The Big Picture

I spend so much time focused on the individual aspects of my garden, both the delightful things like the flowers that bloom, the butterfly that flitted through the yard one day, the hummingbird that sipped nectar from my hanging plant, then stared at me through the window as if to thank me, as well as the undelightful things like stinkhorn mushrooms, encroaching weed grasses, and swaths of brown lawn, that sometimes I forget to look at the big picture. Well, today, I was skirting the house after my morning stint of watering, and the “big picture” suddenly took my breath away. I went inside for my camera, stood at the back door and shot this photo. Wow! This is my back yard? Really?

Even the left side of the red pathway (as you are viewing the photo) looks good although the green comes from freshly mowed weeds. The gorgeous greensward just to the left of the sidewalk is the area that I dug up last fall for a wildflower garden, and since there was sod left over, we decided to sod that area, too. I felt silly for having done all that work for no reason, but as it turns out, it was essential. That’s the best patch of grass on the whole property. The worst patches are where they simply laid the sod over the existing weeds and weedy grasses. The grass in those areas started out bright green, but now have now surrendered their precarious place to the original occupants. With any luck, this fall when the weeds die off, I can reverse the trend, but who knows? I sure don’t. Despite my pretty flower photos, I’m still pretty much of a neophyte gardener. (A neophyte photographer, too, but it looks as if I am more accomplished than I really am because I only post the photos that turn out. The rest end up in the trash.)

The green on the right side of the sidewalk is what’s left of the wildflower garden. It looks green but there is a lot of white from the copious alyssum. It’s called a carpet of snow, and from a certain angle you can see all the white, but obviously not from the angle the back yard photo was taken.

I friend had once suggested that I take a photo from the same place every day so I could see the changes, but I never did. For most of my tenure here, things were in such a state of disarray that there was no day I thought would a perfect time to start such a project. I realize, of course, that was the point, but I also had no concept of how the yard would turn out or even if it would turn out. For all I knew, there would forever be a heap of junk in the middle of a field of weeds. (This particular junk pile is just to the left of what is now the sidewalk. It isn’t really junk, just all the stuff that had to be moved to make room for the new garage.)

The only photo I have of the original yard is one from the opposite angle, looking toward the house instead of away from it. The old garage is where the raised garden now is, and the new garage is in front of where the carport was, which gives me a rather large yard!

I do have a few photos of the back yard that I took as work was being done, which gives me (and you) an idea of how much has changed over the years. Oddly, going by these older photos, it looks as if this yard was just a patch of dead dirt, but that was seasonal. Come spring and a little rain, and yikes . . . so many very tall weeds!

The above photo was taken in January, shortly after the old garage was torn down and the fence put up. The gazebo was erected over the existing concrete pad that once was in front of the garage. Eventually, the garage was built in front of the double gate, and the gate was removed. The brown bushes next to the pedestrian gate had to be dug up, and they were replanted in the angle formed by the sidewalk and the concrete pad. Looking at this photo, I am amazed at all that has been done in two-and-a-half years, not just what the builders did, but what nature and I did. No wonder I feel as if I work hard on the yard. I do!

It just goes to show that in gardening, as in life, it’s good to focus on the details, because that’s where the work is done — one detail at a time — but it’s even better to stop occasionally and look around to see all that you have accomplished.


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

Yard Care

With all the trouble I’ve been having with my lawn, I still don’t regret having the sod laid and all the work I’ve been doing to keep it alive and healthy and weed-free. I’m winning part and losing part, but I’m not sure if there would have been a better choice considering what I started with.

My contractor suggested that I rock the whole weed-infested yard if I didn’t want to have to take care of a lawn, with perhaps a tree in the center of the front yard. I opted out of doing the whole yard, though perhaps half the yard has been covered with rock, such as the ornamental gravel protecting the foundation of my house and garage and filling in the right of way between the sidewalk and the street, as well as all the paths and sidewalks around my property.

