I’m Diggin’ it! (The Debacle of Ditch-Digging after 50)


I look like a reasonably healthy human being.  Certainly, no sighted and sane person would describe me as frail, and until this past week I considered myself moderately fit.

Chances are you also wouldn’t guess by glancing at me, but I am, in fact, falling apart—at least in the physical sense.

For whatever reason, call it senility, if you must, I keep forgetting that I turned 50 a few months ago and repeatedly push myself to accomplish feats of strength that would challenge Hercules himself.

However, now I recognize my mistake.  I realize, in retrospect, the myth of super-woman strength I’ve perpetuated.

For the fact of the matter is, I’m a wimp.  It’s the ugly and unpleasant truth.  I’m as wimpy as they come.

You see, last week I decided to dig a ditch.  Granted, ditch-digging was not my ultimate goal.  Building a sidewalk, of sorts, was.

It all began back when I was 44 and still capable of manual labor.  At that time road workers in downtown Lexington began resurfacing the street in front of my apartment.  This involved bulldozing a century’s worth of road repair and uncovering cobblestones that dated back to 1908.

When I learned those stunning specimens of local history were headed for a landfill, I persuaded my then-6-year-old nephew to help me rescue as many as possible to use later at the house I was in the process of purchasing around the corner—the one where my partner Sara and I now live.  Sam and I dug up and filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, stacking and ultimately moving them to the new house.

Last summer Sara used, perhaps, 60 percent of them to create a patio under her outdoor kitchen.

And then this past week I came up with the grand idea of using the remaining bricks to edge a sidewalk that would extend from the garden gate at the edge of our yard to the cement slab just outside our back door.

The creation of this path was my undoing.

Originally our back yard was little more than what remained of a gravel driveway.

Over the years, we fenced the space, and Sara has bordered the whole with flower beds, raking the gravel into a single path.

My brilliant idea was to edge that path with the unused brick pavers and top what remained of the original driveway with more attractive pea gravel.

Unfortunately, the placement of those pavers involved digging—only a few inches deep, mind you—but digging nonetheless.

To see Sara’s post about this photo (that she took), click here.

And, In fact, digging the ditch in which the pavers would sit and carrying the old brick has subsequently crippled me.

I began and completed the labor on Thursday, knowing full well by midday that this had, perhaps, not been a good idea, my inability to stand up straight or walk without a limp being among my first clues.  But being a determined, ditch-digging, brick-carrying bitch, I perservered—finishing just as the sun was setting, then dragging the blistered shell of my former self up the back steps and staggering, still filthy and now broken, into bed.  (I exaggerate here only a little.)

The next morning, while crawling bloody and bruised (woe is me) across the floor, begging the god of ditch-diggers-after-50, that I make it the bathroom before the onset of cardiac arrest, Sara asked, sitting up and laughing, “So–how ya feelin’?”

“I suppose it could be worse.”

“How’s that?” she mocked, still able-bodied from the bed.

“I could have the strength and body-function necessary to smack your wise-cracking, smartass, sack of sympathetic crap.”

“That good?”

The moral of the story is this:

If you are over 50 and have any big plans to say, dig a tunnel from Texas to Mexico, you might want to reconsider that lame idea—lest you end up, well, lame—or, better yet, dead.

What was the last “big” idea that you “dug,” so to speak—the one that nearly killed you?

(Note:  I regret that personal and professional matters will  keep me away from the blogosphere this week.  I hope to have a new memoir post up by early next week, depending on how much I’m able to accomplish.  I will be back reading your wonderful posts a.s.a.p.  If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I’m writing a memoir about growing up in an organized crime family.  To read chapter 1, click here.)

90 thoughts on “I’m Diggin’ it! (The Debacle of Ditch-Digging after 50)

  1. Gothca! I was wondering why this almost 60 year old had not taken on the gardens around our house? Now I know why, my old body says what are you crazy, my back get cranky when I brush the dogs…

    I think you have done a good thing in saving the bricks from the salvage yard, and you have created and beautiful space for your hard work.

    My biggest task is getting out at pride events and taking photographs for hours… a feat I just accomplished. I love every moment it. Yet I could hardly move the next day!

