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

New Project!

I am rather proud of the way my project for today turned out — creating a flagstone path across the rocks from the sidewalk to the mailbox. It looks as if it was simple task, but some of those flagstones were so thick, I needed to create a three-inch-deep space in the rocks to accommodate the stones.

The path was mostly supposed to be for show, since I like the looks of paths of all kinds, but it has turned out to be an important addition. Normally, I would walk down the driveway to the street and then check my mail. If there was any rain, however, water flooded the driveway for several days until it evaporated (the drainage on this side of the street is a joke), making it impossible to traverse. When the driveway was flooded, I used to have to deal with weeds and mud to cut across the right of way to get to the mailbox. There hasn’t been any rain for several weeks, but now the driveway is unusable since it is heaped with the rocks that will eventually be spread around the house to protect the foundation.

Luckily, the right of way is now landscaped with rock, but unluckily, the bed of rock is even more treacherous to cross than the weeds and mud were. Luckily, I found enough flagstones around this place to create my little pathway to the mailbox. Unluckily, I seldom get mail, but luckily, since I have to check the box anyway, I now have safe passage.

I got confused with all the “luckily”s and “unluckily”s, especially since in the middle of writing that paragraph, the doorbell rang with a package for me — a leaf blower to keep the rocks cleared of debris. Still, I tend to think I came out ahead.

And if not, well, here’s one more “luckily”: luckily, I was able to do the path myself and not have to wait for errant workers to show up and do the job for me.

***

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

Doing the Best We Can

Yesterday was the third anniversary of my older brother’s death. He’d been homeless, possibly bipolar, and driven by rage. As another sibling said, “I will probably always be tormented by thoughts of the torture his demons inflicted upon him.”

We are a myth-making species, and the myth another sibling has adopted is that our homeless brother took upon himself the demons that haunted our family so the rest of us could be free. It’s a pretty myth that allows her to make sense of his life, and for all I know, it could be true, but I can’t shrug off his problems that easily.

My brother hated Jeff, partly, I think, because my brother felt abandoned when he discovered he and I weren’t in the same boat — loners with never a chance at a real relationship. He also felt he should be the one to look after me, though he couldn’t even look after himself.

Back when his problems started showing up, no one even considered the possibility of mental illness; they just thought he was a troublemaker. He and my father were so much alike. They both thought they knew the right of things, and they often fought. For most of my life, they used me as the rope in their game of tug-of-war, and I wasn’t smart enough or hard enough to discover a way out. I remember as a young woman thinking I’d never have any peace until they were both dead, and that the depressed me to no end, not only that I would think such a thought, but that it might be true.

For many years with Jeff, I did managed to evade much of their conflicts and the despair those conflicts (and my divided loyalties) engendered in me. After Jeff, died I went to look after my then ninety-three-year-old father, and when my brother showed up shortly afterward, the fighting escalated. And again, I was caught between the two of them. This lasted until my father’s death.

Oddly, although I often think of my brother, I don’t usually think of the horror those demons put us through. I think of the irony that because of his homelessness and his demons, I have a home. It was his death that started a whole cascade of events that led me here, to this house. In a way, I benefitted from his demons, though I don’t feel guilty. It’s just something I ponder.

We can never know the truth of someone else’s life. I learned this after Jeff died. I was wailing to a hospice social worker that he hadn’t had much of a life since he was so often sick, and she told me that he did have a life. It might not have been a happy life, but it was his life. It took years for that particular lesson to soak in because our lives had been so entwined and we thought so much alike that it was often hard to tell who had what thought first, but the truth is, it was his life. I might have been a part of his life, but I wasn’t the whole of it.

It’s the same with my brother. Whatever I think of his life, the choices he made and those that were thrust on him, I try to allow him the dignity of owning his own life.

One other thing I’ve learned from all of this — the conflicts, the deaths, and especially my grief — is that we all do the best we can with what we are given. It’s hard sometimes to separate out the unfairness of life, since some people are given so much — good physical health, good mental health, wealth, joy, companionship — while others get by on a paucity of such gifts.

And even when we, in hindsight, think that others could have, should have done better with their meager gifts, if we’d been inside their heads, with their demons poking at us, we might realize that yes, they did the best they could.

If there is anything I do feel guilty about, or at least unsettled by, it’s that I was right all those decades ago. It’s only now that both my father and my brother are gone that I’ve truly found peace. It’s a horrible thought, made even worse by the truth of it. The one mitigating factor is that if my belief is true — that we all do the best we can — then not only did they do the best they could, but so did I. It’s not as if I wished them dead. I didn’t. I simply wished for peace, not just for me, but for them, too.

