Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Torrential rain ~ I dig ditches to divert the deluge

In mid-winter June of 2015 heavy rain became torrential, and went on, and on. Weather in these parts is changeable and we do get heavy rain from time to time, but not usually for such extended periods.  I wasn't really worried as the place here is on a fairly steep hillside and the risk of flooding was not the same as it might have been on a level section.  All the same I did check the basement from time to time for signs of water getting under the house.  I was glad I had previously linked up two old field drains ensuring that water was not running down the middle of the lawn above the house, and although there was a lot of water gushing down the garden it was to the side of the property... 


But as the rain continued I found it had started to get into the basement via cracking at the base of a flights of steps.  I did not want water in there, however temporarily, or softening the ground anywhere near the house foundations.  What to do?

Suitably clad in a knee length raincoat and gumboots I went outside to see what I could do: I first attempted to divert the water by placing a ridge of tarpaulin and earth diagonally across its path, then, finding this was was completely ineffectual decided to dig a ditch instead.  

I was glad of my trusty spade, which is nice and strong and reasonably sharp:


I set to work to dig a ditch alongside the concrete path where it was covered with running water.  Each time I sank my spade into the ground, water spurted out of it - that water was really moving and the ground was absolutely sodden.  In the photo below the running water can see sees as ripples in the grass.  As I worked the ditch filled with water, overflowing downhill, so I extended its length until it was well below the house and water could flow away harmlessly.  


What a day!  Despite the chilly winter weather working away at my digging soon warmed me up and then made me hot!  Knowing the ditch was doing its job and that there was no longer any danger I relaxed and rather enjoyed myself - I like messing about in the garden and it seemed rather like water play for grown ups!  Play with a purpose, in this case.

I went on to cut diagonal trenches above the young trees I have planted near that side of the boundary as I didn't want their roots to be eroded:


When I came in I was wet to the skin but warm from work and pleased with the success.  I love this sort of practical problem solving which is so satisfying!  The ditches certainly did the job of diverting flood water on the hillside property here.

The next day when the rain had eased off I took this photo.  When I dug up the turf I had kept it as intact as possible and placed it on the path where it wouldn't kill other grass, and everything could dry out a bit.  It narrowed the path but proved to be a good strategy as some weeks later when I carefully replaced the turf into the channels, everthing worked out well.  It took time and effort, but now you wouldn't know they had ever been there:


We were fortunate.  Some other nearby residents on flatter land were hard hit as could easily been seen by piles of wrecked household fittings outside houses. 

One unexpected bonus of the ground getting so saturated was that I was able to get out some stubborn dock roots.  Readers familiar with my writing will know that I don't use chemical weed killers and rely rather on digging out and cutting back.  Docks are particularly troublesome as they grow very long tap roots any part of which can regenerate the whole thing, but with the ground so wet they didn't have the same grip.  Look at this one - those roots are over twenty inches (50 centimetres) long - and intact.  I just wish I'd had the time and energy to have a go at getting more of them out, but such is life.  I certainly got to the bottom of that one!


News articles about the floods:
  • Flooding wrecks havoc in Dunedin - Stuff website, 4th June 2015.  This one contains a good video which gives an indication not only of the amount of water, but the speed at which it was travelling.
My earlier article about making a field drain and filling it with mussel shells can be found here:
My other articles about working in the garden can be found here:

Friday, 19 June 2015

Elderly and dependent ~ minds moving differently ~ definitions and links

As we age our brains undgergo physical aging in the same way as do other parts of our bodies and physical functions, and we all age differently, in a personal mix of heredity, environmental factors, good or bad fortune, and who knows what else besides.

A common feature of old age is the slowing of mental processes and a certain amount of memory loss: for many people this shows up in responding to situations or conversation more slowly; new experiences and the formation of new memories may take longer, sometimes a lot longer, or may not seem possible.  For those of us who are younger and more able this can be hard to accept and understand.  We may think that the person who is slower and forgetful just needs to make more of an effort, but that's not necessarily the case.  It's so important to be patient, whether one is aged and experiencing this slowing down, or whether one is engaged in helping.  For children with aging parents it's often a new situation for everyone.

The topic of reduced brain function can difficult, even alarming, and it can be helpful to get to know some of the terms used and a little of what they mean so that medical terms can be properly understood and discussed.  This is not a field in which I have expertise, so follows is very much at the lay person's level. 

