Woman Power

I had a couple of lovely surprises today. First, clouds and coolness! Instead of the sweltering temperatures that had been forecast, the high today was twenty degrees below what it’s been for the past few weeks.

I made good use of the cool morning. Along the alley, partly blocking the entrance to my garage, were tall weeds, most waist height, some shoulder height. The way the driveway was built, the apron sloped downward a bit, as it should, to keep water from backing into the garage. The problem is that the slope ends below the bed of the alley, creating a gulley that collects any rain water and makes a perfect environment for . . .  you guessed it — weeds.

All spring and summer, whenever it rained enough to soak the ground, I’d go out and pull the weeds. Even though we haven’t had much rain for weeks, those weeds still grew immensely fast and even worse, they became cemented to the ground by the dry adobe-like clay soil. I’d asked the contractor to extend the driveway, which he agreed to do, but it’s not high on his list of priorities. Meantime, the weeds kept growing. He said he’d send workers out to whack the weeds, but the guys never showed up. Another worker said he’d send “his guy” to douse the weeds with weed killer, but he never came. Also, a worker said he’d drive past with his tractor, which would clear up those weeds in a few minutes. And of course, it didn’t happen. Someone told me that the city was supposed to mow the alleys, but that never happened, either.

So, I went out there to get rid of the weeds myself. As I dug and pulled, I couldn’t help thinking that one old woman with a shovel was doing what all those powerful men with their powerful chemicals and powerful machines wouldn’t do. Yay for woman power!

Once I cleared the weeds away from the driveway, I continued to dig up the weeds along the whole width of my property, a total of 150 square feet of tree-like weeds. Ouch. And I do mean ouch. I was out there for four hours and am stiff and sore from my shoulders to the soles of my feet.

But all those weeds are gone.

At least for now.

I’m sure they will grow back, but perhaps by that time, there will be some progress made on extending the driveway another two or three feet and filling in the gulley.

I also started removing the dead bindweed from the chain link fence. I wish there was a quick way to do that. The weed wraps itself around the wire, and clearing the wire is easy but time consuming. If it’s cool enough tomorrow, maybe I’ll take a chair out there and sit and pick.

Meantime, I can enjoy my other surprise. The New England aster are beginning to bloom! After their season, I’ll need to transplant some of them. Where once I had one plant, I now have five, and I’d like to spread them out.

Luckily, that can wait another couple of months. At the moment, I’m too tired to even lift the shovel let alone dig a small hole.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Storing Summer’s Heat

I’ve lost track of how many days the high temperature has hovered around 100˚ Fahrenheit. Although I would like to be outside, prepping more of my yard for fall planting, the heat has prevented me from doing much but staying inside and reading. I’m trying not to hurry these hot days along, reminding myself that all too soon it will be winter. It’s too bad our bodies aren’t created with built-in solar cells, enabling us to save the extra heat from these high summer days for those low winter times when it seems as if spring will never come. I would think our memory would be able to make that adjustment, but I don’t seem to be able to pull the chill of winter around me like a cloak. All I remember is feeling the same way toward the end of winter, trying not to hurry the last of the cold along because all too soon it would be summer.

It’s interesting to me that although we had spells of much hotter temperatures in July than these recent August days, it actually feels hotter now. That reversal is not just a memory quirk — my house feels it, too. For most of the summer, I was able to keep the house cool enough until late afternoon before I needed to turn on the air conditioner, but now it’s only stubbornness that keeps the air-conditioner off until sometime in the afternoon. Generally, it’s hot enough in the morning that a bit of cooling would be welcome.

The only thing I can think of to account for this disparity is that the ground has absorbed so much heat from those hotter days, that it takes fewer degrees in these drought conditions to heat the air to intolerable temperatures. I could be wrong, of course, but if so, it doesn’t change anything. I still have to deal with heat.