The funny thing about gravel is that it isn’t as care-free as one would expect. Since a plastic weed barrier is illegal in parts of Colorado (something to do with interrupting the natural seepage of rain water), what’s left are various grades of a fabric weed barrier. Even with the heaviest option, the Bermuda grass is so aggressive, it pokes right through the fabric. And when it doesn’t poke through, it winds its way from way under the fabric to the outer edges, where — because of that exceptionally long root — it’s impossible to pull or dig out. Then there are the leaves and twigs and other things that fall on the rock. They all have to be blown off, otherwise, they disintegrate and sink down below the rock where they decay, turn acidic, and eventually destroy the fabric. There are lots of other weeds and things that grow in the dirt between the rocks, which they are easy to enough to pull up because of the shallow roots, but when it rains, there could be dozens if not hundreds of those seedlings to gather.

As I mentioned yesterday, I considered turning my yard into a wildflower field — like a mini prairie — but that option brings its own problems, such as weeds and grass that choke out the wildflowers. Eventually you end up with what you started with — Bermuda grass and weeds.

Considering how well Bermuda grass does here, I could have done what a couple of my neighbors do and just water and mow the Bermuda grass. It makes a nice enough lawn for the summer and lies fallow most of the year. Unfortunately, my yard was more weeds than grass, so it would have taken years of hard work to turn the yard into a lawn. Of course, I could have just let it go like one of my neighbors does, and occasionally mow the weeds before they get knee-high, as I did the first years I was here, but even that option isn’t as carefree as it sounds. A good rain, and suddenly, the weeds are shoulder-high, with stalks as thick and tough as saplings.

The only truly care-free yard I ever knew was the place where I’d rented a room before I moved here. The back yard was all concrete, an immense partially covered patio. The front yard was a lush lawn with flowers by the house that the owner never lifted a finger to care for. Perhaps saying it was care-free is a misnomer because, although the owner didn’t do any work, he had an automatic sprinkler system and a hired gardener who came every week and worked for at least a couple of hours, sometimes a lot more.

Come to think of it, I might as well be out there caring for a lawn and my various gardens. It’s as good a way to spend my time as any other.


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.

Learning About Roofs

I stopped by my friend’s house today to check on the progress of his roof, and I was shocked at what the naked roof looked like, though I don’t know why I should have been since the only roofs I’ve had any dealings with have been my garage roof and that of my gazebo. In both those cases, the construction workers built the roof from scratch, nailing OSB board (Oriented Strand Board) to the trusses.

Every step of the construction of those edifices seemed clean and sturdy, which of course, it would be since the materials were all new. This old roof, on the other hand, is . . . old. More than 100 years old, to be inexact.

At one time, my contractor — the same guy who’s doing this job — and I talked about a new roof on my house. My roof is less than fifteen years old and is in great shape, though some of the granules have come off the shingles, so our talk was more hypothetical than a serious discussion. (The granules were mostly apparent in the detritus after the gutters had been cleaned, so it could have been an accumulation over several years which is normal.)

Anyway, after seeing my friend’s roof with all the various layers of shingles pried off, the contractor told me that my roof could look the same since that’s how they used to build roofs.

He said that because of the additional cost of replacing the sheathing as well as the shingles, I shouldn’t even consider replacing the roof until it leaked, got damaged by hail, or shingles started blowing off. That’s pretty much what I had already decided because I see no point in replacing something that’s working, but it was nice to have the corroboration from someone who knows what he’s talking about.

I suppose it’s possible that when my roof was last reshingled, they replaced the sheathing too because that’s something insurance companies demand, but I don’t think they did it. There is a hump in the roof where the house and the back porch meet, and if the roof had been installed correctly, there would have been no hump. But who knows. They might have replaced the house sheathing but not the porch, or the porch could have been done at another time, or . . . any number of things. With any luck, I won’t ever find out how my roof is made because the roof could hold up for the rest of my tenure here. If luck deserts me, at least I have a vague idea of how much it would cost to replace. (“Vague” because construction materials are inflating at a much higher rate than other products.)

I always figured if the roof had to be replaced because of hail damage or something like that, the insurance would pay for it, but apparently they only pay a prorated portion, and because of the moderate age of the roof combined with the exorbitant hail-damage deductible prevailing in Colorado, I wouldn’t get any money from them. Makes me wonder why I’m paying such a high premium if they’re not going to pay out for damages, but for now, it’s better if I don’t think of that and simply hope for the best. (Normally, “hope for the best” is not a good financial plan, but at the moment, it’s all I have.)

