Watching Workers Work

I’ve spent a nice lazy day watching men be anything but lazy.

My contractor has a new employee, one who is old enough and knowledgeable enough and conscientious enough to work by himself, so he’s been coming to lay decorative rock and dig pathways to fill with crushed rock called “breeze.” Why is it called breeze? I don’t know. All I know is that it will be nice to have flat paths to walk on as I get old and unsteady.

It’s interesting to me how everyone who has come to work on this house or yard has become caught up in the planning and offered fun and practical ideas for improving the lot and making the place accessible for the old lady I will become. (Of course, since these men are all considerably younger than me, they probably already see me as that frail old woman.)

I certainly hadn’t planned on doing all this (or rather, having it done), but once I can see where the worker is going with his idea, I can’t unsee it. And so, gradually, my yard is taking shape. It truly will be a mini estate when it is finished, with wild areas, garden areas, grassy areas as well as big bushes and small trees creating various “rooms.” And amazingly, when it is all finished, the entire cost of the house and landscaping will be a tiny fraction of what a similar property in any other part of the country would be.

It also looks as if the foundation will be repaired soon. This same worker who is laying down the rock will be digging away the dirt around the foundation, fixing the cracks, and then putting it all back together. As much as I appreciate the aesthetics of the landscaping (and the practicality of it), I am especially looking forward to having the cracks fixed. The house is sound even with the cracks, but since the biggest cracks are in the corner where my bedroom is, fixing them will give me great peace of mind. Not that I worry about it, but fixing the foundation ensures that I will never have to worry about the house collapsing while I am sleeping.

I’d take a picture of the work, but to be honest, all it looks like right now are rocks and dirt. Hmm. Maybe I need a waterfall. Then I’d have an interesting photo to post!

***

If you haven’t yet read A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my novel of a quarantine that predated this pandemic by more than ten years, you can read the first chapter online here: http://patbertram.com/A_Spark_of_Heavenly_Fire.html

Buy it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0024FB5H6/

Download the first 30% free on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842

So Much Excitement!

People have a harder time scamming me than some would-be victims because I have so few of the accoutrements of modern life that most people need to live, such as a credit card, or dreams of a fabulous and free vacation. I certainly have no interest in talking to a real IRS agent let alone a fake one. And my car isn’t new enough to be caught in the “your warranty is about to expire” scam, though I must admit, such calls do amuse me. After all, my warranty expired almost fifty years ago.

Since we’re talking about my car — I got a Thanksgiving card from my insurance agency, offering a sincere thank you for my business. I must admit, I’d believe the sincerity more if the note and signature hadn’t been stamped rather than actually signed by a real person.

And, still on the topic of my vehicle — a couple of days ago, the contractor came and set the slag around the garage apron to get rid of the four-inch lip the car needed to climb to get into the garage. Looks nice!

He’d actually planned to do the work a couple of weeks ago, but the gas company kept tearing up the alley, first to put in new gas lines, and then later to connect everyone along this stretch. It’s too bad they’d also dug up the the gravel that made the alley negotiable, but perhaps someday they will replace it.

A worker is here right now putting decorative rock around the foundation of the garage. Yay! Even better, from my knees’ point of view, he helped me finish digging out all grass in my “island” and planted the tiled cinderblock I found here in the yard.

The tree is the extra greengage plum tree I ordered, and since we didn’t know where else to put it, it ended up in the island. I liked the way the rock looked around the garage, so I considered filling the island with rock, too, but on the off chance that my plum ever blossomed and then fruited, I figured it would be too messy to clean up. At least, if I plant zinnias or some such, any fruit that fell would only nourish the soil.

So much excitement!

I’m not really being as ironic as it might seem. Having any work done around here is the highlight of my day, so much more exciting than calls from scammers or cards from insincere insurance agents.

***

What if God decided to re-create the world and turn it into a galactic theme park for galactic tourists? What then?