One gardening chore that I can do on these mostly sunny days, besides watering my bushes and flowers on the appropriate day, is to try to map the sunshine in my yard. So many plants have special requirements, anywhere from full sun to full shade, that it’s hard to know where to plant things. One area I thought got full shade turns out only to be shady in the morning. Some areas I thought got full sun, only gets sun in the morning and evening. Other sunny spots are shady in the afternoon and evening. One piece of information about planting that’s hard to find is if the timing of the sun or shade is important. If a spot is shady in the morning but sunny the rest of the day, is that better for shade lovers than sun in the morning and shade the rest of the day? Or is it better for sun lovers? Or neither?

There’s only one place in my yard that seems to get full sun, though since it’s on the north side of the house, I would have thought it would be full shade, but that’s only in winter.

So, that brings me back to where I started, thinking of the cold to come and trying to mentally store the summer’s heat so I’ll be able to remember it this winter.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Dreaming a Garden

After Jeff died, I did many things that ordinarily I wouldn’t have done, such as taking dance classes and joining a hiking club, because I worried that otherwise I’d stagnate, that I’d become the crazy cat lady sans cats, the one who was so alone that she’d be dead a week before anyone ever noticed she was gone.

Even after I moved here, I kept up with socializing, and I did rather well for a year until The Bob came and changed everything. Now I spend most of my time by myself, with only my job, a weekly visit to the library, and a monthly get together with the art guild to take me out of myself.

Perhaps I am on the way to stagnation as I feared, but the one saving grace is my interest in gardening, which means I won’t be the catless cat lady, I’ll be that old lady who is only seen when she is outside working on her garden. There are people around who, I am sure, would make sure I don’t devolve into that woman, but more to the point, there will be the garden.

I’m still such a neophyte that no matter what I do, a percentage of what I plant ends up dead, but that is not discouraging me. In fact, just today, I received a mailer from a plant company for things to plant this fall. Cold hardy hibiscus. Carpet phlox. Oriental poppies. Shade loving astilbe. Even the names are evocative! My ability to keep plants alive in both the burning heat of mid-summer and the bitter cold of mid-winter isn’t what I would like it to be, though I wonder at times if the problem is solely with me and if perhaps the soil, the plants themselves, or the seller share some of the blame. There’s only one company I ever purchased plants from who sent plants that are all still alive a year later. The plants from other companies don’t fare as well; in fact, all but two of the plants I got from a company that specializes in prairie plants never made it through the winter.

Still, I try. It seems to me as if my gardening expertise is a lesson in hope over reality. But I continue to dream anyway. And as long as I can dream, even if it is only dreaming a garden, I won’t stagnate. Oh, I might well become the neighborhood crazy lady, though in my own head and in my own garden, I’ll be active and spirited and very much alive.

One of these days, too, I’ll get back into writing, though I haven’t yet thought of a story or characters I’d be willing to live with for the year or so it will take to write the book.

Meantime, it’s a matter of deciding what plants to order and where to put them.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

The Spry Age

An older person in a book I’m reading was described as “spry,” which made me wonder if I’ve reached the spry age yet. Although originally the word “spry” meant any lively, energetic person who could move quickly and easily, in my lifetime I have only heard the word used in relation to older folk.

I suppose it doesn’t matter if I have reached the spry age, because even if I’m there, I’m not there because nothing about me, except maybe my mind, can be described as spry. Ever since my knee problem popped up, I seldom move spryly — I lumber more than I walk — though I hope that by continuing with my knee exercises, I will eventually solve that problem.

It’s a good thing one doesn’t need to be spry to work in one’s yard — one only needs . . . perseverance, perhaps. I generally have the grit to do whatever needs to be done, though yesterday, when the day was beautiful and relatively cool, I stayed inside and did laundry and other household chores. Today, when the temperature topped 100, I went outside to water and weed. Not the smartest use of those two days, so maybe I need to rethink that spryness of mind I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Still, spry or not, I managed to decimate a bunch of weeds. I always knew what the phrase “grows like a weed” meant, but now I have almost daily proof. Even though we haven’t had any rain recently, the weeds are doubling in size daily. Today I had to wrestle with weeds that were thigh-high, though the last time I was out, they were only slightly taller than my ankles. Luckily, digging up weeds needs a good shovel more than spryness.

I did find a few surprises in my yard. Gladiolus. Marigolds. And another daylily!