***

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

Zero Degrees of Separation

During a meeting I attended yesterday in the early afternoon, one of the women talked about relatives who’d come to visit. She mentioned how busy she was but managed to attend the meeting because her company had gone to a nearby town to visit other relatives.

Just chit chat. You know how it goes.

A couple hours later, when I was at my caregiving job, a couple knocked on the door. The woman explained they were in town visiting their cousin and wanted to see my client, who was the mother of the woman’s lifelong friend. They were a bit hesitant because they didn’t know me or why I was there, and since I didn’t know them, I too was a bit hesitant for a brief moment until I realized who they were.

I exclaimed in amazement, “I know you. You’re L’s company. She was just talking about you.”

Writing it out like that, it doesn’t sound all that amazing, and perhaps it isn’t, especially for a small town, and especially for a small town where half the people have lived here their whole lives and whose families have lived here for generations.

Still, I do find it amazing. I barely knew any of my relatives. My father was a bit of a slow rolling stone. He moved away from his family to start his own, and when we grew up, he moved away from us. And I have no friends I’ve known my whole life, though in recent years I did reconnect with some high school classmates.

Generally, in my life, there were many degrees of separation between the people I know and the people I meet. And yet around here, there’s barely a degree of separation.

I don’t suppose it will take long for me to become part of that lifestyle. Because of the woman I take care of, I know how many of the people here fit together, and in turn, the people I meet are figuring out who I am and how I fit in.

Of course, I’ll never really be part of that zero-degrees-of-separation life, because even if I live here until my expiration date, I’ll still be a newcomer. Luckily, people here like newcomers.

***

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 Mountain Comes to Pat

I was going to start this particular essay with the quote about Mahomet going to the mountain when it wouldn’t come to him, but when I researched the saying, I discovered that Muslims find that quote offensive for some reason having to do with racism. I’m not sure why it’s racist. Do be honest, I don’t know why a lot of what is currently racist is considered so. But that isn’t germane to this particular post, which is, in fact, about the mountain coming to me.

I arranged for rocks to be put around my house and garage to protect the foundations, and more recently, to fill in the right-of-way between the sidewalk and the street with rocks instead of unsightly weeds and rampant tree growth on leftover roots from a felled tree.

This has been a long, drawn-out process. The first of the rocks, which had sort of an ochre tone, were laid last fall and another installment this spring. The rock project has been on hiatus for a few months, but the workers were here last week to get more rock to finish putting around the house, creating more paths, as well as doing the right-of-way. Unfortunately, the current batches of rock are more rose than ochre. (The pile of brick red rock you see in the photo below is the breeze for the paths.)

The workers used all the pink stones for the right-of-way, since it doesn’t matter as much if those rocks don’t match the rocks around the house, and they went back today to see if they could get the right color. Although we thought the pink rock was a mistake, it turns out that all the rocks are from the same quarry, just a different “dye lot.” Technically, it’s not a dye lot since the rocks were never colored (except by nature), but still, the rocks are a completely different color. Luckily, the people at the place where the workers have been getting the rock dug down beneath the pink rock and found a couple of tons of the original color.

I’m sure the workers are even more pleased about than I am because they are the ones who would have had to take up all the old rock, mix it with the pink rock so that there wouldn’t be two separate colors of rock around the house, and then lay it all back down. Tons of rock!! Yikes.

So what does this have to do with the mountain coming to me? Apparently, the quarry is a mountain that is being blasted to smithereens, and some of those smithereens are ending up here on my property. I suppose, since I haven’t been able to get to the mountains since I’ve been here, I should be grateful that the mountain is coming to me. Seen in such a light, it will give me a better appreciation of all the rock that’s being laid around here, though I must admit to feeling a bit guilty because of my participation in the destruction of that particular mountain.

***

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.

Today’s Garden Surprises

Shortly after I moved here, a neighbor let me transplant a bit of her far-ranging prickly pear cactus. I might not have been interested if I hadn’t just spent several years in the high desert of California. I’d often encountered such plants when I wandered in that rather tame wilderness, and her plant seemed to bridge some sort of mental or geographical gap in my psyche.

The prickly pear never really did well — most of the paddles gradually died, but there was no way I was going to touch that thing to remove it. It all but maimed me when I dug it up and replanted it that I didn’t want to ever do anything with it again. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Those prickles really hurt. Even wearing heavy work gloves didn’t keep my hands safe from all the pricks.

Last year I noticed a bit of green, and this year, although the dead paddles are still lying on the ground to remind me of less sublime times, the prickly pear is doing well. And look!

It bloomed for me!

That wasn’t the only surprise today. The rock roses seem to be taking hold.

The snapdragons are really going strong. Such pretty candy colors!

