tirelessly for our family – dealing with all the arrangements for Dad, having power of attorney, and organising everything surrounding his care and eventual death, sorting out endless problems with Mum, arranging removals, storage and clearance, ferrying me and loads of stuff here and there – the list goes on and on, and all the while, he has been working full-time in a demanding job, and sacrificing so many of his days off for the needs of the family. He deserves a medal, and so much more besides – not to mention a good long rest! People like my hubby are the unsung heroes of our society, who do not receive recognition in the New Year’s Honours List, but without whom our nation would be the poorer. I simply cannot imagine what we would have done without him. Thank you, my darling boy. You are a rock.

May I wish all my faithful followers, visitors and friends a very happy and prosperous New Year, full of stimulation and creativity, and happy relationships with friends and family alike. May God bless you all.

4 comments:

  1. What a year you've had! Amazing to see what you packed in and how God's hand was on everything! Have a fantastic 2014 with lots of creativity and adventures!

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  2. I hope this new year is smoother for you all.
    I may take your quote of 'but God knows best' for my motto for the year :)
    Happy New Year x

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  3. What a transformation the hosue has gone under - it's looking fabulous, and you're very clever making those door thingies! Very Happy New Year to you, may 2014 bring many rich blessings. XXxxxx ....love your wheelchair too :)

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  4. Happy New Year, Shoshi. I trust you will experience Father's faithfulness in this coming year.
    Take care - and love to hubby.
    Margaret W (glitterandglue)

    ReplyDelete

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