It is interesting, though, watching my friend’s roof being redone. It’s like a dress rehearsal for if I ever have to replace mine, giving me some idea of how the process works. I just hope this second-hand lesson is all I ever have to learn about roofs.


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.

Loads Off My Mind

I miss having work done around my place. There is something compelling about watching men work.

There is still plenty to do around here, but other jobs take precedence right now, such as “my” work crew reroofing the house I’m looking after for a friend. I’d stopped by to check on the work earlier today, and had planned to be back in plenty of time to post a blog before I go to work myself, but I stayed to watch. As I said, it’s compelling to watch men at work.

It’s just as fascinating to watch things being destroyed as being built. For now, all they are doing on the roof is pulling off the multiple layers of asphalt shingles as well as the bottom layer of shake shingles.

It makes me wonder what’s lurking under the outer layer of my shingles. Probably nothing good — there is a bump on the roof where the house meets the back porch, so whoever did my roof did something weird. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with that right now. And except to make sure the guys do the work and to check on them occasionally, I don’t really have to deal with my friend’s roof, either. They seem to have it well in hand.

An extra benefit of having gone to check out the worksite was that I met up with the person who sodded my lawn. I told him my sad sob story (sad sod story?), and he will help me figure out how to fix it. That’s such a relief! I felt bad about the swath of grass dying and another swath being overtaken with Bermuda grass, so it’s good to have someone else helping to shoulder the burden and ease my mind.

And if he doesn’t get time to stop by, if other things take precedence (as so often happens with this overworked crew), then I’ll continue my original plans of tracking down the right seed, reseeding the worst places, and then waiting to see what happens during the fall.

Meantime, it’s good to know that my friend’s roof will be fixed so I don’t have to continue to check for inside leaks. Normally, of course, that wouldn’t be a problem since we’re in a severe drought, but we’ve been getting quite a bit of rain lately, and I sure would have hated for my friend to return after having spent so many months taking care of an ill wife to find that I managed to destroy his house.

So that’s two loads off my mind! Whew.


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.


I often write about (or at least refer to) the changes in my life since Jeff died twelve-and-a-half years ago, but I don’t write that much about the changes since my older brother died. Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of his death, and it surprised me that it wasn’t that long ago (or perhaps it surprised me that it was so long ago — with death and grief, it’s sometimes hard to tell). His death set into play a long string of happenstance that ended up with me, in a house, in this sweltering corner of Colorado.

Mostly, his death changed me in some fundamental way so I was ready when my other brother suggested I take my small savings and buy a house. He’d come to help me clear out our deceased brother’s things and deal with any legal issues, and I have a hunch he wanted to make sure I was settled so he wouldn’t have to worry about yet another sibling. Whatever his reasoning, the idea he broached made sense to me, especially when he told me about this area that actually had houses I could afford.

The time was ripe, apparently, for buying houses in and around this area, because every one I liked (and could afford) disappeared from the market even before my real estate agent could look at it.

Luckily, I only needed one house, and that house came looking for me.

It seems as if I’d been looking for a very long time before I became aware of this house, but considering that my brother has been gone only four years and that I’ve been here a couple of months shy of three and a half years, the whole upheaval to my life — ambitions, geographical location, as well as the mental change from life-long renter to homeowner — happened in a matter of months.

It’s ironic that because of the death of my homeless brother, I am homefull. (That’s not a word, though it should be.) At any rate, whatever the proper word, because of him, here I am, with a home of my own.


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.

Vexatious Issues

When I first started working outside this past spring, it felt as if my yard were an extension of my house — an outdoor room, perhaps. Now the outdoors feels hostile and alien, a place that I cannot control, at least not in the way I can control the “climate” inside my house. We can’t control the inside one hundred percent, of course. So much is still out of our control, such as bugs that find their way inside, appliances that go wonky, as well as any number of things that can go wrong. But at least inside (so far anyway) I don’t have to deal with searingly intense and dangerous heat, slime molds, dead birds (well, one, anyway — I found it on my front lawn when I went out to mow today), clouds of grasshoppers that chomp on non-suspecting plants, grass that turns brown and desiccates overnight.

The past few days, dealing with all those vexatious issues, I haven’t even felt like sitting in my gazebo to enjoy a few minutes of rest after my hard work. I’ve just gone inside, closed the door, and felt glad to be in a more familiar place.