Click here to order the print version of Bob, The Right Hand of God. Or you can buy the Kindle version by clicking here: Kindle version of Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Walking in the Cemetery

A friend invited me to go walking with her in the cemetery yesterday, and I jumped at the chance. It’s a pretty place — at least in the daytime — and even historic, containing, as it does, graves of some early settlers. It’s also free of dogs, which are becoming more of a problem all the time.

I found it interesting that yesterday was also All Souls Day, which made the trek apropos. We didn’t encounter a soul — dead or alive — as we meandered along the roads, searching for the grave of someone she knew who had recently died. Many of the graves were decorated with fake flowers. With the advent of silk flowers, I’ve wondered why there is still a market for plastic flowers, and now I know the answer — they are the flower of choice to decorate graves.

As my friend promised, there were no dogs.

With daylight savings time ended, it gets dark early here, and will continue to get darker for the next several weeks. I am so not a fan of the creeping darkness, but it’s even worse now because of working. My shift ends after sunset, and though I don’t worry about walking in the dark — it’s only two blocks on a quiet street. Besides, there’s a streetlight, and I carry a flashlight, so I’m not worried about the darkness as such. What does worry me are the dogs running loose. It’s one thing when it’s light enough for me to see them coming, another to have them approach out of nowhere.

I’ll have a stick, and even some pepper spray that someone gave me, so I should be okay. I’d heard that spraying water is even more effective, but for now, I’ll just stick with what I have and worry about other deterrents later if necessary.

I hope I remember to leave a light on in the house to make it more inviting — somehow it seems so lonely coming home to a dark house, even though I don’t notice any problem in the day.

Despite my reservations, it might be nice walking in the dark. I don’t often do that anymore — mostly because there’s no reason to. It’s too bad that there are just enough lights in town to obscure the stars because I do enjoy walking under the stars. I’ve heard that a vast number of stars are visible just outside of town, but since I don’t like driving at night (or maybe it’s that the night doesn’t like me driving), I haven’t yet explored the possibility.

I hope I don’t sound cranky. Despite unpleasant dogs roaming loose and the creeping darkness, I feel grateful for all I have — a job, a house to come home to, and friends who invite me to go walking in the cemetery.

***

Bob, The Right Hand of God is now published! Click here to order the print version of Bob, The Right Hand of God. Or you can buy the Kindle version by clicking here: Kindle version of Bob, The Right Hand of God.

What if God decided to re-create the world and turn it into a galactic theme park for galactic tourists? What then?

The Grass From Hell

I malign this poor grass. Bermuda grass is only the grass from hell if you’re trying to dig it up. It’s a chore, that’s for sure! Because of it’s extensive — and deep — root system, it takes several stabs with a shovel to get deep enough to pull out even a small chunk of the grass. And it does come out in chunks of soil and roots.

I imagine this ability to bind soils makes it a good grass in windy areas, such as this one. I certainly don’t lose any topsoil (assuming there is any at all in this ancient yard) during the high wind storms. The deep roots make Bermuda grass hard to kill with neglect. Even if it turns brown in the heat of summer, it will always come back with a touch of rain. Despite that — or maybe because of that — it is heat and drought resistant. When I figure out what areas of my yard I want to be green, I’ll water the heck out of the grass and end up with a lush looking lawn.

For now, I know one area I don’t want the grass — it’s between the two sidewalks and would be hard to mow. Besides, that island will make a great zinnia bed. And so the grass has to go, though to be honest, right about now, I’m rethinking that plan. I’ve worked a couple of hours today and yesterday, and oh, am I exhausted! To say nothing of sore and weak-kneed. The area is approximated six feet by sixteen feet, and I’ve managed to dig up maybe 24 square feet so far. Lots of hard shoveling! And even after digging up all those roots, chances are the grass will come back because not only does it have such an extensive root system that it’s impossible to get every bit, it also propagates by seed, and there’s no telling how many seeds are left behind. No wonder the preferred method of removing the grass is to zap it with Round-up, but that’s not anything I would ever consider.