I planted these flowers, so there shouldn’t have been any surprises. The surprise comes when something actually blooms. I plant the same things in the same general vicinity so the soil is the same. I water them the same. They get the same amount of sun, but, for example, of the five gladioli I planted, only one grew enough to bloom. So, that was a surprise.

I’m getting off the topic of “spry,” which is probably a good thing. I’d rather think of growing flowers than contemplate my growing lack of spryness.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

An Emotionally Neutral Day

I’m sitting here with a blank “page” in front of me, doing my daily mental scrounge for a blog topic. A reader wants me to write about Grief and Peace, and I will because it’s a great topic, but I need to put it off for a while. Although I’ve been fine during the day, I felt a bit sad the past couple of nights. I’m feeling emotionally neutral at the moment, and I want to keep it that way, so I’m staying away from blogs and books that might turn what was a tiny dent of sadness into a sinkhole of despondency.

For most of my life, I read a book a day. The only vacation from reading I ever took were six or seven years after Jeff died. I started out reading as always, but every book I read set me off on a crying jag. Either a couple got together, which made me sad because Jeff and I were no longer together. Or the couple didn’t get together, which made me sad since Jeff and I were no longer together. Or people died. Whatever happened in a novel — be it gruesome or horrifying, mysterious or charming — set me off, so I stopped reading fiction and didn’t start again until I was housebound after I destroyed my wrist, arm, and elbow. (Which, incidentally, are doing well. Although there is some pain that could be the beginning of the post traumatic arthritis the surgeon promised me, I have full mobility of the wrist though he said I never would. But that was before he understood I would do the exercises he gave me. It shocked him, I think, because he told me almost no one ever did what he asked them to do.)

I am back to reading a book a day, but occasionally one of those endings — togetherness, apartness, or death — get to me. This time it was the togetherness, and I felt sorry for myself at being alone. Not that I mind. I generally prefer being by myself, but sometimes . . . sometimes it does get to me.

It’s not that I want a relationship. I don’t. And I certainly wouldn’t know what to do with a relationship if one came my way. It’s more that the relationship I did have has become nothing more than me talking to photograph.

I’m over that sad spell, probably because I talked it out. (Jeff was always a good listener, but he seems to be even more so now.) To be on the safe side, I made sure all the books I got from the library yesterday were emotionally neutral mysteries or thrillers. (Emotionally neutral because none of those authors ever make me care about their characters.) I’m also writing an emotionally neutral blog today and will save the Grief and Peace piece for another day.

Speaking of going to the library: a couple of times I left without getting a slip that tells me the due date, and both of those times, something happened so that I had to contact the library to make sure everything was okay. The librarian and I joked about that yesterday, and guess what? I left without getting a due date receipt. I sure hope that doesn’t mean there will be a problem because that would sure put a dent in my emotionally neutral day.

One thing did happen that tipped the neutrality a bit — I harvested a few cherry tomatoes! Delicious.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Standing Still

For lack of a better topic, today I’m going to write about . . . me. That, of course, is a joke because all I ever write about is me, in one way or another. Writers are often told to write what we know, and pretty much all I know is me, at least to the extent that any of us know ourselves.

Oddly, I seem to be standing still, always in the same place, waiting for workers to come on Friday, waiting for my brakes to be fixed on Monday. I’m not sure what the problem is with the workers not showing up — probably the contractor, as always, is way behind, and so has no one to send over here. Getting the brakes fixed is a different story every week — either the part didn’t come in or the wrong part was sent or the mechanic is dealing with lingering “Bob” issues from his very bad bout with the virus or . . . something.

And so, once again, I am standing in that same place, where the workers are supposed to come on Friday and I’m supposed to take my car to the mechanic on Monday.

On the brighter side, one of my new day lilies has bloomed!

And one of my original daylilies has bloomed again.

Surprisingly, my cherry tomato plants are fruiting. I didn’t really expect to get any tomatoes; I just planted them because I could. There aren’t a whole lot, just a small handful every other day, which actually is perfect for me. Never having planted tomatoes of any kind before, I am amazed at how big the plants get! I might need to invest in tomato cages next year to keep them contained because stakes and string don’t really do the job.