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    • Hooray for photographing Pride events! I’m beginning to think that at our age an entire day of doing any one activity can be deadly. And when it comes to brushing dogs, I understand. I think it’s the bending over that’s required. Hope you recover soon from your day of photo-taking!

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  2. Ahhh yes. I’m pushing 60 and just last week I bought a saw and some garden gloves and went to town on the rhododendron and azalea “trees” in our front yard. Even now, my knees, back, arms, wrist and every muscle that exists in my body still mocks me! I do sympathize . . . on the other hand, your yard looks beautiful! 🙂

    p.s. There is more yard work awaiting my attention, but now I’m looking for a gardner!

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    • Oh, I feel so sorry for you, Cecelia. I get into trouble when I take on these tasks since I tend to over do it. Your use of the words “went to town” makes me think you may have done something similar. At our age, a little yard work goes a long way. A gardener is a good idea!

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  3. “But being a determined, ditch-digging, brick-carrying bitch, I persevered.”

    OMG! I’m not laughing AT you, I’m laughing WITH you (lest you smack my wise-cracking, smartass, self)…

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  4. Pacing myself is a skill I continue to work on. It seems every time I’ve got a handle on it another challenge arises. Sometimes it’s because I want to, sometimes it’s because I have to and sometimes I surprise myself at what I can accomplish without dire pain and agony. I hope your ditch digging doesn’t slow you down too much for the rest of your week.

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    • Actually, I am feeling pretty normal today, and yesterday wasn’t bad. However, Friday was pure hell. You’re right–the ability to pace is a skill. That’s an excellent point! Great to hear from you today, my friend.

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  5. Oh yes, I have been down this path before … transplanting peonies. Argh, I couldn’t move right for days and developed rigor mort-a** from all the squatting!! Every move was met with a groan.

    On the flip side, your yard looks great – very inviting 😉
    MJ

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  6. My 53 year old out-of-shape and dangerously overweight body has been shoving furniture around and lifting up TV’s and stacking tables one on top of another in these past two weeks, because Dammit, I don’t need HELP! What an idiot. My body has been moaning and sobbing and pointing an accusatory finger in my direction ever since. My knees have gone on strike, threatening to collapse when least expected, and my ankles have swollen to ridiculous proportions, (if I didn’t know better, I’d swear I have an undiagnosed case of elephantitis), and my back? Well, my poor back is stiff and creaky, but Dammit, I don’t need HELP!

    On the plus side, I surprised myself. I didn’t die.

    🙂

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    • BTW, I truly LOVE that photo of you … so colorful and sweet … and I adore your garden pathway, although I can’t imagine how ouchy your knees and hands and back must have been afterwards. The reward will last a long time, though. The fruits of your labor. Nicely done.

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      • Oh, thank you. Actually, what hurt the most were my hands from digging and carrying bricks. I lift weights, so that wasn’t bad, but my hands got blistered and are still sore. Glad you like the garden. That’s part of what I have to work on this week. I have to turn off this damn laptop and work around the house. Hugs to you, my friend————

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    • Oh, I hate to laugh at you, but you are so, so funny! I feel your pain, my friend. I know what a pain it is to have your house torn up. Let someone help you from now on. (Like–that’s really easy for me to say, isn’t it?) Thanks for the laugh, my dear!

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  7. I think there’s a little bit of your maternal granny in you, lady. That comment to Sara was TOO DAMN FUNNY! Also, that you can make comments to her like that and she finds the humor in them too speaks volumes about her love for you. Take it easy, woman! Leave some of you left for us to meet in…..12 days!

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    • That’s my plan exactly, Sista. Get lots done in the next 12 days, so I can enjoy your visit more. So happy you got a kick out of this. Yeah, Sara has a good sense of humor. We love to laugh. We’ll do a lot of that while you all are here! Hugs to you, dear heart!

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  8. I’m currently in the SF Bay Area (using a borrowed computer since my niece’s MacBook charger died so LA is on a forced vacation too). This consummate city slicker took a 6 mile nature hike on Saturday with my best friend from college. Two days later I still feel like I need a full body cast – or maybe I’m just feeling your pain.

