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.

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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

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!

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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

Thrilling and Not-So-Thrilling Developments

The most thrilling new development is that my contractor came with a couple of his workers yesterday and finished framing my sidewalk and stoop. He’d hoped to have the sidewalk poured today, but apparently, all the concrete guys are up in the northern part of the state installing or re-installing windmills. I’m not really sure what the story is. All I know is that no one could come do my job until Monday. Meantime, I can enjoy the esthetics of the framework, especially since, as you can see, it used up a bunch of scrap lumber leftover from other projects.

If all goes as planned, sometime next week, I will actually be able to go out the backdoor. Even better, I will be able to go directly to the garage. Yay!

Now I just have to figure out what I want to do with the island between the sidewalks. Plants of course, but do should I fill in the hilly area with dirt and then do some sort of ground cover? Do I do a container garden? (I will be doing a container garden between the house and the ramp at the bottom of the photo, so perhaps that will be too many containers.) Should I put in a bush or some sort of fancy boulder? Or do I leave as is, and just plant whatever and see what happens. So many choices!

On the middling thrilling front, I should be getting a few plants next week that I’d ordered from a desert nursery, in an effort to see what will grow in this alkaline, dried-out clay soil. I could put some of those plants in that island, but I think I’d like to something less haphazard since it will be the most visible and visited garden spot in my yard.

On the not so thrilling front, I’d ordered some protein bars to add to my scant emergency food supply. (As of now, that supply consists of a couple cans of beans, a couple cans of tuna, and three freeze-dried meals leftover from my camping days.) The bars were supposed to be low carbohydrate, but it turns out they were high carbohydrate. Apparently, they did some sort of shady math to subtract out the carbohydrates. They didn’t subtract out the carbohydrates themselves, you understand, just played around with the numbers to get a “net” figure. Luckily, I hadn’t paid a lot for these bars — they were a sample pack that I somehow got for half price. And anyway, they are just for emergencies. (You notice that I use the full word — carbohydrates? No “carbs” for me!)

But truly, those bars are a minor non-thrill. Greater by far is the thought of finally getting some of the necessary work done on my back yard!

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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

The Death of Satire

Satire cannot live in a world that is already an exaggeration. This world is already lampooning itself by its very existence, provides a daily example of egregious stupidity and unbelievable irony.

For example, at the end of January, travel from China was restricted in an effort to help stop the spread of The Bob into the USA. Back then, this was considered to be an overreaction, and yet today, people are screaming that this administration underreacted. Huh? Can’t have it both ways. Though I could be mistaken.

Then, when the riots came, people started screaming that the president wasn’t doing anything to stop them, ignoring the fact that this is still The United STATES of America, and states have some autonomy, less than what was planned by the founders, more than what the big government folks want. As of now, unless the governors invite federal intervention (or unless a state of emergency is declared as well as a few other exceptions), a president cannot simply send troops to invade a state.

Those aren’t especially good examples. A better example was laid out in an article I read today about Minneapolis defunding their police department. Now the council members don’t understand why crime is rising and why the police aren’t doing anything. Really? What did they think was going to happen? Did they think the presence of the police caused crime and removing them would immediately remove incidences of crime? Logic 101 — lawlessness equals lawlessness.

How can you possibly lampoon any of this? You can’t. Reality has killed satire. Done for. Dead. There’s no need for satire when the whole world reads like a satiric novel.

If all the ridiculousness was of a civil or political nature, that would be one thing, but it’s not. The past couple of days, we’ve had cloudless days here in Colorado, but the skies aren’t clear. We’re gasping in the smoky west coast air. It’s not as bad here, a thousand miles away, as it is there, but it’s enough to make breathing difficult and to obscure the beautiful blue September sky.

I remember when I went to California to look after my dad, I mentioned to some people there that when I had lived on the western slope of Colorado, I could always tell when there were forest fires in California because I could smell them. People thought I was absurd, and absolutely refused to give any credence to my explanation of air currents. But here we Coloradans are, suffocating in western coast smoke.

One final example of a world gone beyond satire — here it is almost winter, and my spring bulbs decided to pop up. Perhaps they thought that snowstorm we had was winter, and the warm days presage spring. Who knows. All I know is that there that jaunty bit of greenery sits.

And I know that satire has been out-satired by reality.

***

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

Such an Adventure!

I haven’t been to the library in months. Even though it’s been closed because of The Bob, for a awhile I was able to get books by appointment. That was an interesting experience — they’d come to the door and hand the requested books to me, then quickly pull back inside as if we were doing some sort of undercover deal. Real spy stuff.

Then, even though we still hadn’t had a single case of The Bob in town, they completely closed the library. So I read all my emergency books — a hundred or so paperbacks I’d collected that I wasn’t particularly interested in reading — and then I started in on my emergency emergency stash. First I got caught in the spokes of The Wheel of Time, reading and rereading and rerereading all fourteen volumes comprising four million words. More recently, I’ve been reading books I had on my Nook, including a whole bunch of Clive Cussler books, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and aother books I had been eschewing.