I have a hunch this is the wrong time of year to be digging up grass or doing any gardening other than planting a few things that prefer to be settled in the fall, but the way I figure, I’m here now, the grass is here (and by no means green, not even on the other side of the fence!), the ground is still faintly damp from the recent though long-melted snow so the digging is a mite easier, and it’s a good reason to be out in this perfect fall weather.

The weather will change again next week, but with any luck, I’ll have most of the island grass-free, ready for spring fertilizing and planting.

I did mention, didn’t I, that we planted my greengage plum trees? (Well, my contractor and his helper did, I just stood around and pretended I was working.) I had an extra tree (I’d ordered it for a friend who no longer had a place for it) and without any better idea of where to put it, we planted in the middle of the island. I’ll have to prune it every year to keep it small, but that will make the fruit easier to reach — assuming there is fruit and assuming the birds leave any for me. In a way, it will be like a birdfeeder without all the work and the mess. (Though I am sure there will be other messes, but I don’t want to think about that.)

If by chance, I’ve whet your appetite for digging, you are welcome to join me in my yard tomorrow around mid-morning. I have an extra shovel.

***

“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”

Click here to order the print version of Bob, The Right Hand of God
Click here to purchase the Kindle version of Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Snow Day

It snowed last night, so much so that the entire town is closed down. And so am I. I’m not going anywhere. I would have preferred to stay inside, too, but as a homeowner I am now responsible for keeping my sidewalks shoveled. I doubt anyone would have hurt themselves if I hadn’t shoveled, because of the town being closed down, but I tend to err on the safe side.

Until today, any snow we’ve had since I’ve been here were easily swept off the sidewalks, but this snow was heavier, so I swept the front wooden ramp and shoveled the front sidewalk.

I worried about cleaning the snow off my new sidewalk/ramp in the back since the handrails have not yet been installed, and slipping on snow and ice is not on my to-do list for today. (Or any day!) I thought it best to just use the front entrance until the snow completely melted. (I prefer the rear since I have a sort of mud room — really, just a designated area — back there, which keeps dirt out of the house.)

But then, inspiration struck. There’s no rule book that says I have to clean the snow from the house outward, so since I was outside anyway, I cleaned the back ramp from the bottom up. No slips or falls!

I’m exhausted now, of course. Shoveling a mile of sidewalks is hard work. To be entirely truthful, a mile is a bit of an exaggeration. I think it was only a little over 120 feet when I count the front sidewalk, the back sidewalk, and the ramps. But that’s still a lot for a woman who’s only months away from being officially “elderly.” A young elderly, but still . . .

With any luck, I’ll be rested soon, which is good because I’ll have to go out again. The snow had stopped for a while and now it’s snowing heavily. (Probably because I cleaned the sidewalks. Life seems to like playing pranks like that.) What is really lucky is that although I don’t have good snow boots, I have excellent all-weather hiking boots. They kept me from slipping today, and they’ll be especially great when I hike the two blocks to my job tomorrow.

So what’s the moral of this blog? The lesson learned? There’s no real point to this blog that I can see other than when things are worrisome, look at them from a different direction, and when necessary, work from the bottom to the top rather than top to bottom. Or something like that.

***

“I am Bob, the Right Hand of God. As part of the galactic renewal program, God has accepted an offer from a development company on the planet Xerxes to turn Earth into a theme park. Not even God can stop progress, but to tell the truth, He’s glad of the change. He’s never been satisfied with Earth. For one thing, there are too many humans on it. He’s decided to eliminate anyone who isn’t nice, and because He’s God, He knows who you are; you can’t talk your way out of it as you humans normally do.”

