Meeting With My Contractor

I spent most of last evening working on a list of projects for my contractor that included projects that have been started and paid for but not finished, projects that have not been finished but were included in a bulk payment (two installments of which I still owe), and projects that have been contracted for but not started and not paid for.

Whew! What a task! But to the best of my knowledge, the list includes everything we’ve talked about and planned over the past couple of years since I bought this place.

This morning, I met with the contractor to go over the list. A lot of the items could be knocked out in a day if he brought his whole crew here, other items will take longer, especially if he’s only able to send a couple of men here to work. One of those men is new and I haven’t yet met, but the other has been here working on occasion. Still, when they work their way down the list to the projects inside the house, I want the contractor here, not just his minions. Although I like and trust the one who has been here before, I still prefer for the person I hired to do the work. That way there are never any questions about who is working in my house and who might be responsible for any mishaps.

As for the rest of it, though, I’m not sure I care who does the work as long as someone does it.

One of the problems of running a business such as my contractor’s is hiring help. The truly trustworthy workers who can get the job done without supervision seem to be hard to find, so when it comes to a “shopping list” of jobs, such as I have, rather than one big project, he needs to delegate others to do the work.

Another problem with a plethora of jobs, especially those that call for dump truck loads of material such as rocks, gravel, and dirt, is actually getting the stuff here for the delegates to work with.

Hopefully the delegates will be here tomorrow as planned to get started on some of the jobs. The huge amount of rain we had this spring (300% of normal, more than 600% of what we had been getting the past couple of years) spooked me. Water poured off the roof rather than into the gutters because the fascia had been wrongly installed by some previous owner, so I ended up with a gully wash. Also, the workers had dug dirt away from the house to fix the foundation and never got back here to fill the ditch. The combination of the faulty gutters and the ditch created a moat around the house. Although it was a big enough problem to make me worry about the basement flooding, it wasn’t big enough to attract dragons or other moat dwellers. (The mosquitos, however, are ravenous this year and I am their smorgasbord.)

One of the first things they will be doing is building my raised garden in the middle of my rear pathways. I have a hunch it might be too late to get plants to fill the garden by the time it’s done, but perhaps not. I suppose it’s a matter of whatever I can get, wherever I can. Since the brakes on my car still aren’t fixed (I haven’t been calling to nag the mechanic but maybe I should), I only have the sparse selection at the local hardware store to choose from.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One meeting with a contractor in no way equates to jobs finished. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

***

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Gardening As Exercise

Gardening is often touted as good exercise, though when I was young and able to run and hike and even lift weights, I didn’t understand why it would be so.

Well, now I do understand. I spent a couple of hours this morning pulling weeds and digging a few holes for planting, and I could barely do anything the rest of the day because everything between my ankles and neck hurt. It’s possible the aches have more to do with my relative lack of exercise lately than the gardening itself, but it does show me that gardening can work a variety of muscles as well as beautifying a yard.

Most of my yard is still a mess. There are bare spots that were torn up by the various machinery used by the workers I hired. They are supposed to bring in fill dirt, but haven’t done it yet. That’s only one of the many things they haven’t done, but I have hopes that some year they will finish all they promised.

Meantime, I am planting bushes, trees, shrubs, flowers — whatever vegetation I can get my hands on.

When I bought the house, a relative who has experience designing gardens volunteered to do the landscaping. She did all sorts of research, and I was excited when she finally came, expecting her to help me work on the yard. But no. She wanted to . . . actually, looking back, I don’t know what she wanted to do. All I know is that she shrugged off the yard with a simple sentence, telling me that planting can’t be started until the hard things are in place.

I paused here to look that up online, belatedly wondering if she were leading me on, but apparently, she was right. Topping a to-do list of landscape design essentials is that you have to do all the hardscaping before you set any plants in place.

Even assuming that the hardscaping is the first step, that’s not how I’m going about things. I’ve been told I’m contrary. I’ve also been told I march to a different drummer. To me, it’s not about either of those things but doing what I can when I can.