Despite these small successes, I seem to be standing still in regards to my gardening, too, always planning for next year — what to try, what to do differently, how to battle the ever-encroaching weeds.

I suppose standing still isn’t so bad. At least I’m not running in place, wearing myself out, and getting nowhere.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Preparing to Plant

I hadn’t planned on working outside this morning, but it was cool enough that I thought I should continue preparing the soil for when my tulip bulbs arrive. (One company said they will send them this month; the other company said they will send them next month.)

As it turned out, although it was below eighty degrees Fahrenheit when I was out, the humidity hovered around 60%. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re used to humidity in the low teens, it’s a lot. And humidity, even more than high heat, makes me perspire.

I always thought it a silly cliché when movies show a bead of sweat dripping from the end of a character’s nose to indicate nervousness. After this morning, I know for a fact that sweat can drip off the end of a person’s nose, though in my case, it had nothing to do with a case of nerves but because of too much exertion in too much heat and humidity. Normally, I’d swipe an arm across my face to get rid of any unsightliness, but I’d sprayed my gardening clothes with permethrin to protect me from mosquitoes, and though the bug spray is supposed to be non-toxic to humans, I certainly don’t want it anywhere near my face.

So I dripped.

I desperately needed a shower when I was finished, but since a worker was here to lay rock around the house, I hesitated. There’s something about taking a shower when strangers are working close to the house that makes me nervous. I’m sure none of them ever stop to think, “The shower is running, so the woman is nekkid,” but still, prudence makes me hesitate.

Luckily, the worker went home to take a break, so I got my shower.

Unluckily, he never came back.

It just goes to show that I can only count on myself to get anything done, but since I’m not foolish enough or young enough or strong enough to lay the rock, I have to wait for people to come and stay long enough to do the work. I just wish they’d let me know what’s going on. I presumed he was coming back because he left tools out and the gates open, but who knows.

I’m just glad I got my tulip bed ready, so at least something was accomplished today.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Things to Worry At

In a book I just finished reading, the character often stayed awake at night worrying about all the things in her life that she couldn’t do anything about. As it turns out, the one thing she should have been worrying about, the thing that will change her life forever, is something she could never have imagined. But that’s not what this post is about.

Mostly, her worrying got me to thinking about my worries. Luckily, my worries at the moment are all minor. Even better, “worrying” in my case doesn’t mean causing anxiety; it means to tug and pull at things. Like a dog worrying at a bone, I worry at thoughts — I poke and prod them, pushing them around in my head, looking at them from all angles.

The current bone that I am worrying at is what to plant in the “island” between my two sidewalks. The space lends itself to some sort of formal desert garden, or rather it would if it weren’t for all the shade that area gets. A garden like that would take more studying and preparation (and money!) than I want to deal with right now, though I can always plan such a garden at a later date. My latest thought is to take all the seeds I have, mix them together — cultivated flowers and wild flowers, annuals and perennials, new and expired — and then next summer toss them onto the space, cover them with dirt, water, and see what happens.

The summer after that would be the key to what I ultimately decide. If enough perennials take hold, then the decision would be made for me and I wouldn’t have to do anything. By then, too, the prostrate knotweed that passes for grass around here might have taken over, since it’s almost impossible for me to keep on top of it, and in that case, I wouldn’t have to do anything, either, except give up and let it be.

Ideas for that garden particular area are not all that I am pushing and pulling around in my head. Behind the currently roofless gazebo, in the middle of the reddish pathways, there will be a raised garden, and that, too, is something I worry at. It will be the focal point of my secret garden (because when all the bushes along the fence grow up, that space will be utterly private), and I’m not sure what one plants in a raised garden. It would seem as if tall plants would overpower the area and perhaps make it claustrophobic. And low-lying plants might get lost. I’d originally thought it would be a good place for a vegetable garden, but since I’ve killed a couple of my tomato plants and can’t even manage to grow a zucchini, I’m not sure it’s worth the time and effort to plant vegetables.

