Winter Interlude

Well, today was the day. A warm spell between two cold, dry spells. So guess what I did? I watered my grass.

It seems silly to water the lawn in the middle of January, but this isn’t an ordinary January. The average temperature seems to remain about the same, but we go from above normal to below normal, which averages out to . . . normal. With no moisture except one decent snowfall and one light dusting, the recommendation from the people I bought the grass from was to make sure it got plenty of water even in the winter.

So I finally caught the right day. I missed the last perfect day because I had to work, and although the highs have been respectable, the lows were way low, so the hoses didn’t thaw out. And to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have thawed out. I tend to sprinkle myself as well as the lawn when I set the hoses, and I don’t fancy myself as a Patsicle.

I don’t expect to have this situation once the grass takes hold, but the lawn is still too new to be left to the vagaries of the weather. And anyway, it was a pleasant day, and I had a chance to be outside for a while and soak up some sun, though how much sun I soaked up wearing a winter coat and a sun hat, I don’t know. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Tomorrow will be another day much like today, but I doubt I will water again. With a new cold cycle starting, the moisture won’t be evaporating any time soon. So, a whole day to myself with nothing on the schedule! Wow! I’ll certainly enjoy the freedom.

[I just deleted a whole section that mentioned plans for after my day of freedom. The Tarot cards today warned me to be prudent, keep silent about future plans, and take into confidence only those I absolutely must. I figured since I go through the trouble of reading the cards every day, I ought to heed them when they offer good advice. I certainly don’t want to advertise when I’ll be away, even though I have nothing anyone wants, except perhaps the house itself.]

I hope you’re doing okay wherever you are, and that those caught in the winter storms sweeping across the USA will be safe and warm.

Incidentally, those aren’t my sprinklers in the photo, and that’s not my grass. The sprinklers I have are the kind that can be held by hand or placed on the ground. I use them both ways, on the ground for large areas, by hand for the narrow strips. In the spirit of prudence, I thought it best not to post a photo of my house and lawn, though I have done so many times before.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Too Old to Shovel Snow?

I read an article today in the local paper that said a person should probably stop shoveling snow after they turn 45 years old, and definitely stop after 55. It sounds like an ad for snowblowers, though this was advice from a doctor, not a hardware store. (And anyway, snowblowers create their own risks.) The strenuousness of shoveling is exacerbated by the cold, so shoveling overstresses the heart, increases blood pressure, and constricts the arteries, which puts anyone with heart problems in the danger zone for a heart attack, and oh, yes: apparently studies have shown that perhaps 85% of adults have some sort of underlying arteriosclerotic cardiac disease even though most don’t know it. All this leads to approximately 1,000 heart attack deaths from shoveling every year, as well as thousands of other injuries, including approximately 4,000 back injuries from overextension of the back.

It doesn’t really help knowing this, because there is so much left unsaid. Are those who die sedentary folk who suddenly put their body through the tremendous workout of shoveling snow? If a person is otherwise healthy and physically active, is it still a problem to shovel snow after 45, or 55, or even 65? If you are aware of your physical limitations, can you do small sections of the work at a time without harm?

Mostly, though, it doesn’t help me knowing about the risk of heart attacks and other injuries because I am the only one here to shovel the snow, though occasionally a neighbor will do my walk along with his (but not often because he isn’t a kid, either). “Shoveling,” in my case is rather a misnomer. We mostly get light dry snow around here, so a couple of good sweepings with a stiff broom — one in the middle of a storm and one at the end — keep the need for shoveling to a minimum. And if by chance I do have to shovel, I push the snow with a bent-handled shovel (which is ergonomically designed to reduce stress on the back). And I stop frequently to look around and enjoy the day, because clearing my ramp and sidewalk are about the only times I go outside during snowy times. (I am cognizant of iciness and falls risks, so even if I feel like going out for a walk in such weather, I generally don’t.)

I reduce my snow-related risks in other ways to make up for possible shoveling hazards, such as not driving at all when the roads aren’t completely clear, and I wear heavy all-weather hiking shoes and use trekking poles if I do have to walk on treacherous surfaces.