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  9. If it’s any consolation, I am a not-so-hot mess of a 25-year-old. Think I through my fine, young back out dancing to cartoons the other day. Also? Your yard looks gorgeous and like quite the sanctuary. I’d sit back, relax, and wait for that nephew of yours to come visit and fnish digging 🙂

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    • Good God, woman! Threw it out dancing to cartoons? Happy Thomas–crippled Mommy! Sorry you’re in pain, my dear. Why did I not think of a nephew to help with the labor? Silly me! Plus, Ralph loves to dig big holes in the yard–only in the wrong spots. If only I could direct his energy!

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  10. Hhhhmmmmm….well my friend, I think I have to argue with you. Mostly because I will be heading towards 50 very soon. And I absolutely refuse to break any more. I suspect it really has nothing to do with your being 50. It has everything to do with you not being “conditioned” to do that kind of work. Now, if you want to test my theory…. find a home needing a very long path like the lovely one you just created. Do a little bit a day. Adding a little bit more labor time each day. Soon…you will be able to do it for hours and hours without crippling side effects. Honest. You are not old. You are not anywhere near old. You are not even approaching old yet. (BTW I love the color and beauty you and your partner have created in your home.) Now…go test my theory!!!! 🙂

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  11. Love the brick. So glad you saved it. That would have been a travesty.

    I’m not 53, so I have no idea what you’re talking about with all this sore back, sore muscles. OKAY, maybe I am.

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  12. Kathy, your hutzpah and ingenuity in saving those bricks was brilliant. A very grand idea. However much parts of you may hurt, you and Sara have created a gorgeous place in which to live. I love the garden, and the path is a perfect addition.

    I spent most of this evening feeling like writing a novel is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done for numerous reasons that poor MTM is sick of hearing by this point in the evening. I will chalk it all up to raging hormones and go to bed, chanting “tomorrow is another day” instead of counting sheep.

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    • I’m sure my Sara tires of the same kinds of mumblings about my memoir. Hope you had a good night’s sleep.

      I had to save the bricks. They were just too cool. Happy to hear you agree! Sara is the gardener in our house, however.

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  13. I love this post Kathy! Love your humor! You know, for me, if I did this I would hurt terribly. Whenever I do this kind of manual labor my back is terrifyingly bad the next day. So it can happen at 40 too! I have always had a bad back and neck which is sensitive to even gardening at times. But digging and placing pavers would definitely keel me over! Great post and have a nice week!

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  14. First of all, Kathy, that is a FANTASTIC photo of you. You look amazing and I love that necklace. So colorful. Now, what are you doing digging ditches wearing such a pretty bracelet? I hope that photo was to demonstrate only, because, honey, that ain’t practical.

    Anyway, I’d be in a heap, too, if I’d done such a hard chore as you did. A heap of trouble, that is. Back, arms, legs, everything. Hope you’re already on the mend and back to your old self (or should I say younger self) in no time!

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    • In fact, the photo wasn’t posed. I was actually wearing the bracelets while working–but I wear them all the time. I don’t think they affected my ability to work. The necklace I got in Hanoi–specificially to wear to a reception/dinner with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter when we were living there and I was doing communications for the Carter’s building project there. The photo in this post was taken a couple of months ago at Tori’s “Very Bloggy Wedding” in Nashville. Thanks so much–glad you think I looked good!

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  15. Omg Kathy, I shudder at the idea of undertaking a tremendous chore like that even at 39!! I think anything to do with a garden is back-breaking work, and with my upper back issues (which i am working on with regular exercise and massage) I think about the various ways I can improve my yard….and then make a conscious decision to ignore myself!
    From the comments I see you’re almost recovered, so that’s good, and I’m so glad!
    Now don’t ever do that again!
    p.s I’m tickled at the idea of you frantically saving them paving stones, and love the way you used them 🙂

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    • Glad you like the idea of my having recycled the bricks. I found them fascinatingly gorgeous–especially that they had covered the road folks rode horses and carriages on as early as 1908. Too cool! Glad you are wise enough to avoid working in the garden! Hope you week is going well, my dear Mun!

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  16. The Vietnamese doctor I used to work for constantly told his patients, “Remember how old you are!” This is a hard thing for us to do in this youth-loving, age-defying culture. I’m sure you would have been fine if you’d spread the work over several days, taken lots of breaks, stretched, etc. But, now you know, and will adjust accordingly next time.