Click here to order the print version of Bob, The Right Hand of God
Click here to purchase the Kindle version of Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Changes in How I Feel About Myself

I love my sidewalk and stoop! What a weird thing to say, right? But I do. For the first time since I moved here, I can step outside the back door without risking my life (or my knees). The step was steeper than normal steps, and has always been hard for me, though not as impossible as it has been the past few months. I’ve had to use the front door, and try as I might, I couldn’t help tracking mud into the house. And now, what a joy to be able to use my back door, to sail right down the sidewalk to the garage. To keep the mud and dirt out of my living room.

This fixing up a place seems to be one step forward and one back, and the current backward step isn’t a big deal — at least as long as it doesn’t rain. The Cat skid steer they used to transport the concrete from the mixer to the backyard pretty much tore up the yard, which wasn’t in any great shape to begin with since I haven’t been watering whatever grass there is, but now, the bare dirt is exposed. Eventually, of course, we will be putting in pathways so I can walk around the yard without stumbling, which will solve the mud problem.

For now, I’m enjoying the progress we have made toward a safer and more old-age accessible place. The house is already accessible — one floor, a new galley kitchen, a walk-in shower with hand bars. There are stairs to the basement, but I only need to go down there two or three times a year to change the filter on the furnace.

An odd thought struck me yesterday when I came home from work. Having this place — owning this place — is changing how I feel about myself. I’m not really sure how. More confident, possibly, or maybe just less tentative. Maybe more positive about myself as well as having a firmer foot upon the earth. Maybe even a bit of pride — having something concrete (pun intended) to take pride in

I’ve never been one to see myself through my possessions; things generally have not mattered that much to me. The reason I have an iconic vintage car and why I identify with it to an extent is that it’s been around so long. I’ve had it for more than forty-eight years, so it does have some effect on me and especially my relation to strangers — people stop to talk about my car or just to yell out in passing that they love my bug.

I have a set of dishes that I’ve had since my sixth grade Christmas. The only time I was possessive about these silly things was when Jeff was dying. I didn’t want him cutting meat or anything on them or using foods that would stain them worse than they were, but he kept using them. Up until then I didn’t care, they were just some of “our” dishes. I suppose my possessiveness was sort of weird way of punishing him for leaving me or a way of taking back my life. I never did understand that episode. (They are currently stored on the top shelf of my dish cabinet — I can’t bear to use them now. If I ever need them, I’m sure that will change.)

Although I read about a book a day, I don’t particularly like owning books. Once they’ve been read, the book itself is just a thing. (I do have some books, dictionaries, thesauruses, and various other research materials, though with the internet, I seldom use them.)

So this notion that my very identity is changing as this property changes, that I am changing because of homeownership, because of things, comes as a surprise to me. Though perhaps it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. I never wanted the responsibility of owning a house, never even considered it because I thought it impossible with my meager resources. And even when I did find out that my savings would buy a house, it didn’t change my attitude about myself much because I presumed the house, by necessity, would be in an impoverished area, which seemed fitting.

But the town doesn’t feel impoverished to me. It’s rich in friendship and neighbors and the amenities I need. The house isn’t a rundown shack as the price might have indicated, but a lovely — and welcoming — home. Everyone who has stopped by feels at ease here, possibly because of the atmosphere, but also because I don’t have a lot of clutter. (Except in my office/den, of course.)

All my life I’ve lived on the edge financially, and to be honest, I still do live marginally (or rather, I will when my house-fixing-up funds are depleted), but now I feel . . . comfortable. Confident. Hopeful about the future even as I am planning for my old age.

After Jeff died, I tried to rush through grief (though grief can’t be rushed) because I thought there had to be something wonderful on the other side.

And it turns out that there was. Me. Here. In this house. With a new garage and newer sidewalk. Changes in how I feel about myself.

Definitely wonderful!

***

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

Always Some Excitement

There’s always some excitement when one owns a house. This morning, it was the infernal chirping that sounded as if the smoke alarm in my hallway needed attention. I changed the batteries even though I had changed all the batteries in the alarms just a month or so ago. When the alarm still chirped, I figured the culprit had to be the smoke alarm a mere three feet away on the other side of the hall doorway. So I changed those batteries, too.