It’s ironic, now that I think of it: this article was on the same page as an article about the dangers of climate change in Colorado, though (facetiously speaking), you’d think that less snow would be healthier for us considering the dangers of snow removal.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Back to Normal

It was cold this morning, with supposedly a wind chill of 25 below. The weather service issued a warning to be careful, that such a chill could give exposed skin frostbite within 35 minutes. I wasn’t concerned because I always bundle up, then I remembered — my face! I don’t wear a ski mask or anything like that, not even a muffler pulled up over my nose, because it tends to fog my glasses, and then the fog freezes. It’s so much better to simply stay inside.

So I did.

Because I’ve been spending so much time inside lately, the Christmas clutter has been getting to me. I figured today was a good day to start putting things away, and to my surprise, not only did I start, but I finished!

Without all the decorations and Christmas boxes and ribbons and such, the living room seems bare, but by tomorrow I will be used to the bareness again.

It’s funny to me how so often in mystery stories, a character who lives in a stark place with no pictures and knickknacks strewn around is suspect. Such a person has to be secretive, burying a shady past or hiding a felonious present.

I hope that’s not true in real life, that people who see my empty walls and lack of knickknacks don’t automatically assume I am not as I appear. And if it is true, I don’t suppose it matters. Mostly, though, people seem to be comfortable when they are here. Without being suffocated by my stuff, visitors can — for the time they are here — write themselves into the place. Many people love to have photos and knickknacks everywhere, which does put a personal touch to their space, but it can be overwhelming to live with. For me, anyway. Hence my empty walls and tables.

I do have a couple of personalizing touches — a book shelf and a glass-fronted cabinet — so my space isn’t a complete blank, but there’s nothing on the coffee table and the only things on the lamp tables are lamps.

There is one room with clutter, and that is my work/play room, but the clutter is that of living — electronics and books and notes and started projects. Oh, and a shelf for all my tarot cards.

I’m hoping for one more cold stay-inside day so I can do a thorough cleaning. I did vacuum up as much of the glitter as I could, but I’m sure a lot of sparkles drifted under the couch and bed the way dust does. Of course, no matter how well one cleans, there will always be a bit of glitter hiding in corners and cracks, so it’s a lost cause, but I would at least like to make an effort now that my living room is back to normal.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Pretending

The theme of the book I finished read last night was about lies, both ancient and not so ancient, and how those lies changed people and places even decades later. A secondary theme was about what makes a home a home. It wasn’t a particularly enthralling book; in fact, the story was rather predictable.

At the end, the female character was walking down the aisle, to “her friend. Her groom. Her home.” And suddenly, I was sobbing. I hadn’t been emotionally invested in the story, so my reaction to the ending surprised me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have. It was a reminder of what I have lost and that I am alone. Even worse, that I am alone at Christmas. Jeff and I never celebrated Christmas except by default, sort of like my Jewish friends who watch movies and eat Chinese food since there’s nothing much else to do, but it’s still an emotional time of year for those of us who are alone.

I don’t have to be alone, of course. It’s my own choice not to try to shoehorn myself into other people’s family gatherings despite their kind invitations, but whatever the reason, I will be alone while others are celebrating with their loved ones.

The upsurge of grief didn’t last long, not more than a few minutes, but it did make me wonder how much I’ve been lying to myself, merely pretending to be happy in my new life. I focus so much on the good things and the things I can do, such as having a house and friends, creating a home and a garden, and that focus blocks out the unpleasant truths, such as Jeff being dead and me being alone (and lonelier than I admit even to myself).

But those sad thoughts disappeared in the bright light of morning. Today I’m fine with no lingering aftereffects of that reminder of my loss. I also have no lingering afterthoughts about my contentment being a pretense. It might, in fact, be a pretense, like a kid playing house, but I don’t see what difference it makes. As I keep saying, what it comes down to is taking each day as it comes, being grateful for what comes, and letting go of old hopes and dreams to concentrate on creating new ones.

Which is what I am doing. There is a certain amount of pretense to hoping, dreaming, and recreating a life for oneself, and that pretense is what helps bring forth the reality. So if I am pretending, it’s all to the good.

***

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.

Lazy Days

Yesterday was a lazy day for me. The winds were so strong, I barely made it to my mailbox. There was no way I could water the grass or take a walk or any other outside activity. And because of those gale force winds, I was too unsettled to do much of anything, so I spent the day reading and playing games on the computer.

