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Winter is the perfect time for working on a landscape plan to spruce up your curb appeal. Working on a plan you can put into action once the weather warms up is almost therapeutic. Yes, dreaming of flowers, shrubs, birds, bees and all that comes with springtime helps make winter tolerable. (And I am not ashamed to say it!)

How to Start Dreaming

If you have photos of your property to work with, great. If not, you can easily access photos of your property on Google Maps. Google Maps presents opportunities to look at your property at varying time frames and from various angles. Some photos will show upgrades you’ve already made. Using photos like this is a great way to start your landscape dreaming and planning.

The reason for referring to photos is to look at your property’s curb appeal so you can decide what needs a boost. Is it time to remove that big old creepy-looking tree? Is a shrub overshadowing your front door? Is a flower bed too small to have an impact? Would a couple of flower-filled urns on either side of your driveway add pizzazz? Is a falling over retaining wall detracting from your curb appeal? Do you simply crave more privacy or color?

Online or magazine photos of other properties can give you ideas for what upgrades you might want to include. There’s no better time than winter to flip through colorful inspiring garden magazines. You can even do a Google search of properties in your favorite locations. You can swoop over to France or Italy or down to California or Georgia if you’d like. Of course, climates vary and similar plant materials may not thrive in your area.

What to Plan

Start your plan by assessing the shape and flow of your walkways and adjacent plantings. Do they work? What needs improvement? What does your budget allow for? Is this the year to add a retaining wall or new sidewalk?

Assess the foundational plants on your property. This includes evergreens and deciduous trees that form the backdrop and framework for everything else. Are they balanced? Is something overtaking the area? Would it help to add a few more tall shrubs to provide an attractive background for other plantings?

If the existing shrubs, trees, and hard surfaces are in good shape and appealing, your plan might simply include adding colorful flowers.

Use Winter for Research

Some garden centers close for the winter, so use this time to research possible additions. Then if need be, find a contractor. Being first on a contractor’s list will ensure your dream sidewalk or patio becomes a reality early in the season.

Research the trees, shrubs, or perennials you might want to add to ensure they meet the hardiness of your area. Research blooming phases and predicted sizes of matured trees and shrubs ensuring there will be no future overcrowding.

Adding new flowerbeds may necessitate cutting out some turf. Will you be up for the challenge or should you contract that work out? And chances are several inches of quality planting soil and mulch will be needed to top up garden beds. Would you bring this in by a dump truck? Would you buy it in bags and dump it yourself?

Winter can also be a great time to look at options for growing your own plants from seed, bulbs, or dry roots. Getting plants started indoors can be a fun project.

Landscaping and gardening can become addictive yearlong hobbies. Once you see the plants you’ve installed grow and bloom and notice the dramatic difference small changes make, you’ll be proud of your accomplishments. Not only will a well-designed landscape make your property look good, it will become a fun place to dabble in and to admire all year long.

by Joy R. Calderwood

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Not All in the Mind: 5 Physical Causes of Anxiety

Anxiety has become one of the most common long-term health problems and can have a devastating impact on work, relationships and family life. While anxiety is usually treated as a psychological problem, there can sometimes be a physical cause. Treating the physical problem will usually eliminate or reduce the symptoms of anxiety.


Hormones are responsible for many important functions in the body, including mood control. An imbalance of hormones can cause physical and mental health problems, including anxiety, mood swings, nausea and fluid retention. The menstrual cycle, puberty and menopause are all responsible for major shifts in the balance of hormones. Some health conditions, such as thyroid dysfunction, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and chronic stress, can also affect hormone production.


Excess gas in the digestive tract is a common physical cause of anxiety, as trapped gas can affect the way you breathe. Gas in the digestive tract can also make it painful or difficult to take a full breath, leading to short or shallow breaths. Shallow breathing leads to hyperventilation, a well-known cause of anxiety. Excess or trapped gas can also be extremely painful and sometimes mimics the symptoms of a heart attack, causing further anxiety.

Food Intolerance

Food intolerances can cause a wide range of symptoms that many people do not connect to the food they are eating. Anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive disorders, skin conditions and aching joints can all be the result of food intolerances. Currently, there are no reliable tests to diagnose most food intolerances, but keeping a diary of symptoms and the food you have eaten will enable you to identify patterns.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Low levels of some nutrients can cause anxiety-like symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness and mood swings. Iron deficiency is common in women and can cause fatigue, dizziness and anxiety. Low levels of B vitamins and magnesium can make it difficult to relax, leading to increased anxiety, mood swings and muscle tension.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common digestive disorder that causes chronic heartburn, acid indigestion, nausea and sometimes abnormal food regurgitation. Chronic digestive problems affect the way you breathe, as it can feel uncomfortable taking a deep or long breath. This often leads to shallow breathing, which triggers anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety can also make the symptoms of GERD worse.

Again, anxiety is usually treated as a psychological disorder, and that is reason for knowing our own bodies and doing a bit of investigating on our own. If there are physical causes such as the above that are causing anxiety or anxiety-like symptoms, then try to determine a fix for it or inform your doctor. And get on with living a healthy and happier life.

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