At least for a while, that is, until the phone rings. And oh, does it ring! In the past couple of days, I’ve received maybe forty calls from entities with names like “Spam Risk,” “Haitian Chick 5,” and “Telemarketer.” I don’t answer (well, I do, but I hang up immediately; if not, the calls go to voice mail, and then I have to delete all of them) so I don’t know if there are real people behind the calls or if it’s all robots. But it doesn’t matter who is calling — the ring always startles me, though I have it on low. And I turn the phone off at night to keep from being awakened.

Apparently, after the slowdowns and shutdowns and sheltering-in-place during the past couple of years, the telemarketing machine gave us a bit of a break, but now it’s going full bore, trying to make up the money they think they lost. (Though why, with all warnings about spam and identity theft and fraud, people are still buying into these scams, I don’t know. They blame the “old people,” but my generation and even the one before me are tech savvy and wary. Or so I thought. But maybe we’re losing what few brain cells we have left, and what we once knew we no longer do?)

But luckily, it’s cool inside, so there’s that. And I have books to read and food to eat. And, if necessary, I can mute the ring so I don’t hear it at all to give my poor frazzled nerves a break.

Even luckier, I was able to leave all the rest of my vexations outside where they belong.


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.

Seeing the Bright Side

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows I am not a glass-half-full sort of person. Nor, to be honest, am I a glass-half-empty person. I’m more prosaic than either type, more realistic. The nature of a glass is to not remain at a halfway point. If the glass contains a drinkable beverage, you drink it and then refill the glass with the same or a different beverage, or you wash the glass and put it away. If the glass doesn’t contain a drinkable beverage, you toss out the contents and wash the glass or you toss out the whole thing — glass and contents. If you don’t drink the beverage, the glass still doesn’t remain half empty/half full. There is a thing called evaporation, which means that no matter what, the glass will empty itself.

Life, like the level of the contents in the glass, is in motion. A situation can seem bleak with no bright side at all, such as the death of a loved one, and while that situation never changes, you do. When Jeff died, I tried to tell myself that at least he wasn’t suffering anymore and though I suppose that is a realistic bright side, it didn’t help me at all in dealing with my grief. However, there does come a time — years later, perhaps — when a griever has to stop seeing only the bleakness of life and to try to find a brighter side.

In my case, it was the dance classes I started taking three-and-a-half years after Jeff died. Although I was still grieving for him, my grief wasn’t the only “side” in my life anymore. There was a brighter side, too, which helped light my way through the dark times.

I’ve never trusted people who only look at the bright side of things. It seems to me they are either delusional or indulging in dreams instead of reality. Besides, without dark, there is no light. There was an artist who found fame as a painter of light, but if you were to study his paintings piece by piece (as in a jigsaw puzzle) you will see that most of the painting is dark; the darkness is what makes the light so bright.

I do think it’s possible, because of one’s situation, one’s temperament, or one’s mental frame of mind, that it becomes habit to only look on the dark side. (Which means, I suppose, that for some people, looking only on the bright side is also possible.) If only the dark is apparent, it’s a good idea to try to see the bright side of things. In the case of grief, it’s more than okay to indulge in the bleakness because that’s how we learn to cope with life without our loved one. However, as the years pass, it’s okay to start seeing the bright side of other things.

Although I am still aware of the bleakness of Jeff’s being gone, I have looked for a bright side and in fact, looking for any brightness in my life was how I found myself in a new way of being. It wasn’t that I tried to find a bright side to his being gone — there simply is no bright side. It’s that I tried to find a bright side to my still being here. And there is much brightness in my life now — a house, a home, a garden, flowers, a lawn, friends, neighbors, a compatible town, a nearby library — so much so that I no longer need to find the brightness. It finds 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.


I spent the day outside. I needed to clean up after the wind and hailstorm yesterday. All I really needed to do was pick up small branches that were blown in from a neighbor’s tree, so it wasn’t an arduous task, just a long one. I also weeded a part of my yard I’d been letting go. I’d planned to mow when the grass dried out, but . . . ta da! Workers showed up!