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    • That was wise advice–as that is precisely my issue. I don’t seem to be able to wrap my head around the fact that I am actually 50. Weird. Yes, I would have been fine, if I’d spread it out. Good point!

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  17. You don’t have to be over 50 to feel like this!! Trust me, if I tried to do what you did, I would probably hurt just as bad!! I hope you’re starting to feel better, beautiful job on the patio & walkway – I love those bricks!

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    • I have to admit. I love the bricks, as well. It’s a relief to think that this could also happen to folks younger than be. I have no idea why. Guess I just can’t quite believe I’m as old as I am. LOL

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  18. I can’t believe they were going to discard those historic cobblestone pavers in the landfill. What a crime! Great idea you guys had to save them and build a patio. And hey, I’m sure your aching, sore muscles will rebound in a day or two. My back was killing me for about 48 hours after saving that elderly couple from the snow last week, but I’m good as new again now!

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    • Yes, Mark, if only you’d had your Super Man cape, I’m sure you’d have been fine–right? Actually, I feel fine now. I was only miserable for a few days. Today I feel downright normal–ie. 49.

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  19. Yikes! I have the same tendency to bite off more than I can chew. I hope that your body will bounce back to its natural state of spryness soon. 🙂

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  20. Love this posting, Kathryn! You have cracked me up yet again! I love your pic! You’re gorgeous! It’s so difficult to tell from our small profile pics. Love love love your face! lol Great writing and lots of laughs….from the master herself! Thanks for sharing! (question for you: is there a way to sign up for Sara’s daily pics so they’re delivered to my inbox, like your blog is? And is there no way to “like” them? She must have a very sound ego! Not like us writers, ‘eh? lol). Take good care. Love and hugs to you and Sara! xo Julia

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    • Gosh, I wish there were a way to get email updates on Sara’s photos. Neither of us have been able to figure out how to do that. All I can tell you is that she does publish everyday. There is also no “like” button on the site itself, though one can “like” her on FB. And the only way to leave a comment is to sign up for a blip site of your own–which I have done. If you sign up for a site, even if you don’t use it, you can rate each image 1-5, which seems to be the only “like” option on the site. Probably not good news, but it’s the best one can do. And thanks–glad you think I look okay. I needed to hear that today. You’re a sweetie.

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      • Oh, Kathryn….You must have misunderstood me….I didn’t say you look okay. Gosh, sorry. I said, “YOU LOOK FABULOUS!” 🙂 I will sign up for the site just so I can let Sara know how incredible I think her photos are. Thanks, Kathryn. Hugs to both of you. xo Julia

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      • Oh, I’m sorry, dear Julia. I know you said I looked fabulous. Not always willing to embrace praise the way I’m sure I should, I tend to minimize. In my heart, I love to hear it, but outwardly I’m inclined to blush and hide in the corner. Hugs to you, my friend!

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      • I know, girlfriend! ha ha! I was just joking with you! I do the exact same thing! I’m trying to place less importance on my feelings towards my appearance. Sometimes I even get a bit uncomfortable when someone compliments me because I think that what’s in our hearts….the things that we say or do….and who we are…is so much more important than the way we look. I was just yanking your chain, girl! lol But you DO look fabulous! And I’ll tell you so, even knowing it will make you blush – cuz it is good to hear it! Plus, I already know that your heart is just as beautiful as your face! Take care and much love to you and your wonderful Sara! p.s. I signed up for that pic site the other day and left Sara my first comment on one of her photos! I joined just so I could tell her how much I love her work and admire her talent! xo Julia

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      • I know you joined. Sara ran out into the garden to tell me, she was so excited. “One of your blogging buddies joined BlipFoto just so she could comment on my stuff. How cool is that?” She was like a little kid. But thanks for the comment, my dear. You know, it is nice to hear that stuff, isn’t it. Even if it’s not was matters most. Hugs to you, my dear!