Even before the fence went up, I started transplanting lilac seedlings from a neighbor’s yard. (With his permission, of course.) I also transplanted some of his larkspur, which have now reseeded themselves for the second spring in a row. In fact, they are filling in the “island” between my two sidewalks. The garden I had originally planted around that area became defunct when the sidewalks went in, or so I thought. Apparently, clearing out the weeds and grass and tilling the soil made the seeds from the original larkspur take hold.

The bushes that are planted along the fence were dug up and transplanted from the area off the alley where the driveway now is. They went in before the pathways — those who laid the rock worked the paths around the plants that were already there.

The same will be done for the rest of the yard. I am creating a swath of garden on the left-hand side of the sidewalks, and eventually, another path will sweep alongside that swath.

There are some parts of the yard that I am not even thinking about at the moment and won’t until a bit more of the hardscaping is done, but it doesn’t matter. I have more to do right now than I can easily accomplish in the next couple of years.

It’s odd — the property doesn’t look all that big, but each small section I am working on seems to loom large. There is no way any one person could landscape this place in a matter of weeks or even months, and I certainly don’t expect that from myself or the people doing the hardscaping. (I like that word, have you noticed? I’d never heard it before, and it’s a fun one.)

This is a project for a lifetime.

I remember reading a story once about a woman who planted a hillside of daffodils — acres of them. People came from miles around to see her hill of daffodils. There was only a single sign in the field, and that said “One at a time.” Apparently, everyone wanted to know how she’d planted so many daffodils, and she must have gotten tired of the question. Hence, the sign.

That’s my gardening philosophy — one at a time. Over the months and years, some things will die, others will take hold, so I’ll have a changing landscape. Meantime, I am learning to accept what grows here and what doesn’t (and how little control I have over either). Except for weeds — that I don’t always accept. Unfortunately, although I like to think everything has the right to grow, I have to draw a line somewhere, and I don’t appreciate anything — or anyone — encroaching on territory that is not theirs. So I pull up whatever encroaching weeds I can. (No poisons. I haven’t crossed that line yet.)

Yesterday a neighbor mentioned that in five years, after everything grows up, I will have a beautiful yard. That’s something worth working toward.

Besides, all that exercise will be good for 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

More Work Done!

A couple of workers showed up today to continue working on my yard, and they did enough that it actually looks like they are making progress.

This following picture is the side of the house where a long disused driveway used to be. The crib-like structure toward the end of the pathway is a gazebo being built over a concrete slab that was in front of the old garage. There were enough materials leftover from building the new garage — including shingles — that it’s mostly paid for. I’m not sure I will ever use the gazebo, but it’s something I’ve always wanted. Besides, a concrete slab is a terrible thing to waste.

This second photo is the rear of the yard where the old garage used to be. The squared off space in the center of the red pathway will eventually be a raised garden.

I do have another garden spot (the “island” between my back sidewalks) though who knows how much I will ever be able to do with it. Getting down on my knees, even with the help of a garden kneeler is, I am afraid, a thing of the past. This May, when the risk of frost is past, I’ll probably just toss out some seeds, water the area, and see what happens.

Meantime, I am enjoying watching my “estate” take shape.

***

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

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!

***

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Snowdrop!

At least, I think it’s a snowdrop. When I planted bulbs in the fall, I took a scattershot approach, so they are all mixed up without any indication of what is planted where.

The snowdrop was supposed to be the first to bloom, and considering that this little gem (no bigger than my thumbnail) is not just the first but the only flower so far, I figure it has to be a snowdrop. And if not, well, a snowy drop by any other name is still a lovely little blossom.

I realize it’s not much, this bloom, but every flower garden, no matter how lush, had to start with a single flower, and this is mine — the first step to what I hope will be a pretty yard.

At the moment, of course, the yard is not at all pretty. The brown grass is gouged with troughs where the garage and the carport used to be. The carport was moved close to the house and is filled with a lot of the stuff that should be (and will be) in the garage when it is built, but a few cold, snowy days put garage on hold. There are supposed to be a couple of more cold, snowy days next week, but then after that . . . well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I realize everything is a slow process, whether growing a single bloom, planting a garden, landscaping a yard, or building a garage, and it’s still early days since I haven’t been here quite a year.

In fact, exactly three weeks from today will be my first anniversary as a homeowner.

So far, so good!

***

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