Gale force winds is not a figure of speech. Gale force is 34 to 40 miles per hour, and I’m sure the winds were at least that strong. In a nearby town, the wind was clocked at 107 mph, though luckily, we were well below that number. Still, the winds wreaked a considerable amount of damage, so today was anything but a lazy day.

When I went out to water my grass, I was shocked to see the lawn covered with leaves. I have no idea where all those leaves came from because I made sure that there were no leaves on the nearby trees when I did my final raking — or rather, what I thought was my final raking. Before I turned on my hoses, I had to rake up all those leaves. It was so not a job I was prepared to do, yet I did it. I also had to gather shingles that had rained in my yard from the roof of my neighbor’s garage, and I’ll probably have more to do tomorrow since I only dealt with the largest pieces today.

I should be grateful (and I am!) that those were the only two problems I had from the wind. Other people spent the day clearing out the downed tree branches and getting estimates from roofers. I had to call someone, too, though not for me. A neighbor of the people whose house I am looking after called someone who called someone who called someone who called me to tell me that shingles had blown off the roof. (Come to think of it, next time I see that neighbor, I should give her my phone number so she could call me directly.) So I called my contractor who went out to take a look at the damage.

If that wasn’t enough for one day, I still had to go to the library to return books that were due and to get gas for my car. Now that inclement weather is popping up, I don’t like my tank to get too low in case of emergencies. Nor do I like the idea of running out of books to read. I’m sure I did a few other chores, though I can’t think of any offhand. Not that it matters — what’s done is done, right? (Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be sitting here listing all the things I did today.)

Considering the dryness and the winds, I’m glad I haven’t yet planted my wildflower seeds — they would have ended up all over the neighborhood and come spring, I’d have wondered why I didn’t get a single flower out of the bunch. I’ve been waiting for the first snow before planting, which helps glue the seeds to the ground, but I might have to make alternate plans, such as waiting for a week when the highs are only in the forties, and those weeks are coming. Around here, so I’ve been told, February is the coldest month, and this area is noted for its late snows. Besides, I’ve had enough to do without worrying about those seeds.

Tomorrow might be another lazy day, and if not tomorrow, then Saturday. The best I can say about the weekend forecast is brrrrr.

***

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.

Water, Water Everywhere? Not Here!

I happened to catch a part of the news yesterday where they were talking about the drought in California, and how some communities were limiting the amount of water a person could use. One man, determined to keep his foliage alive, showed the newscaster the fifty-gallon containers where he collected and stored rain water. I just glossed over that bit about his collecting rain water because I was thinking of myself and wondering about the wisdom of putting in grass during a drought year.

I’m not in California, and there are no restrictions here, at least not yet. The mountains are getting some snow, so there might not be any restrictions, but I’ve always been water conscious, so I do feel a bit guilty about the grass. Still, if a thousand square feet of lawn is my worst offense against conservation, then I’m doing pretty good. In fact, until recently, I have never in my entire life used even half the water I paid for every month, so I’m just sort of evening things out.

I didn’t think anything more about the fellow collecting rain water until the early morning hours when I suddenly awoke, wondering where he was getting so much rain water in a drought. I mean, here in my corner of the world, we haven’t had any moisture for months, not even a cupful let alone gallons.

I finally was able to put the rain-collection conundrum aside and fall back asleep, but apparently, I didn’t forget it because here I am talking about it.

It did seem odd to me, though, that someone could brag about collecting rain water. If people here were to collect rain water, they dare not mention it because it’s illegal to collect rain water in Colorado. (Colorado is the only state with a ban on rain barrels, and is only one of four states where rain harvesting is illegal.) I actually know someone who got cited for collecting rain water.

The theory behind the ban on collecting water is that any rain water you collect could affect the water rights of others and also could disrupt ecosystems because any water you collect won’t go into nearby streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. Seems specious to me. I mean, if I collect rain water to water my foliage, then all I am doing is collecting water from one part of my yard and directing it to another. I can’t see that it makes any difference what I do with the water that falls on my property — it’s still going to end up where it would have ended up anyway. Come to think of it, isn’t that what rain gutters do? Collect the rain that falls on the roof and direct it elsewhere? So why aren’t rain gutters illegal?

Despite the ban, some people do collect small pans of rainwater to water their indoor plants (making sure the pan isn’t visible from the street), but I don’t even do that small bit of collecting. It has nothing to do with illegality, and everything to do with laziness. It seems like a lot of work to me.