The calibrachoa flowers I’d planted in a hanging basket are also going strong.

And more hollyhock blossoms are peeping out at me.

It’s funny to think of myself as a gardener. I was one of those people who were seemingly born with a brown thumb — I couldn’t keep even the simplest plant alive. And now, so many flowering plants adorn my yard that it amazes even me.

Admittedly, most of the yard is dirt and weeds, and even the garden spots are rather sparse, though if you just see my photos rather than the yard itself, you’d think I have a lush yard. Maybe someday I will, but for now, I’m thrilled with any bits of life and color that manage to survive my inept care.

***

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.

Meeting With My Contractor

I spent most of last evening working on a list of projects for my contractor that included projects that have been started and paid for but not finished, projects that have not been finished but were included in a bulk payment (two installments of which I still owe), and projects that have been contracted for but not started and not paid for.

Whew! What a task! But to the best of my knowledge, the list includes everything we’ve talked about and planned over the past couple of years since I bought this place.

This morning, I met with the contractor to go over the list. A lot of the items could be knocked out in a day if he brought his whole crew here, other items will take longer, especially if he’s only able to send a couple of men here to work. One of those men is new and I haven’t yet met, but the other has been here working on occasion. Still, when they work their way down the list to the projects inside the house, I want the contractor here, not just his minions. Although I like and trust the one who has been here before, I still prefer for the person I hired to do the work. That way there are never any questions about who is working in my house and who might be responsible for any mishaps.

As for the rest of it, though, I’m not sure I care who does the work as long as someone does it.

One of the problems of running a business such as my contractor’s is hiring help. The truly trustworthy workers who can get the job done without supervision seem to be hard to find, so when it comes to a “shopping list” of jobs, such as I have, rather than one big project, he needs to delegate others to do the work.

Another problem with a plethora of jobs, especially those that call for dump truck loads of material such as rocks, gravel, and dirt, is actually getting the stuff here for the delegates to work with.

Hopefully the delegates will be here tomorrow as planned to get started on some of the jobs. The huge amount of rain we had this spring (300% of normal, more than 600% of what we had been getting the past couple of years) spooked me. Water poured off the roof rather than into the gutters because the fascia had been wrongly installed by some previous owner, so I ended up with a gully wash. Also, the workers had dug dirt away from the house to fix the foundation and never got back here to fill the ditch. The combination of the faulty gutters and the ditch created a moat around the house. Although it was a big enough problem to make me worry about the basement flooding, it wasn’t big enough to attract dragons or other moat dwellers. (The mosquitos, however, are ravenous this year and I am their smorgasbord.)

One of the first things they will be doing is building my raised garden in the middle of my rear pathways. I have a hunch it might be too late to get plants to fill the garden by the time it’s done, but perhaps not. I suppose it’s a matter of whatever I can get, wherever I can. Since the brakes on my car still aren’t fixed (I haven’t been calling to nag the mechanic but maybe I should), I only have the sparse selection at the local hardware store to choose from.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One meeting with a contractor in no way equates to jobs finished. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

***

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.

Gardening Chores

I went out this morning to do a couple of quick gardening chores. Two hours later, dirty, sweaty, and exhausted, I finally gave up. Each chore had led to another, until it seemed (and rightly so) that I’d never be finished. I suppose that’s both the frustration and fun of gardening — that there is always something that needs to be done, and that there is also always an excuse to go outside and play in the dirt.

I did accomplish some of what I wanted to do. I planted the bulb collection I got from the Arbor Day Foundation.

I realize this summer cutting garden will never look like the photo they sent — for one thing, the plants all flower at different times, and for another, I planted them in a straight line at the back of the flower garden I’m creating outside the one window I regularly look out of.

And then there is the problem with the gardener. (Meaning me.) A rank amateur, that’s for sure! Though admittedly, I am learning, and I am managing to keep some things alive besides waist-high weeds. As you can see, my marigolds and the cherry tomato plant are doing well despite the grass that insists on growing back.

After I planted the bulbs (being careful to follow the directions, which I don’t always do, but I wanted to make sure the bulbs at had at least a slim chance of coming up), I pulled weeds. Then I trimmed a tree/bush. It’s a locust that was cut down a couple of years ago, but it continues to grow. I’ve been undecided about keeping it since I’m not sure I want the responsibility of trimming it as I grow older, so I thought I’d have the tree guy grind out the stump when he comes to grind up all the other on the property, but I kind of like it. It looks like a fern with its tall, wavy branches.

After trimming the tree, I pulled more weeds. There are still more weeds to pull, and the weed patch I laughingly call my lawn needs to be mowed again. I also need to transplant some bulbs that will be buried under gravel if the landscaper ever comes back to do some more work, and then . . . yep, there’s always something!

