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

Showing My Life

People often express concern about my posting photos of my house and my yard. They think I am setting myself up for theft or home invasion or some such, and perhaps that’s true. However, most people who read this blog don’t know exactly where I live — in fact, most live in distant parts of the United States or in other countries — and those who do know where I live, know because they have actually been to the house. Despite that, I realize anyone can find anyone nowadays, probably with just a few keystrokes, so it behooves all of us to be careful.

In a way, posting photos works in my favor because although my rooms look inviting, it’s quite obvious there’s nothing of value in the house. The furniture is old, handed down from relatives; the kitchenware was inexpensive when I bought it decades ago; and whatever tools I have are both handed down and inexpensive. Still, when it comes to a more expensive tool (expensive compared to old rakes and shovels, but still relatively cheap), such as the lawn mower I use, I make sure not to post any photos, though truly, that’s not the sort of thing that goes missing around here. The tools people like to steal are the sort they can pocket and perhaps pawn — or maybe even pawn off on an unsuspecting buyer.

I am careful, though, at least as careful as I know how to be. If I were to go on a trip, I wouldn’t talk about it until I returned home again. It really is nuts the way people post their vacation photos while they are away, as if to tell the world, “No one’s home. Feel free to break into my house.”

I did post photos when I took my cross-country trip, but even then, I waited until I’d moved to my next stop before I posted the previous stop’s photos on the off chance (the off, off, off chance) that someone would be stalking me. At the time, I had no home, so it didn’t matter if people knew I was away, but I had enough people telling me how dangerous it was for a woman to travel alone that I took a few precautions. I’m glad nothing dire happened, and even more than that, I’m glad I took the trip. Although I thought that trip would be the first of many, it turned out to be the first of merely a few. I tend to think my traveling days are now over, especially since I spent my travel money on a garage. But truly, if I do ever take off, I won’t be announcing to the world that my house is empty.

Still, whether I heed people’s warnings or continue showing my life, I do appreciate the concern. It’s nice to know people 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.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

My brother left a lawnmower here the last time he visited, almost two years ago. I’m sure he planned to come back and help with the yard whenever he traveled this way, but then The Bob intervened, and he hasn’t been back.

Last year, it was so dry, I didn’t have to worry about a lawn. To be honest, I have no lawn to worry about even now, but last year I didn’t even have any weeds in the yard, so the lawnmower just sat immobile.

Well, this year, with all the rain, the weeds are growing rampant. Even a bit of grass is growing. And it all needed to be cut back. For some reason, I felt nervous about using the machine since I’d never used it and didn’t remember how. Still, I dragged out the lawnmower, found the manual my brother left with me, and proceeded to read the instructions. The machine had been put into storage mode, meaning it was locked and folded and set in an upright position to get it out of the way. It took me a while to find all the right parts, first in the manual and then on the machine, and get it back to working condition.

I thought I’d read the instructions properly, but when I tried mowing, the blades never engaged. I called my brother to see if he could figure out what I was doing wrong, but he didn’t have the time right then. So I went back and read the instructions again.

And then it clicked. Literally. I had to push this button, pull that lever, and like magic, the thing turned on and I managed to get my weeds aka “my lawn” mowed.

No wonder the thought of mowing the lawn made me nervous. I’m out of the practice of concentrating, and it takes concentration to read instruction manuals and try to decipher the graphics.

It just goes to show, if at first you don’t succeed, read the instructions, and if you still don’t succeed, read them again.

My next venture will be to see if I can figure out the string trimmer. The right-of-way between the sidewalk and the street is overgrown with woody weeds and tall tree sprouts growing out of the roots of a tree that had been chopped down, and it all needs to be cut back, but that’s a project for another day.

***

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

Rainy Days and Cloudy Skies

Rainy days and Mondays . . .

And Tuesdays. And Wednesdays. And probably Thursdays and Fridays, too.

Unlike what the song intimates, all those things don’t get me down, but recently, the days been cloudy enough that if I had a tendency to get depressed from cloudy days and rain, this certainly would have been the time. Luckily, I don’t have that problem, though I do have another problem, sort of an odd one. Many plants either need full sun or some shade, and when there’s no sunshine, it’s hard to know where the plants should go.

You’d think after two years and two months living here in this house, I’d know where the sunny and shady spots in the yard are, but those spots move. What’s shady in the winter is full sun in the summer. And vice versa.

I’d planned a container garden to go in a triangular area between my house and the back ramp. I couldn’t put it there because the workers hadn’t yet finished graveling that area, which turned out to be a good thing. It’s almost always in the shade (at least from what I remember back when we had sunny days), and the plants I bought need full sun. So I put the containers on either side of my garage door, thinking they will get sun in the afternoon. The trouble is, since it’s cloudy every afternoon, I can’t tell how much sun the plants would get. I do know that area is shaded by the garage in the morning; I figure that in itself should tell me the plants won’t get full sun, so today I moved the containers to what I hope is a sunny location.

I have to laugh at how I almost outsmarted myself. I put gravel at the bottom of the containers to help with drainage and to make the pots heavy enough not to get blown over in the high winds we often get, and they were almost too heavy for me to move. If they’d been any heavier, I’d have had to ask for help. (It’s not that I have a problem asking for help, but I do have a problem with waiting around for help to arrive when I am focused on getting something done, so it’s generally easier to do things myself.)

Apparently, without knowing what I was doing, I got the dahlia in the right place because it is doing well. Such a cheery color! Next time I’m by the hardware store I’ll check to see if they have any more. I do enjoy seeing spots of color in my yard.

We’re supposed to have a few rain-free days, which will be nice. The drainage in this town is terrible — I had to walk several extra blocks out of my way yesterday to be able to go the two blocks from where I live to where I work because so many of the streets, gutters, and sidewalks were awash with rainwater. Hip boots would have helped, for sure!

It’s funny that new people who come to town always try to get things changed, such as painting murals or setting out trash containers or opening even more pot shops than are already here, but no one addresses the drainage issue. I tried. I even went to some town council meetings when the new mayor was setting out his objectives. The matter was actually brought up by other people so I didn’t have to be one of those people who move to town and immediately try to change things. Although everyone at the meeting agreed there is a problem and that the standing water exacerbates the mosquito problem, nothing is being done. I suppose it’s too expensive — it would be something the town would have to pay for, while those who paint murals do it on their own dime.

But I’m getting off track here. The point is . . . hmm. I’m not sure. Rainy days and cloudy skies and lack of sunshine and gardening, I suppose.

***

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