For the next few days, at least, I won’t have to feel guilty about wasting water on my lawn because it will be too cold to water, and in a day or two there is a vague chance of some precipitation. Hmm. Just thought of something. Why should I feel guilty at all? If it’s illegal to collect rain water because it prevents water from draining into rivers and ponds, then shouldn’t watering my lawn be a good thing since it’s putting the water back where it belongs?

That question, too, will probably wake me in the early morning hours. Oh, well. Who needs sleep?

***

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.

A Day to Celebrate

Despite the controversy surrounding Thanksgiving in the United States — people say that it celebrates colonialism, brutality, genocide, epidemics, and slavery — it’s still a day of celebration for most of us. We don’t celebrate the mythical origins of the holiday, we merely take the day as it is presented to us — a day of being thankful, of being grateful for the good in our lives.

And truly, that is a wonderful thing — people getting together to celebrate thankfulness.

Languages evolve over time, meanings evolve, holidays evolve. What a holiday once meant, it no longer does. (In fact, the word “holiday” no longer means what it once did; it’s come a long way from the original “holy day.”) Just look at Halloween. It means something different to everyone, from the most religious to the most profane, and yet, there it is.

Thanksgiving is turning out to be the same. For most of us, the story of the first Thanksgiving has no meaning. We are newcomers. (I am a second generation American. The woman I spent the day with is a naturalized citizen.) And so we create our own traditions layered upon the older traditions.

I had no intention of getting into all this even to the extent that I did, but I wanted to point out that despite its mythical and self-serving origins, Thanksgiving is still an important day. Though come to think of it, I don’t need to have a day set aside to remind me to give thanks. Every time I look around my house or meander the paths in my yard, I give thanks for what life has offered me.

Today I did have a special reason to be thankful. A friend spent the day with me, and we feasted both on food and good conversation.

And that, too, is worth celebrating.

***

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.

Settling In, Not Setting Out

A blog I wrote the other day reminded me of one I’d written a long time ago called “The Importance of Being Important,” and I wanted to quote from that old post. I never did find the post; apparently, I had planned to write it, had written the title down on a list of blog topics that eventually got thrown away, and then I forgot all about it. I have no idea what I wanted to say about why we need to be important, but at one time, the idea must have been important to me.

I do think we humans have a need to feel important — to ourselves, if no one else. Importance could be tied in with a need for purpose, for being needed, for feeling that life does mean something, because feeling as if we aren’t important in the scheme of life is a crushing burden.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. In searching for that non-existent post in my archives, I came across essay after essay about my dreams for an epic adventure, plans for such an adventure, preparation for such an adventure, as well as actually setting out on various ventures. It struck me how different my life is now, and how different I am. Instead of setting out to experience more of the world, I am settling in to a world of my own making.

Even if it’s not actually a world I am making, it’s definitely a home — a place of refuge, a place where I belong, and most especially, a place that connects me to the rest of the world. In that respect, it is a way of experiencing more of the world, or at least experiencing the world in a different manner.

After Jeff died, I was afraid of settling down. Since I was well aware of my penchant for being a quasi-hermit (though it’s possible it’s more laziness than an actual penchant because sometimes it takes too much energy to be social), I feared that in settling, I would become a crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course, since I don’t want that much responsibility) and that when my expiration date came, weeks would go by before anyone would know I was gone. Luckily, I have neighbors who keep an eye out for me, and anyway, the role of crazy cat person in this neighborhood is already taken by a man who lives across the street.

[If I ever do write my small-town novel, there are certainly plenty of archetypes to choose from — the aforementioned crazy cat person; the hoarder who won’t let anyone in his house; the neighborhood talker; a generous and civic-minded man and his greedy slumlord brother; the tireless club woman who is active in just about every organization in town; the neighborhood drug dealer and thief. Except for the clubwoman, all the characters are men, which puts a bit of spin on the archetypes.]

Until the Bob issue, I did a good job of finding people to socialize with, but oddly, it’s my place itself that makes me feel as if I am settling in (which to me means taking an active interest in making a comfortable life for myself) rather than settling down (which to me connotes staidness and passively accepting the status quo).