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      • That warms my heart, Kathryn. Yes, I even posted my own photo! I love Sara’s work and look forward to enjoying it daily. Thanks to both of you! xoxo Julia

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      • I’m unsure how, Kathryn! ha ha! But I’m listed under my name JuliaKovach. lol But I’d be embarrassed to even have you or Sara look at them!!! xo Julia

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      • Oh Kathryn, I’m not really worried about you viewing my pics, I was just being silly. I don’t pretend to have a talent for it, so I’m not really embarrassed. lol The site is listed under my name and I’ve posted 3 pics including todays. Hope you like them. Hugs to you both! xoxo Julia

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  21. I’m 48 and have certainly experienced your same pain! I tend to take on projects that seem quite easy, but grow and get bigger the more that I work on them. My daughters and I built a patio 2 summers ago. We used about 100, 44 lb 18″x18″ pavers. 44 lb. pavers seemed so light in the morning, but by evening they seemed to weigh 400 lbs.! I had several days of serious muscle pain where I could hardly hold a water glass. My daughters were just fine though! Hope your aching muscles feel better soon!
    :)Those old bricks are really cool and your yard looks so nice.

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    • Bless your heart. Sounds like you know exactly what I’m talking about. It was actually my hands that hurt the most, as well. Weird, isn’t it. So happy to hear you like the bricks. I’m so glad I saved them from the land-fill. Thanks so much for reading! Great to hear from you today.

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  22. Kathy! Even the healthiest, strongest, most muscle-y-est strong man would have divided that chore into smaller increments! Your problem is your ambition outweighed your energy and strength!

    Poor thing… I hope you’re feeling better soon, but if not, take a few days to lounge in that beautiful back yard of yours and enjoy the view of your new bordered sidewalk.

    And tell Sara she owes you a back rub and some ice packs! 😉

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    • The good thing is that I’m feeling back to normal now–and wiser–so much wiser! I should definitely have divided the work up into several days. Live and learn, right? Great to hear from you today, Terri!

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  23. Well told. And done, if you survive and recover without any lasting effects. We would make a good team you and I. I am always getting myself in over my head. But I think after my knee surgery a few years ago, reality hit.

    Some of my worst escapades occurred when, believe it or not, I was under 50. I permanently screwed up my right elbow once trying to remove large, old, yew bushes from our front landscaping single-handedly. Then there was the time I needed to build a small serpentine brick wall to contain a garden. I really did think I was having a heart attack that time. That mixing cement and carrying bricks stuff is not for wimps. One of the worse, and possibly stupidest, things I ever did was dig in my garden wearing gym shoes and not my boots. I couldn’t walk on my heel for weeks.

    It’s time for the yarn and knitting needles. Pull up a chair in the shade and avert your eyes from the things you feel compelled to change.

    I do think it is really cool that you saved the bricks. What is wrong with those people?

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    • Oh, Christine, we would get along so, so well! Sorry to hear you permanently hurt yourself, but I can so relate to this comment, I could only laugh. Better that than cry, right?

      You’ll be happy to know I’m feeling much better this week. Thanks for reading.

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  24. What a wonderful post for me to check in on! First, your rescuing and using those bricks goes straight to my save and salvage heart, plus they look great.

    Secondly, I’m younger, I realize, but when I painted my bedroom red (4 coats) using a chair and having to get up and down off it every three stroke, I was convinced I’d done permanent damage to my lead leg. Not ditch-digging painful, but pretty bad. Then there was the time I helped rake a three acre lot. I could go on.

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    • First, Rose, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to hear from you today! Yes, I can imagaine the brick salvage would be right up your own cobble-stoned alley. I’m glad you didn’t end up doing permanent damage, but I have to admit, your description of painting made me laugh. You know they have these things called “ladders?”

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      • I was delighted to read of you!

        Being as silly as I am it never actually occurred to me to get a painting ladder. If it had occurred to me, I still may have decided not to spend the money. It’s tough being me 🙂

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  25. Kathy, I will not attempt to dig a tunnel from the U.P. to Kentucky, I promise!! However, I have new admiration for you. Don’t even call yourself a wimp. You have accomplished more than many of might dream, even in a few inches. 🙂

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  26. LOL! I can relate all too well. We laid a flagstone patio almost two years ago, and all that digging, concreting, and laying of huge, heavy flagstones, damn near killed me.

    I have to say, it made me smile to see you wearing jewelry while you’re digging ditches. Classy. 🙂

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    • Lord, have mercy, Robin–then YOU really do know. Why do we do these crazy things? It has to be because we can. We may pay the price, but we can. So glad you liked the bracelets! I wear them all the time–mostly cause one of them can’t come off–for a reason too complicated to explain. LOL

      Like

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