Still chirping.

Thinking that maybe one or the other of the batteries I’d just switched out were bad, I changed the batteries again. It didn’t make any difference.

There is a third smoke alarm a few feet away from the hall alarm — this one right inside my bedroom. I went into the bedroom and shut the door so I could hear if the alarm was in the room. Nope. It was very obviously on the other side of the door.

I checked online to see if there was something I was overlooking, and the article I read mentioned that if the battery door wasn’t closed properly, the alarm would still chirp. I checked, and yes, the door on one of the alarms hadn’t clicked completely shut. I heaved a sigh of relief, thinking the problem was solved.

But no.

Still chirping.

For a second, I considered the idea that a real live cricket had managed to find its way inside, but crickets don’t chirp ever minute or so like clockwork. And as far as I know, they don’t chirp in the daytime.

I stood in the hallway, surrounded by all those alarms, and listened, wondering what I would do and who I could call if I couldn’t figure out this dilemma. I could call my contractor, and although it’s not the sort of thing he normally does, I know he’d come and help if he could, but he’s working several towns away and probably wouldn’t be able to stop by today. I considered pulling out the chirping alarm but I didn’t know which alarm to pull or how to remove it. (I know how to remove the alarm cover, but don’t know how to disengage the wiring.)

The law says an alarm has to be outside a kitchen, and inside and outside the bedrooms, and this is what led to the mess I have, with so many alarms in such a very small area, making it almost impossible to pinpoint the troublemaker. Despite that, I did manage to rule out the alarm behind me in the hallway as the faux cricket.

There is also a carbon monoxide detector in the same vicinity, and as I stood in the doorway between the two detectors, I realized the chirping wasn’t coming from above, but at my feet. I didn’t even know a carbon monoxide detector that was plugged into an outlet could chirp. But obviously, it could because after I pulled it out of the outlet, the chirping stopped.

Blessed silence.

Luckily, I knew that particular outlet was connected to a gfci breaker in the basement, of all places. (A couple of days after I bought the house, the former owners stopped by to tell me about the bizarre placing of that particular gfci reset button and a few other idiosyncrasies of the house.) So I went down the stairs, reset the breaker, and plugged the carbon monoxide detector back in.

Still silence.

I considered moving the detector to another outlet, and maybe I should, but then I wouldn’t know if that breaker was tripped. But does it matter if I know? It’s not as if I’m going to be doing anything in the basement, and I hope that anyone who goes down there to work would know enough to reset the breaker if the outlet didn’t work. I don’t know why it would have tripped anyway except that the workers who were last in the basement had left a cord plugged into the outlet that wasn’t attached to anything on the opposite end. Just the cord. No appliance or tool. (It’s not something I would have done, but then, what do I know.)

Such excitement!

I’m sitting here enjoying the silence, but hanging over me is the thought that there will be another time.

Still, I manage to survive this episode. Chances are I will survive the next.

***

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.

Concrete Developments

The long awaited day finally arrived. Such excitement! First, the Cat skid steer came to the party.

While waiting for the everyone else to get here, the early arrivals scavenged cinder blocks and bricks from around the property to cut down on the amount of concrete that will be needed. And such an easy way to get rid of unwanted scraps!

Then the cement mixer showed up, and the party began. The work party, anyway. I just sat and watched.

It was amazing how, with so many guys working, there wasn’t a single problem. They each seemed to know what they were supposed to do, and they did it.

The skid steer definitely made things easier. Originally, the work was going to be done by two men with a wheelbarrow since there was no way the cement mixer could get all the way into the back yard.

As it was, they had to rip out part of the fence so they could get the Cat and the concrete into the yard, but luckily, these were the very guys who had installed the fence in the first place, so they put it back as good as new.

I worried that having so much concrete would take away from the expansive feeling of the yard, but it doesn’t. It becomes a bit of a focal point as well as creating an island garden.