The library has been open for about a month now. The hours were shortened considerably, and the number of patrons severely limited, so I kept up with my Nook stash so as not to add to the confusion. Besides, there was that wonky knee thing.

Today I ran an errand (walked, actually), which was rare for me this year. Although I’ve been doing well walking just to walk, I’ve been hesitant about carrying things. I had come out of the store with my few items and was thinking that it was about time I checked in with the library when I heard, “We miss you at the library.” There stood one of the smiling librarians. We talked for a few minutes, then, considering that a sign, I teased her that she’d shamed me into it, and I headed for the library.

Oh, so amazing! Books! A building full of books! A place where you can walk in empty-handed and walk out with a satchel full of books. Wow! What an experience!

They told me about an upcoming reading contest. I reminded them — jokingly — that I’d won the last contest, but The Bob had kept me from my prize. This contest will be fairer. For every five books read, your name is put in a pot, and at the end of the contest, they will draw a name. It’s the only way to give someone else a chance. Otherwise they might just as well forget the contest and simply hand me a prize. I’m being a bit facetious here with my tone, though this really is the truth of the matter.

I have no idea if any of the books I lugged home will be worth reading, but they are BOOKS! Real books made with real paper.

Such an adventure!

I might have to try this again sometime.

***

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

Saddened

It seems sort of silly to be sad at the loss of a single tree when so many trees are being burned in the wildfires all across the west, but this was my tree. Well, no, it wasn’t my tree since trees belong to themselves, but the tree was my responsibility. And it saddens me that I had to destroy it. (I was going to be clever and say I euthanized it, but that would indicate a humane death, and killing something with a chain saw cannot be called humane.)

Although the tree looked pretty and healthy, it was diseased. Apparently, at one time, it had been hit by lightning, and the core and the far side of the tree was dying. I could have kept it awhile longer, but it was a danger in high winds, and I didn’t want to be responsible for someone getting hurt by a falling branch. (And I certainly didn’t want to have to compensate the someone who was injured.)

It was the last tree on this property, and now it’s gone. I was always disdainful of people who bought a house and then immediately cut down all the trees, and yet, that’s what I did. A couple of the trees were diseased and dying. One needed to be cut way back to protect the roof and the tree cutter thought it would be too lopsided to be healthy, so they took the whole thing. Another was a danger because it was entwined with electrical wires.

And so I became one of the disdained. Even worse, I’ve never considered myself a killer, but from my actions regarding trees, I have to revise that assessment.

In my defense, we (the tree guy and me) are planning on planting new trees — perhaps a red maple in the front yard and three along the parkway strip between the street and the sidewalk where this tree was removed, and two greengage plum trees in the back yard. These will be real trees, not the half-dead sticks (now, completely dead sticks) that I got from an arbor society, so I’m hoping they will have a chance to survive.

Meantime, my property looks naked, and that, too, saddens 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

Keeping The Faith

I’m one of those who keeps the faith with language. I say what I mean and I try to live by what I say, though sometimes it’s hard because the inner voice of truth that comes out when I am speaking or writing is often wiser than I am.

I prefer other people to use correct language too, though I realize that’s an old-fashioned concept.

I just read an article that talked about Trump supporters spreading hate because they were getting in altercations with the protestors. So we’re supposed to believe that only Trumpers hate? That the self-proclaimed Marxist protestors who are burning and looting are doing it out of love? Oh, for cripes sake. Has the world lost its mind?

Words no longer mean what they once did. Peaceful once meant . . . peaceful. Free from disturbance. Tranquil. Not burning and looting, not screaming, not blocking emergency entrances at hospitals and chanting: “We hope they die.”

Words have always been plastic, meaning that they can be easily molded or shaped, not the way the word is now used, meaning something hard and indestructible. It seems words are even more plastic than I realized in this gaslighting era, where what we are told is the exact opposite of what we are seeing. For example, I had the misfortune to watch a television news broadcast the other day. They showed someone saying something, and then immediately afterward the newscaster told us the person had said something completely different.

In many cases, I’m one of last to keep the faith when it comes certain words. I say vegetables instead of . . . gag . . . veggies. I never use the outdated and so very sexist term “co-ed.” I don’t use permuted words like “styling,” whatever that means. (I assume it’s good because the other day someone told me my hat was “stylin.” Though with the plasticity of words nowadays, for all I know it could mean that I was wearing the ugliest hat the young woman had ever seen.)

I especially don’t say “love” when I mean “hate.” And I don’t say “peaceful demonstrations,” when I mean that people are rioting. I don’t say “taking what they need,” “expropriating property,” or “reparations” when I mean stealing. (Looting is stealing. To a person with a passing acquaintance with a dictionary, looting means to steal during a riot, and it’s a crime no matter how many people defend the act.)

It’s possible my adherence to words in their proper form and proper meaning is due to the intransigency of age, but it still doesn’t make the actions hidden in these plastic words palatable to me.

I think it’s time for me to pull in my head and channel my inner turtle for a while.