While I had their attention, I pointed out various small jobs I’d like them to finish, and then I remained outside to look around in case I’d forgotten anything. And to watch. It’s always a joy seeing work done on my place. Work that’s not done by me, I mean.

The garage was built a couple of years ago, but somehow the gutters were never finished, and the parts that had been constructed hadn’t been done right. So today they worked on the gutters and yay! The garage is now completely finished.

They also cleaned the gutters on my house. Oy. What a mess. They hadn’t planned on doing that; I merely asked if they could check to see if there was any debris blocking the downspouts, and yes, there was. A whole bucketful of leaves and dirt. But not anymore. They are clean for now.

And they did some work on the gazebo, hoping to get it done before the Art Guild meets here next week.

It felt good to have so many niggling projects finished.

What doesn’t feel good are my myriad mosquito bites that are itching like crazy. Since I hadn’t planned to spend the day outside, I didn’t wear my mosquito-repelling clothes. I wore my normal black pants, and oh, do those voracious little creatures love black.

That’s life, I guess. Taking the bad with the good. And the good — workers showing up — was very good.


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.

Cottage Garden

A friend once referred to my house as a cottage. I made some sort of noncommittal response, and whatever my remark was, she took it to mean I was insulted. I wasn’t at all insulted. I’d just never put a name to the architectural style of the house. Besides, in my mind (not necessarily in other people’s minds), an American cottage is a summer home, generally near a beach or lake or other vacation spot (though in the mountains, a cottage would be called a cabin) and an English cottage is sort of a fairytale dwelling with a thatched roof and surrounded by a lush informal garden.

If my house were out in the countryside somewhere, it might be a considered cottage, but a house in town generally isn’t a cottage. Still, my house is cozy enough to be a cottage, though it is a tad large (a cottage is typically 600 to 1000 square feet unless one is exceedingly rich in which case those numbers are increased ten-fold).

Come to think of it, maybe she thought I was insulted because of the relationship between the words “cottage” and “hut” — cottage derives from Old English (cote), Old French (kot) and Old Norse (kotten) words meaning “hut,” and compared to a hut, my house is a mansion. To me, anyway.

What made me think of this three-year-old exchange is that my yard is starting to look like a cottage garden. Or rather it’s starting to look like my impression of what a cottage garden is. Which makes me wonder if my house is turning into a cottage after all.

Not that it matters. I tend not to put names on things since a name limits that which is named. For example, Jeff and I never defined our relationship. We were what we were. It was only after he was gone and I started writing about my grief that I had to find a name for what we were to each other. Nor do I give human names to things. People often ask me what the name of my car is. Sheesh. It’s a car. It doesn’t have a name. Nor, despite people referring to the bug as “she,” does the car have a sex. Need I iterate? It’s a car!

So, my car is a car.

My house is a house.

And my yard is a yard. But oh, such a pretty yard!


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.


I’m taking care of a house for a friend who is out of the country, and the winds around here have been sending some of his shingles flying to who knows where. Because of the need to find a roofer, I’ve been checking with people to see if they know of anyone to contact. So far, all I’ve heard is horror stories, not about roofers, but about roofs. Apparently, the cost of building supplies has gone up way more than the inflation rate of other products. In fact, if I were to build my garage now rather than two-and-a-half years ago, the roof for my garage would cost more than I paid for the whole thing. Ouch.

One neighbor, who has a beautiful roof that looks almost new, had to fight with his insurance company because they wanted him to replace it at his expense. Apparently, the insurers looked on Google maps to inspect the roof, and since his roofing material is no longer being made (because it lasts — his roof is actually 30 years old) they said it needs to be replaced. Yikes!

He finally got it straightened out, but he is so not happy about his insurance company using Google to check on the condition of his roof.

I can see insurers using Google maps to look at the roofs they’ve insured to see which ones they might need to physically inspect, but to simply use those images to determine whose roofs need to be replaced, seems lazy at best, fraudulent at worst.

Luckily, it’s not my roof that I’m having to deal with. (And anyway, I think my insurance company already has photos of my roof from when they came to inspect a couple of years ago.)

Luckily, too, it’s not my decision what to do with the roof on the house I’m taking care of. Luckily, I don’t have to do the work to replace it. And luckiest of all, (considering the estimate I got for my friend’s roof), I don’t have to pay for it!


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.