The place seems almost like a presence in my life, as if it wraps itself around me in a comforting way. (I’m laughing here. That sounds almost like the premise of a horror story rather than a pleasant feeling, and perhaps, that’s how crazy old ladies living alone become crazy.)

It’s still early days, of course. I have been here less than three years, and I am just now beginning my journey into elderliness, so who knows how the experience of settling in will turn out. But so far, although I sometimes miss the excitement of setting out, settling in has been good for me.

***

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.

Righteous Exhaustion

With all the work I’ve been doing to landscape my yard, as well as tracking in dirt into the house via my shoes (even though I leave them at the door, the dirt seems to spread throughout the house), I’d pretty much given up housework as a lost cause. Well, today, that cause ceased to be lost and instead became found. And ai yai yai, what a task!

I hadn’t actually planned to clean the house, but I have been in the habit of doing something physical in the mornings. It was too cold to go outside and sitting down to read so early in the day smacked of wanton idleness, so I decided to get rid of the worst of the dust. Well, one thing led to another, and two hours later, I was still working.

This is a small house, and I have various modern cleaning tools at my disposal, so it shouldn’t have taken me very long, but the place needed a thorough cleaning. Apparently, I stopped seeing the dust on the flat surfaces and building up in the corners. Or more to the point, I didn’t want to see because there was nothing I could do (or wanted to do) about it since I was exhausted from my outside activities.

And now I’m exhausted from inside activities.

To be honest, I think all the digging and planting I’ve been doing were easier than cleaning house. Admittedly, everything is brighter now without dust dulling floors and furniture, but still, it was hard work. Now that most of the outside chores are done — only watering my newly sodded lawn and eventually sowing wildflower seeds remain — I should be able to go back to playing house more frequently rather than working at it as I did today.

Wait . . . I just thought of another outside chore I will have to begin doing as soon as the leaves on the neighbors’ trees are gone — blowing leaves off the ornamental rock around my house and garage. I’m not real anxious to attack that job because I have a feeling not all the leaves will blow off since they didn’t on a trial run, but all I can do is the best I (and my tools) can do. The leaf blower blows hard, so that’s not the problem. In fact, on the high setting, it’s enough to blow the rocks around, but some twigs and leaves still remain.

But that’s not a problem for today. Today I just want to bask in righteous exhaustion and the thought of a job well done.

***

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.

Underestimating Gardening Tasks

I am enjoying the unseasonably warm temperatures. The late mornings are still a bit chilly when I go out to work in my yard, so I don’t get the full benefit of the 70+ high temperature, but it’s still nice to be able to work without freezing my fingers and toes.

I have learned that when it comes to gardening, I always underestimate the time it takes to any task, and planting this last batch of bulbs is no different. I am placing them between the daylilies I planted a couple of months ago, so I figured the ground would be easy to work, but unfortunately, I let the prostrate bindweed take hold. I started out digging it up, but discovered that I was also digging up the newly planted daylilies, so I decided to wait until it was time to plant the tulips and do it all at once (weed and plant). And so I really have my work set out for me.

I also have to decide what to do with the lily trees I planted. The first twenty had a note on the package to plant 3” deep, which I did. A second batch from another company that I received ten days after the first batch said to plant 6” deep, which I also did. Concerned about the disparity of depths, I checked online, and the online instructions from the company where I bought the first twenty said to plant 10” deep. If I can figure out where the bulbs are (I raked the area flat, so it’s anyone’s guess), I might try to dig them up and replant them, but if the cooler weather comes too quickly or if my knees give out, I will have to wait until next fall and buy the bulbs again. Which I do not want to do because they are relatively expensive.

I am so not a gardener! Though I suppose, by the time I get my yard landscaped, I’ll at least know a bit more about what I am doing. It’s too bad about the lilies — I was really looking forward to an eventual lily tree forest of six-foot-tall plants. Apparently, the plants die back every winter, and every spring for three or four years, they come back taller than ever until they eventually grow to their full height. Planting new bulbs next fall would put the “forest” back another year so I wouldn’t see the full growth until the fourth year.

The good news is that if I decide to try to replant, and if I can find the bulbs, it should be an easy enough task since the ground was worked to at least a 6” depth.

But then, there is that comment I made earlier, that I always underestimate the time it takes to do any gardening task. Still, I can take comfort from knowing that at least the weather will be warm for a my bulb hunt.

***

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.