***

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

Questions About Grief

A friend’s husband died a few months ago, and during this time, she’s been asking me questions about grief. Since some of them are things I haven’t talked about, with her permission, I am posting her questions (in bold letters) and my answers.

I just got back from a visit with a relative. The emptiness is horrible!

Yes, the emptiness is horrible. I wasn’t sure if I should warn you about how awful it would be when you got back to the empty house, but I figured you’d find out soon enough and I didn’t want to ruin your visit. It’s really hard living with grief.

Did you ever have a weekend where you couldn’t stop crying for more than an hour?

Yes, many, many. I cried for twenty-four hours straight once.

How long did it take before you didn’t cry every day?

A long time. Years. Sometimes it was for just a few minutes. Other times it felt as if he had just died, and I cried as I did at the beginning.

I thought it would start to back off by now.

No. Maybe after six months, the time between crying bouts will get a lot longer, but the tears come back. It’s kind of a shock when the tears return after a period of relative peace because we’d begun to believe it was all over. When the tears come and stay too long, about all you can do is distract yourself by going to the store or a museum, but then you often have the problem of DWC (Driving While Crying). Or crying at the grocery store. It’s not fun.

Did you ever see a grief counselor?

Not a grief counselor, but I did go to a support group for about a year. A support group is good because it helps being around people who are going through the same thing you are and who understand. In my case, it also helped because I was new in town and didn’t know anyone.

What did you have the most trouble with the first year?

It was all horrific. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t stand the pain and loneliness.

What sort of things helped during really bad episodes?

Walking. Working helped – housework, cleaning, clearing out stuff. Screaming helped. I did a lot of screaming. Writing letters to Jeff helped a lot. It made me feel as if we were still connected somehow.

How do you make yourself not cry for things like doctor’s appointments?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. Sometimes my tears stopped when I was with other people. Sometimes not. If they didn’t, I just told people to ignore them. Also, being at the doctor’s office rather than at home might be a big enough change to stop the tears.

Is nausea one of the signs of grief?

Yes. I was often too sick to my stomach to eat. But pay attention. The nausea could have other causes.

Did you have different food choices the first year?

Oh, my yes! It took me over a year to be able to eat meals Jeff and I fixed. In some cases, it took longer. In fact, there are some foods I still haven’t eaten.

Did you have any trouble with hair, skin, and nails the first year?

Absolutely. My hair turned to straw, my skin dried out, and my nails got soft. It’s because of the stress. Studies have shown that losing a spouse is the most stressful experience a persona has, by a large margin.

Are you ever scared?

Sometimes. At the beginning, I was often terrified. And for a long, long time I was scared of growing old alone. I still am, but having a house helps. Also, I’m to the point where, if I do get afraid of living alone or anything else, I can turn my mind to other things. But yeah, fear does niggle at me.

Living after the death of a husband is really, really, really hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s not just the pain and horror of grief that’s hard, but having to find a whole new way of living because your old way of life died when he did.

I don’t feel strong enough.

You might not be strong now, but you will find the strength to get through this. I promise.

I’m glad you are so sure.

I am. I know. It’s the way of with all of us who are left behind. We have no other choice but to live one minute at a time. As time passes, we look back and see all the minutes and pain we have survived, which gives us strength to continue. You’re still at the start, so you can’t see yet all you have done since he died.

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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

Signposts of Time

Last year sped by so fast that by the middle of January, I was already seeing the end, and within another month, the year was done. Or so it felt.

Not so this year. Slow. Slow. Slow. The year is progressing so slowly that something as unseasonable as an early snowstorm — not uncommon in Colorado — has thrown me off track. We went from almost a hundred degrees to almost freezing in a single night, and the rain turned to snow. Although it’s supposed to heat up to the eighties and nineties starting tomorrow, for now the dreary days are continuing.

I have an urge to dig out my Christmas decorations, especially my bowls of light and other lighted things like my small tree, because I keep thinking Christmas is almost here.

What a shock to realize that particular holiday is still one hundred and five days away! Halloween and Thanksgiving haven’t even come, and it’s too early to decorate for those days, too. Not that I celebrate any of these holidays — since I’m alone, one day is much like another. It’s more that they are signposts that time is moving along. (I did celebrate Christmas last year, or more accurately, I celebrated having my own kitchen and oven, but I doubt I will do the same this year — although I have been especially careful with my diet the past several months, I still haven’t been able to lose the cookie weight from last Christmas.)

Luckily, the sun will come out again, and though the brightness will dispel my feelings of an imminent Christmas, it won’t do much to speed up this interminable year.

My only choice then, is to take the days as they come. To look at the small picture and focus on the short term (even though my tarot card today told me to look at the big picture and focus on the long term). To enjoy the respite from the heat, and when the heat returns, enjoy the respite from the cold. Because truly, does it matter if last year passed in a flash and this year is moving at slow speed? What does another year get me except another year older and a completely different number for my age?

Come to think of it, that’s the number I don’t particularly want because it’s the one where a person can no longer pretend not to be old. So perhaps, after all, I’ll keep the Christmas things packed away. No sense in hurrying things along.

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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