None of this matters, of course. It’s not as if the fate of the world lies in the decision of what to plant in my various garden spots. It’s not even as if my own fate lies in the decision. It’s that I like having some idea of what I am going to be doing. More than that, apparently, I also need things to worry at, and with nothing major to worry about, I worry at my gardens.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Just Like That

Awhile back, I accepted a job as a part-time caregiver (more of a companion, to be honest) for an older woman. I promised to stay a year, and wow! Just like that (snapping my fingers), the year is gone. I signed up for another few months, which is nice for all concerned. I get along well with the women, both the client and her permanent caregiver, they get a break from each other, and I get help with some of my expenses, most notably, my gardening expenses.

I spent a nice chunk of my paycheck on bulbs to plant for this fall. I got carried away, and so my spare time (weather permitting), will be spent preparing the soil for the bulbs. I have a good idea where the bulbs will go, so that’s good. Tulips will go alongside one of my garden paths, and lilies will go to augment the lilies I already have, so that eventually I will have a lily forest.

One area of the yard I have no idea what to do with is the six-foot space between the two sidewalks in my back yard that lead from my back door to the garage and gazebo. This year, I just planted whatever seeds I had plus any extraneous purchased plants. What seemed like a good idea has devolved into rather a mess, and I don’t want a repeat of that next for next year.

I’ve been considering a combination of cosmos, zinnia, larkspur, and baby’s breath because all of those go well together, but since those are all tall plants, I’m not sure how well they’d fit in the overall scheme of my yard. I considered various flowering groundcovers, but none of the samples I bought and planted seemed to take hold. In fact, some of them simply disappeared.

Luckily, I don’t have to make any decision about that particular garden space quite yet. We haven’t even made it through this summer. But the fall and winter will go fast (in fact, by the time next spring comes around, my most recent job stint will have come to an end), and I’ll need to have some idea what to do. I guess if inspiration doesn’t strike, I’ll go with my idea of zinnias, cosmos, larkspur and baby’s breath. Considering that those are all annuals, it would give me an extra year to decide what would look good in that area. Maybe a perennial about a foot tall with big showy flowers. I have no idea what that would be, but it would give me a place to start looking, because (snap) just like that, it will be spring and time to plant.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Possible Dreams

As I water my various plants, I daydream about what the yard will look like in the coming years, assuming I can keep up with the work. I hadn’t realized I would like lilies, but I find them amusingly cheerful. I looked up my order for the lilies I planted and discovered they are orienpet lilies, a combination of oriental lilies and trumpet lilies. To be honest, I hadn’t remembered planting them. Luckily, they remembered! Apparently, their lying dormant the first year is not unusual. Even better, every year they’re supposed to get bigger than the previous year, and eventually they will grow to be six feet tall. Now I am dreaming of a lily forest. I bet it will be beautiful, especially if I order more lilies to fill in the space around where these lilies are growing. And since I water and weed that area anyway, there won’t be any extra work once the lilies are planted.

Although the lilies are supposed to be strong enough not to need staking, mine are still so young that I need to invest in some garden stakes. Right now I am using wooden stakes leftover from the various concrete jobs around the property, but although functional, they detract too much from the flowers.

Another place I have dreams for is the area in front of the lilacs along the path next to the garage. It seems perfect for tulips. I water there anyway, just like with my future lily forest, so once the bulbs are planted, there won’t any extra work. And it won’t look like a mess once the flowers have faded.

I felt more like playing in my yard today than I have the past couple of weeks, so I harvested hollyhock seeds, which I am willing to share with anyone local who wants some. Just let me know. I also cut down a couple of the spent hollyhock stalks that were unsightly, but that only made the weeds along the fence more apparent. I’m thinking it would be a good idea to extend the slag driveway along the fence line to help with the problem. There will be way too much inside the fence for me to take care of without having to worry about anything outside the fence. I also did a bit of weeding, but wore out quickly. And anyway, I had to put the gardening on hold because I needed to start my car. Even though the brakes aren’t fixed yet (the brakes work, but the brake warning light still comes on), I’ve been doing a bit of driving just to keep the car mobile.

It still amazes me how gardening has gotten into my blood. When I first moved here, all I could think of was putting in some sort of landscaping that would take care of itself, and now I’m dreaming of a mini estate that will take plenty of work.

But we all need dreams, right? And not impossible ones either.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God