***

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

Remembering

During the past couple of years, I have tried to concentrate more on what I have gained rather than all that I have lost. The tally is still vastly weighted on the loss side, but good things have happened, such as finding a house and creating a home for myself.

The past few days, however, melancholy has gotten hold of me, and I remember the losses. I don’t know whether the plethora of dark clouds and rainy days are responsible or if it’s merely one of “those” times. That this is Memorial Day is entirely coincidental. In fact, I didn’t even remember it was Memorial Day until I went to the library and found it closed. Besides, although Memorial Day has become a day to remember all our dead, its original intent was a day for remembering those who died for their country in any of its various wars.

It’s true that most of my “losses” are loved ones who have died in the past decade or so — my parents, my brothers closest to me in age, and Jeff, of course — but there are other profound losses during those same years that still shape my life, such as the destruction of my arm (though I have become used to the deformity and the remnants of pain), the lack of dance classes, the inability to hike long distances, and losing my home not once but twice (once when Jeff died and once when my dad died). The home loss is especially poignant in an area where families have remained for generations. They might not have lived their whole lives in this very town; they might have come from a nearby town, but to someone who is new to the area, this seems inconsequential. It’s not as if they moved hundreds of miles. They are still within reach of where they grew up, within reach of family and memories.

But this isn’t about them. It’s about me feeling the losses and me feeling lost. Although I didn’t list it with my losses above, I think one of the greatest losses is of myself. Grief changes a person. Being semi-nomadic changes a person. Being isolated changes a person. Owning a home changes a person. I am getting used to who I have become and am still becoming, but it’s not the me I remember being all those years with Jeff. Somehow, our being together allowed me to be a truer version of me than I’d ever been before. I tend to think I am again living a true version of myself, but it’s a different version, one that sometimes strikes me as being . . . not me.

It might be that I spend too much time alone. Although I am comfortable living alone, I must admit I still miss having someone to do nothing with. Sometimes I have someone to something with, but those days of doing nothing in particular with someone are long gone. There are so many little nothings in a day — miniscule victories or insignificant happenings that aren’t worth talking about, but that we want to mention anyway. And there are times when we’re sad or lonely or restless, and just want a moment’s connection — perhaps nothing more than a shared look — before continuing our daily tasks. I can call people or text them, but it’s not the same thing. By the time I make the connection, the moment of nothing has become something.

I don’t mean to sound as if I feel sorry for myself. I don’t really, at least, not much. I just think it’s important to occasionally stop and remember what once was and is no longer.

***

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

The Sounds of Unsilence

I’ve never understood windchimes. As mobile art, they are rather intriguing, but when you add in the wind part, they are aggravating as all heck. But that must just be me. Obviously, other people find them pleasing otherwise there wouldn’t be so ubiquitous.

Still, there aren’t many people whose sound of choice is silence. There are a lot of noises I can’t tolerate, such as outdoor machinery, but at least there seem to be a purpose to those noises, and once the job is done, the noises cease. (And now that I have the semblance of a yard, I too am making noise with a yard machine.) With windchimes, though, the noise is arbitrary, based on whatever the wind is doing, and in a windy climate? Ouch. Those things are almost constant.

Luckily, the windchime currently aggravating me doesn’t disturb my sleep. In other places I’ve lived, the windchimes were so constant, they invaded my dreams, so I could never get away from them until I finally was able to move. Even more luckily,, come summer, the air conditioner will be on at least part of the time. The air conditioner has always been a rather hard choice for me to make — silence and sweat, or noise and coolness — but this year, having it on will help drown out the windchimes.

I wish it was just a matter of getting used to the chimes, but it’s not a so much that I prefer silence, but that windchimes, even the so-called tuned ones, grate on my nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. (Do young people today even know what that sound is, or have whiteboards replaced the old-fashioned blackboards?)

From what I remember of last summer, the early morning hours are fairly still, with the winds picking up later in the afternoon. Or perhaps I’m remembering the desert where I was living before I moved here. In that area, I know, the winds picked up as the day went on. Either way, I’ll find quiet times to go outside and sit. Or not. It could be that I’ll just go out to do whatever work I need to do, then come and hide inside where it is relatively quiet.

The windchime problem has given me an idea for a book, though. The poor protagonist is at wits end because of the noise, and she talks of shooting them. People misunderstand and think she’s talking of shooting her neighbors, and then they end up dead. But I wouldn’t want to harm my neighbors even in literary fun because that would seem to bring bad Karma, especially since we’re all planning on hanging around here until the end, whatever that end might be.

***

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