One thing I liked about the way these people worked, was even though the skid steer tore up my yard, they pretty much drove it along the pathway where they will be building a walkway.

The only bad part about all of this is that I have to wait until the concrete dries to be able to use the back door again. But soon. Three days at most. Yay!

There will be handrails, in case you’re wondering, but those haven’t been made yet.

***

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

Building a Garden

I just added another category for filing my blog posts — gardening. It appears as if I am writing quite a bit about my yard, what I’m doing to it, and what I’m planting. And today’s post is one of those.

A while back, I had ordered a few plants in pots (much nicer than bare root twigs!) and they arrived yesterday. So today, I went into my beautiful garage, grabbed a shovel, and started to dig. There was a lot of digging! I had to remove dead tree roots, Bermuda grass, weeds, and rocks. Then I had to sit down on my bench to plan what to put where. I had already decided, but apparently I didn’t realize how big some of these things would get, and hadn’t taken size into consideration.

I also had to translate some of the instructions into neophyte language. For example, they said not to plant the seedlings where they would get the afternoon sun, but at least two of the items need full sun. So I had to plop the plants wherever it seemed they would do best in the long term.

One thing that had surprised me because no other plant supplier had mentioned it: these instructions said that after I removed the plant from the container and before putting it in the ground, I had to cut the root ball in several places and fluff it up so that the roots would spread easier. So I did that, or at least what I presumed they meant by those instructions. We’ll see.

I’d planned to go walking afterward, but I sat back down on my bench to rest (gardening is hard work!) and exhaustion kept me there until it got too hot to walk. But sitting was nice. I got to survey my domain and imagine building a beautiful garden one plant at a time.

***

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

Embracing Laziness

I thought about not writing a blog today, more out of laziness than anything else, but considering that I’m on a 361-day blogging streak, I figured it would be silly to give in to my laziness a mere four days from a full year’s worth of posts.

The laziness comes from the smoky air, I believe, rather than an inherent character flaw, though to be honest, I do embrace my laziness — assuming hours spent reading is laziness. (Reading could be something other than laziness, of course, perhaps a desire to live as many lives as possible before my expiration date.) But the smoky air coming to us from the fires on the west coast are exacerbating my allergies, and a major component of my allergy reactions (besides sinus pain and chest congestion) is lethargy.

Still, I did do some things today. I received a package of plants in the mail, though I was surprised to see them. First, they were supposed to be here earlier in the week, then they were held up at the post office somewhere until next week. At no point was today mentioned. Luckily, the plants are in pots because although they are supposed to be planted immediately, my lazy side says they will be fine for another day. After all, they weren’t supposed to be delivered until Monday, so how are the plants to know they’re not still in transit?

It amazes me the things that take hold and do well and the things that don’t. For example, last fall, I bought some New England asters because I liked the color and thought they’d brighten up my stoop. When the flowers all died, I buried what was left. (I actually planted it, but it seemed more of a burial since I thought the whole thing was dead). And look at it now! So vibrant!

My contractor stopped by for a few minutes to pick up some tools he left here, and while we were talking with the garage door opened, the closer started to buzz. He looked around and asked what that sound was. I motioned him back into the garage and said, “Wait.” The buzzing got more insistent, and then suddenly, the door started to close. We both got a kick out that. Such a cool thing that closer is! I don’t have to worry if my laziness kicks in and I forget to close the door.

He’ll be back tomorrow to fold back a section of the fence so he can get a skid steer into the yard to help spread the concrete for my sidewalk on Monday. The cement mixer is too big to get into the yard, and so they were planning on using wheelbarrows to get the concrete where it needs to be. Yikes. If I had to do the work, forget it. Even without my current lazy streak, I wouldn’t be able to do anything that intense. But then, that’s why I have him. Meantime, I’ll get introduced to another tool — if a piece of equipment can be called a tool. That should be fun even though I won’t be the one driving.

Well, what do you know — I managed to put together a post of sorts after all. My streak remains unbroken. Yay!

***

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