Once we know what we are dealing with it's possible to be practical and to find the way forward constructively.  By establishing this early on and finding out about possible treatments, medication, care and residential options we allow all concerned the widest possible choice.  This is important as in this sort of situation we may feel we are in a position of reduced personal power and control, and the exercise of any choice at all can make a vital difference to our sense of wellbeing.  It may also make the difference between getting the help we need in a timely manner, and being swept along willy-nilly by increasingly difficult circumstances which, believe me, greatly increases the level of difficulty for everyone.

Definitions of the following brain conditions / disorders are lightly outlined below: 
Confusion, delirium, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), cerebral atrophy, dementia (senility), and Alzheimers disease (AD).  Links to further source material are included.  Many thanks to the Medline Plus website for permitting the quotation of Summaries as shown in quotation marks below.

Confusion: as defined on the Medline Plus website is...   
"...the inability to think as clearly or quickly as you normally do. You may feel disoriented and have difficulty paying attention, remembering, and making decisions.

"Confusion is more common in the elderly and often occurs during a hospital stay." (my italics for emphasis)
For the full summary here is the link:

Delirium: is "sudden severe confusion due to rapid changes in brain function that occur with physical or mental illness...  [It is] usually temporary and reversible" and can result from the shock of an accident, infections such as urinary tract infections or pneumonia (my italics for emphasis), as a side effect of medication, or other causes.

For the full summary here is the link:  

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): included in the Medline Plus definition it is stated that:
"Some forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging.   However, some people have more memory problems than other people their age...  People with MCI can take care of themselves and do their normal activities."  (Quotation from the Medline Plus website.)
For the full summary here is the link: 

Cerebral atrophy: is a common feature of the aging process which occurs in varying degrees.  It may or may not be associated with specific diseases such as Alzheimers.  I have included the definition provided in Wikipedia as information provided by other websites was either too specialised, or jumbled in with distracting advertisements, and so on.
Those interested in more detailed discussion about the connection betwen cerebral atrophy and general aging as well as specific diseases may find the following article of interest:

Dementia (also called Senility): is not a disease as such but "a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain" as outlined in this definition:
"Memory loss is a common symptom of dementia.  However, memory loss by itself does not mean you have dementia.  People with dementia have serious problems with two or more brain functions, such as memory and language.  Although dementia is common in very elderly people, it is not part of normal aging."
For the full summary here is the link:

Alzheimers Disease (AD): as defined by the Medline Plus website:
"the most common form of dementia among older people... AD begins slowly.  It first involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language.  People with AD may have trouble remembering things that happened recently or names of people they know...  Over time, symptoms get worse.  People may not recognize family members or have trouble speaking, reading or writing.  They may forget how to brush their teeth or comb their hair.  Later on, they may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home.  Eventually, they need total care."
For the full summary here is the link:
At this time there is at this time no known cure for Alzheimers Disease, although certain medications may be helpful in treating symptoms.

These definitions, while slight, may provide the stepping stones to more substantial knowledge. 

While these conditions may sound daunting it's not all doom and gloom.  However, the emergence of one or more of these conditions is likely to cause a degree of change in function, and the ability to relate to others may alter.  Different ways of relating may be learnt or simply emerge.

Every case is different.  Since my mother moved into rest home care I have got to know her a great deal better.  Her memory may have become patchy, but she is just as shrewd about people and situations as she ever was and great company.  She has slowed down considerably.  I have had to get better at listening, which is a good thing: while she gathers her thoughts in response to mine I allow silent spaces to develop, to be filled by her in her own time.  I have had to slow down too.  All this has been good for me to learn.  At times unexpected things crop up, patches of confusion or things she needs help with, but we have learned to trust each other to work things out together and it's been very satisfying.  I have become her advocate as well as her trusted ally and friend.  At times she helps me, listening, contributing, sometimes advising.  It has become much more than a mother-daughter relationship.  Then again, while much has changed much remains the same.

A friend had a very different experience: her mother suffered from Alzheimers, and eventually she had to go into residential care.  Like anyone she had good days and bad days.  For my friend a good day was when she remembered her; for her father these 'good' days were bad, because she remembered her home and wanted to return to it, which wasn't possible.

There are no easy answers, and these situations have to be lived through with as much care and dignity as we can muster.  Talking to others dealing with similar issues and experiences may be helpful, which is part of my reason for writing this series.

I will continue this theme in future articles. 

To find my other articles in this series click on the link below: