More Concrete

I recently got a bill for my car insurance along with a letter. The company was all puffed up with their magnanimity because — as they said in the letter — people were driving less, saving them billions of dollars, so were giving the money back to their customers via discounts. Sounds great, right? And sure enough, the bill did show a discount of $30. But a quick perusal of my previous bill showed that they had raised my rates by $40 for a net increase of $10. If rates are based on the company’s costs and payouts, and if people were in fact driving less and hence getting in fewer accidents and costing the company less, how could my base insurance have gone up? Sounds arbitrary to me, and just another of the many ways big companies look out for us and thank us for our patronage.

On a less cynical note, the workers finally were able to get the jackhammer to tear up my old sidewalk in preparation for building a new one without bumps and cracks for me to trip over. (Now these people really do look out for me, paying attention to things that might be hazardous around here for me as I get older, and they don’t brag about their magnanimity, either.)

They’re planning on coming back this afternoon to remove the concrete so that tomorrow they will be able to start building the framework for the new sidewalk and stoop, which brings me closer to being able to use the back door. I am so looking forward to not tracking mud into the house! I’d be tracking in some anyway, but I have an area set up in the enclosed porch by the back door for a mud “room” to help keep from tracking the dirt into the rest of the house. (I remove my shoes when I come inside no matter what door I use, but the bigger mats in the back collect more dirt than the smaller ones in front.)

The guys were worried about me inadvertently walking out the back door and damaging myself on the river of broken concrete, but I assured them I am long out of the habit of using that door. (The step is way too steep for my still-healing knee.) Too bad the broken concrete is so dangerous and impractical, because it has a rather appealing artistry to it.

Still, practicality is more important than artistry, and a new sidewalk will be wonderful. It will certainly be more of a boon than any fake discount, and more concrete.

***

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

Wild Life

The wild life in the title of this piece doesn’t in any way refer to my life, which is about as tame and domesticated as one life can be. The wildest I ever get anymore is following the adventures of various fictional explorers who seem to be that fabled “only one man” who can save the world. Do I care that these characters are men rather than women? Absolutely not. It makes no difference to me. The so-called gender bias in such fiction doesn’t affect my life in any way. I still am who I am (whoever that might be) no matter what biases are present in any novel I read. I glean what I need to from the story and then get on with my so very tame life.

The wild life mentioned in the title are, in fact, wildlife, just not the sort of creatures we normally consider wildlife. I haven’t seen any bears or lions, coyotes or even any of the skunks that live around here. My wildlife sightings consist of the daddy longlegs that stared down at me from the ceiling over my bed, the flies that sat on my lap when I perched on my bench outside surveying my kingdom, the feral cats that chased the squirrels eating from the birdfeeder next door, the half-grown rabbits that played tag in the middle of the road, the hummingbirds that sipped from a pink wildflower growing in with my bushes.

(A short diatribe — why is it that with all the books I have on weeds and wildflowers, and with all the resources online, I can never find out the name or nature of any strange plant that shows up in my yard?)

I also saw two turtledoves cuddled on a wire, their heads together as if whispering sweet nothings to each other. I’ve seen photos of turtledoves behaving that way, but never in real life. No wonder they’re considered a symbol of love! I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, and when I went out later, they’d move on to more important bird-ish affairs.

And I saw the first tarantula hawk of the year. Can the tarantula migration be far behind? I have yet to see even a single tarantula since I moved here, even though this area of Colorado is supposed to be tarantula heaven, but perhaps if I get up early sometime next month, I can go on a tarantula hunt.

Meantime, there is always my backyard to entertain me with its myriad wildlife.

***

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

Odds and Ends

Yesterday I got the courage to get down on the floor to do some stretching exercises. Ever since I damaged my left knee, I haven’t ventured to floor in case I couldn’t get back up. Although I am right-handed, I am left-legged, and I didn’t want to stress the knee. It was a bit iffy, but I managed to get back on my feet. Oddly, it was harder getting down than up. I’m not going to try it again for a while. I’ll continue to do other knee exercises, as well as walking. I walked a mile today — walked, not trudged! The muscles around the knee are a bit sore, but I hope that they will soon get back in shape.

Do you care? Probably not. I don’t blame you. Other people’s ills get to be a bore.

I’m sure my talk of the tarot is every bit as boring. The only interesting thing (to me, anyway) is that except for an occasional card warning me not to take things for granted, to accept what comes, to live each day to the fullest, and to make good choices when it comes to opportunity, most of the cards speak of harmony, of peace, of good fortune, of being in the right place. It’s possible I’d read these things into any card because that’s my current situation. Also, if I don’t like the first interpretation I find, I search around for another interpretation. (For example, the ten of swords is a card of death and misfortune, but since I refused to accept such a meaning, I delved deeper and found that the card could also mean a renewal or even simply accepting your present circumstances.)

I mentioned yesterday I’ve been reading a series of spy/adventure novels. I remember back in the days of Glasnost thinking that a whole genre of cold war spy novels, Russia vs the USA, had suddenly become defunct, and that sure seemed to be true. In the following years, spy novels centered more on the Mideast, which killed any interest I had in the genre. But now, all these years later, those old Russia vs. USA novels are current again. And the mention in one of these book about the Chinese and their bioweapons program sure struck a chord.

Come to think of it, at the beginning of The Bob, people talked about the Chinese being held accountable, and then suddenly, that whole topic of news disappeared. I wonder what that’s about? I could create all sorts of scenarios based on these old spy books, but to be honest, it doesn’t really matter where it came from. It’s here, it’s killing people as well as destroying a way of life and the world economy, and no reparations can ever make up for all the problems it caused. (Hmm. I didn’t realize I’d adopted such a laissez faire attitude. Maybe it’s because I’m abstaining from the nastiness of Facebook.)

For some reason, the sun yesterday was exceptionally hot. It seared my skin and desiccated the plants that had been watered the day before. All summer, watering every other day was fine, and yesterday? Not the hottest day of the year, but it sure seemed like it!

Today is supposed to be a bit cooler, though I’m glad I got my walking in early. And my blogging. Now I can sit back and read for the rest of the 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

Skullduggery

I’ve been reading a series of spy/crime/adventure thrillers. Many of the novels revolve around a race for finding treasure, and all of them incorporate plot devices such as torture, murder, and theft on a grand scale.

While reading this latest book that involves discovery and theft of Incan artifacts going back to Francis Drake days, it suddenly dawned on me that I can’t relate to these folks at all. It might make me seem incredibly naïve, but I simply don’t understand them and their need — their greed — to take things for themselves that belong to others. To steal from a museum so that only they can see the priceless artifact. To kill people if necessary, in order to possess something no one can ever know they own.

I realize there are such people in the so-called real world. In fact, most of the great fortunes were founded by those who became known as “robber barons,” emphasis on “robber.” Even today, no one can make a huge fortune without some sort of skullduggery that skirts legality. Lesser fortunes also often come from some sort of crime before the owners of the fortune go legitimate. It must take an incredibly narcissistic person, as well a sociopathic personality to see nothing, to feel nothing but one’s own desires.

I truly cannot relate to such self-absorption and criminal tendencies, though without ever condoning the crimes, I can sort of understand those who steal on a very small scale.

Supposedly there have been several break-ins and some theft a few blocks from here. The discussion of these break-ins revolves around the myriad pot shops in town (some people say the shops contribute to crime, others say they don’t, though I have a hunch what side of the issue a person is on depends on whether or not the person partakes of the product.) Other people blame the nearby coalition for the homeless where people from all over the state (and even other parts of the country) come to get off whatever substance they are on and find a way back to the homed population. This facility has a distinct effect on the town because people who can’t or don’t want to stick with the program wander away and instead of going back where they come from, they hang around here and add to the problems of this already beleaguered town. Not only do they contribute to the crime rate, but they are also a drag on the city’s limited resources.

These people are desperate for food or a fix, and they are looking for something to sell to sate their elemental needs. Although I’ve never been in that situation, I can understand. Sort of.

I don’t understand, can’t understand, using force to take what one wants, on any sort of scale, especially when it comes to being held up at gunpoint, as happened to me once.

People always say that our differences are what make life interesting, but I don’t agree when those differences revolve around criminal behavior. I think life would be plenty interesting without greed and murder and theft and even unkindness, though I suppose, for most readers, thrillers would be a lot less interesting without skullduggery.

***

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

Just Hanging

My first week at work went well. It’s not an onerous job, that’s for sure. Mostly I’m a companion, visiting with the woman and fixing her a snack (when I remember) and answering the phone (when I can figure out how it works). We (me, the woman, and the permanent caregiver) get along, and we’re starting to form our own little tribe or community or family or whatever you want to call such a congenial grouping.

One of the things I like about having a job (besides the income, obviously) is that it gives shape and structure to my days. The thing I like least (which, come to think of it is the only thing I don’t like about having a job) is that it gives shape and structure to my days. I’m not sure how to accommodate this contradiction, but then, I don’t really have to. I’ll just go to work when the time comes, stay home the rest of the time, and don’t think about it either way.

It is odd, though, having an actual weekend. When you work for yourself or take care of a family member or don’t work at all, the days are pretty much all “weekend” days. So this is a treat for me, having a weekend. (Even though it’s really one weekend day and two weekstart days.)

It’s been nice so far — I did a load of laundry, watered my plants, wandered around the yard thinking about where to plant the locust tree I’m starting from a seed, visited with my next-door neighbor and gave her a tour of my garage. I’m not sure what’s so special about the garage, but I love showing it off, and people enjoy seeing it. In fact, another friend just left after stopping by to have a cup of tea and see how the garage turned out.

When I was folding my laundry earlier, it struck me how easy the living is for me right now. There’s no trauma, no real hardship, not even any dreary chores like going to the laundromat. (I’ve never owned a washer and dryer before, and it’s such a blessing!) No one is pushing me to do anything I don’t want to do. No one is fighting with me or calling me names. (Thank you, Facebook, for making it so easy to stay away from the contentious behavior you seem to foment!) Even better, I’m not fighting anything. I’m just hanging here, letting everything be.

Yes, such a good day and a great beginning to my weekend.

Can you guess that today’s tarot card was the hanged man?

***

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

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

I’m beginning to wonder if the tarot is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not supposed to be a prognosticator, but rather a way of gaining insights. I don’t expect anything from my foray into card reading — it’s more a way of honoring my deceased brother since the cards were his. And what the heck — I always like learning something new, especially something that might have deeper meanings. And it’s like decoding messages, which fits with being a mystery writer.

The cards for the previous four days were all high pentacle cards (Queen, Nine, King, Ace in that order), which together indicate prosperity, financial gain, goals achieved, enjoying each day, and new beginnings. All great cards to get, and rather interesting that they would all show up in such a clump. Also interesting in that I started a new job this week, and although it is part-time, it will help tremendously with my finances. And for sure it’s a new beginning.

Today’s card was the King of Wands. This card suggests that an opportunity is presenting itself, and that I have the perseverance and maturity to see it through to the end. Mostly, this is a card of pure energy. It’s that last part that made me wonder about self-fulfilling prophesies. After I did my tarot lesson for the day, I went grocery shopping, did laundry, took a walk, cooked rice, made salads for the next few days, cleaned a bit, talked to a friend on the phone, and now I’m writing this blog.

Whew! Lot of activity! Way more than I usually have the energy for in such a short span of time. So did the card suggest to me that I would have energy and my subconscious said, “Okay, sounds good to me, let’s energize the woman.” Or did I wake up with the energy and the card simply reflected that? Or was my bout of energy and the card coincidental?

Personally, I think it’s coincidence. The storm systems that have been moving through the area and zapping my energy, have passed temporarily, allowing me to get much accomplished. And almost any card can be made to fit any circumstance. I think it’s like horoscopes. The horoscopes that have no connection to anything that happens, we immediately forget, and the ones that strike a chord are those we remember.

But who knows. Certainly not me since I am a neophyte when it comes to the cards. I do enjoy tinkering with them, though. It helps give shape to my day by giving me something to do when I wake before I’ve settled in for the duration. It’s a bit mysterious. And, as I said, it’s a connection to my brother.

It’s all good. Especially the part about having energy. I did like that!

***

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

Okay News and Good News

No workers today. Apparently, the people who had rented the jackhammer before us haven’t yet bothered to return it so the contractor couldn’t come to start ripping up the old concrete in preparation for redoing the stoop and putting in a ramp from the house to the garage. It’s not bad news; In fact, it’s okay. Everything will get done eventually. It was the garage that mostly concerned me. With hail a factor around here, I wanted to make sure my car was protected. The only hail we’ve had so far was pea size, but it’s nice to know I don’t have to worry, especially on days like yesterday when we were under a severe thunderstorm watch. The storm never got this far, but along the front range, they were seeing hail as big as a handful of snow. Even if the storm had hit us, my car was covered.

The good news is that so far, the vinca I planted yesterday is still alive and seems to be thriving, though after only a day, it’s hard to tell.

As I wrote the previous sentence, it occurred to me the good news is more that I am alive and seem to be thriving. Plants come and go — well, so do people, as I well know — but for now, we are both here, the plants and I. It’s been a long time coming, this contentment, but apparently, after so many years, even the absence of those who are gone loses some of its sting.

I had an odd thought today. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to project myself into the future to prepare for my old age (because if I don’t make those preparations and do them now, no one will be around to take care of them, not even me because I will be too old). I worried that by thinking so much of being elderly, I was putting myself there prematurely. Luckily, the thought passed. I imagine that once I don’t have to think about fixing up the place to accommodate an older me, then I will slide back into being just . . . me.

Although the infrastructure of the yard, such as the pathways to give me an even footing and the inclined walkway instead of steps, will always remain, it’s possible that after I get the yard and garden looking lush and pretty, it will end up scraggly as I lose the interest and strength to keep it up, but that isn’t something I want to worry about. I’m planting bushes and other things that can generally take care of themselves once they’ve been given a good start. And if I can’t afford to hire someone to take care of the yard in that far off day, I can sit and dream of more verdant times.

Or not. It’s entirely possible I’ll be able to garden until the end. Some people do, why not me?

But that’s for the future. Today, I am able to do what I need to do. Today I worked outside for a bit, picking weeds and watering my plants. Today I’m grateful for what I have. Sounds like good news to 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

Small Doings

I’d just fixed lunch when the mail carrier came with the vinca minor bare root plants that I ordered. Since I knew I wouldn’t want to work once I got home from work, I set my lunch aside and went out to plant. I’d already made a planter out of a tree stump, so all I had to do was stick the plants in the soil. It was easy enough to do. Now I just have to wait to see if the plants will take hold. If so, I’ll have an interesting mound of vegetation. If not, I’ll have the stump removed with the rest of the stumps on the property when the time comes. In this case, I can’t really lose anything except the small amount of cash for the plants.

I was thrilled with my helper. He wasn’t very good at digging or carrying tools, but he kept watch so I could work undisturbed.

Tomorrow, with any luck, my human helpers will be back. They’re going to start tearing out the old sidewalk, ramp, and stoop, and putting in a new one. I’m mostly looking forward to the stoop being finished. The step down from the house is just too steep for me anymore, so I’ve been using the front door, which I don’t really like. One, I don’t want to advertise my comings and goings, and two, I’m not fond of tracking dirt into the house. Even removing my shoes as soon as I get in the door doesn’t help completely. Sometimes I forget something and have to come back in to retrieve it and am too lazy to take off my shoes. And sometimes the dirt gets carried around on my socks no matter what I do.

The dirt here isn’t powdery, but instead is clumpish because of the clay soil, and I so do not like stepping on those clumps with shoeless feet! Soon, though, I’ll be able to use my back door and the mud area I created in my sun room for putting on and taking off shoes. Also, when the pathways are in — to the back gate, around what will be flower beds, and along the sides of the yard to the front gate — I should be able to avoid a lot of mud. Of course, one foolproof way of avoiding mud is never to go outside, but I haven’t been putting all this effort into my yard just to sit inside and look out windows. I suppose there could come such a time, but not now, and hopefully not soon.

Can you tell I really have nothing to say? I used to get annoyed at people who would write of the minutiae of their lives, but here I am. No great wisdom to impart, no great traumas to dissect, no cosmic revelations. Just me and my small doings in my small house in my small town.

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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

Lucky Day

Today’s tarot card is the nine of disks in the deck I’m using this month (The Ancient Egyptian Tarot), but is more commonly known as the nine of pentacles. This is a card of good luck, which is nice because today I am starting a new/old “career.”

I use quotation marks because ten hours a week sitting with an elderly woman isn’t exactly a career, and though this particular job — and being paid for the job — is new to me, caregiving isn’t. After all, I did the same thing for my mother, father, and Jeff.

It is an interesting experience — not just working for someone, but all the paperwork that is required nowadays. I can’t remember the last time I worked for someone else or got a paycheck. Jeff and I worked for ourselves. It surprises me that anyone can use illegal labor because of that said paperwork. I had to fill out an “employment eligibility verification” form for homeland security and provide two forms of identification — one to prove I am me and one to prove I am eligible to work. Since the employer also has to sign these papers, then it seems that hiring someone who is in the country illegally is doubly a crime — not just the hiring, but the aiding and abetting and especially the perjury. And then the W-4 form — the last time I filled one out, it was a half of a sheet and no instructions. This one was two sheets — four pages — though in essence, it was the same as I remember.

Besides needing (or not needing) luck today for this new start, I got lucky on two other accounts — a very acceptable quote for the landscaping (breeze walkways, raised garden beds, fixing the foundation, and ornamental rock around the house and garage). And a great price on farm-raised beef and pork. I’ll have to buy way more than I normally would, but my freezer is empty, and what the heck. No chemicals, no torture, no mystery meat. My vegan and vegetarian friends are probably rolling their eyes (or gagging), but this is a new experience for me, not just buying freshly butchered meat, but actually knowing the person who raised the animals. (I’m not sure I would be able to do the same, which is actually a bit of hypocrisy since I don’t have any objection to eating the product of his work.)

Luck isn’t all the nine of disks is about — it refers to popularity and the favor of others, which seems to be true, though why it is so, I don’t know. I seem to have passed some sort of milestone where instead of repelling people as I once did, I attract them.

This card is also about looking back and celebrating the difficulties, struggles, and hard work that brought me to this point. Knowing how difficult it was, it shows that I intend to enjoy every single day that is given me.

And oh, that is true! I do try to enjoy every day, and with old age bearing down on me (or maybe I’m bearing down on it?) it seems especially necessary to celebrate the independence and relative ease of living that is still mine. So yes, today is a lucky 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

Garage Gallery

I’ve been keeping track of my daily tarot card pick for a month now, and though I don’t see how the cards affect my life, there are certain things that show up again and again, such as sixes, which represent moving away from conflict, light after dark, and harmony. Another frequent card is the ten of weapons, which can mean anything from misfortune on a grand scale to a reminder that we can’t control everything.

Today’s card, the queen of pentacles, is also a frequent card, showing up about once a week. The queen is sensible, hard-working and domesticated; loves the comforts of life and displays splendor of life. She’s kind and affectionate; generous and forgiving, and prone to weight problems. Also, she depends more on her intuitive skills than her intellect.

I was nodding through the whole description. Yep, me. Me. Me. Wait! What? Relies on intuitive skills rather than intellect? I thought it was the other way around, but I suppose if the card is right about all the rest of it, then it’s probably right about that, too. Or not. Who knows? Another meaning of the card is someone who is shrewd and capable, so that seems to contradict the intuitive skills dependence meaning.

And oh, yes — there’s one other thing: the card represents the embodiment of feminine creativity.

I did have to smile at that, considering that I spent the morning decorating my garage, or at least one corner of it. I don’t like clutter, especially on the walls inside my house, because too much stuff makes me feel closed in. Over the years, though, I’ve collected some pictures I liked and painted others, and the garage seems the perfect place for them. I’ll be able to see them occasionally, and won’t get overwhelmed or claustrophobic.

I even put up a frill of a curtain. I wasn’t sure I wanted a curtain, though it would seem to be the epitome of a girl garage, but when I was sorting through things to store, I found a curtain ruffle and a rod that was the perfect size. Apparently, the window wanted a curtain!

Maybe I shouldn’t post the photo of these bits of artwork because, as a blog reader pointed out, posting photos and talking about my possessions might put me at risk for break-ins. Not that I have anything that’s worth anything except maybe my car, but that garage door sure was expensive!

Still, I got a kick out of my garage gallery, and thought you might, too.

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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