Soup Kitchen Redux

Yesterday, for the first time in several years, I volunteered at our local soup kitchen. Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, the sponsoring organization had updated the homeless shelter and other areas, including the kitchen. It was now quite functional with four sinks and a commercial stove with eight large burners. I was impressed.     

Volunteers help to prepare and serve one meal a day. I was recruited to fill the slot of a regular volunteer on this particular day, when my church was on the schedule. My church usually supplies five volunteers, but yesterday there were only two, plus two regulars from another church.

I was somewhat apprehensive as I approached the building because so much had changed – I didn’t even know which door to enter! But I was apprehensive mostly because the kitchen manager had berated all the kitchen volunteers the last time I was there, a few months ago, when I had been asked to fill in for a volunteer who was not available. Apparently, volunteers were not coming in early enough to please her. She was unpleasant and appeared quite nervous, and I did not want to be around her. Fortunately, I was able to leave that day, because there were enough volunteers without me.

This time, however, was different. Our “boss” was a very large black man, who was pleasant and clearly in charge, although he did not always share with us everything we felt we needed to know, such as the day’s menu. One volunteer spent all morning peeling and cutting potatoes, never being told that the potatoes were for the next day’s meal. The former manager was in and out of the kitchen, but she did not interact with us.

The work at the soup kitchen is not hard, but we work steadily for several hours, on our feet without a break. Before the renovation, we had an active role in cooking the food and even helping to plan menus, but now we just did what we were told, and that did not include cooking. There was a large bin of donated fruit on the counter, so it became my job to make a fruit salad. The menu was hot dogs, fruit salad, vegetable salad and chips. It seemed to me that clients ate much better in the old days, but I decided I shouldn’t judge from just one day.

At 10:30 the clients began to arrive. Because of the pandemic, all meals were takeout only, so we had to pack them into styrofoam boxes. New rules required clients to sign in first, and they came to our counter one at a time. When we had volunteered earlier, the clients had lined up and we made up the plates as they came, often serving over 100 people in one hour. It was not as many yesterday.

Most of the time, when I first volunteered, my late husband, Jerry, came with me. I was pleased that one of the volunteers present yesterday remembered us. As in so many other times in the last year and a half, I wanted to hurry home and tell him, “Jerry, guess who I ran into today? Do you remember….” But Jerry is not there, and a special time that we had shared is gone forever, like other occasions before it. I wonder how long I will keep thinking of things to tell Jerry. I smile as I remember how seriously he had taken his volunteer job. He was one of the few male volunteers, so he had to lift the heavy pots. He bought special hot pads because he did not think the ones they supplied were adequate.

After the clients were served and the food was gone, we cleaned up and went home. The soup kitchen had fed people another day. I heard they have ribs to go along with the potatoes for tomorrow. Now that’s a meal worth showing up for.

Each day, a new crew of volunteers goes in to help out. I will not be among them, but I will keep my status as a substitute. Things have changed just a bit too much for me.

COVID Cravings

Thinking back on the last year and a half of pandemic living, everything is mixed up in my mind. I don’t know whether the feelings I was experiencing were from fear or isolation or grief or loneliness. They were probably a combination. I was unlucky enough to lose my husband less than a month before lockdown. Mostly I remember how lonely I was.

From early days of the pandemic, I found myself yearning for some semblance of control, trying to eke out some pleasure from an unhappy situation. One of the positive things I experienced were food cravings, which popped into my head out of nowhere. They brought me into the kitchen, a place where I love to work. And the food the cravings prompted me to prepare always tasted delicious to me.

The first craving I remember having was hot dogs, which I rarely ate. Before I experienced my hot dog craving, I probably had not eaten a hot dog in a year. But I found some in the freezer, and when they were gone, I bought more, indulging myself two or three times a week for lunch. They had to be Ball Park, all beef, and bun length. I always heated up sauerkraut and baked beans as well (to make a balanced meal? Not really – I was craving them too!). The buns had to be fresh, and I used jalapeño mustard as a condiment, along with the sauerkraut. It all tasted yummy to me.

I discovered artisan Italian bread and it became my go-to toast for my weekend breakfasts. I keep it in the freezer, so it will not get stale. The slices are too big for the toaster, so I break them in half. When the toast pops up, I flip the pieces to brown them a little more. The result: perfect toast, very crisp.

Several times I have frozen a pound of liverwurst, identified by its yellow wrapper, in two-ounce slices, just right for one sandwich. Although I no longer buy deli meats, I make an exception for liverwurst, a paean to my childhood. Other lunches of childhood, such as canned corned beef and Spam, I have easily resisted. There are better substitutes for those these days, but not for liverwurst! I find a simple sandwich with lettuce and mayo on rye bread to be very satisfying.

Indulging myself in these and other cravings has achieved my goal of having a simple pleasure to look forward to in a long day. I was seeking ways to “nest,” to make a home of my own out of this house where I had lived for eight years but never alone. I needed to prove to myself that happiness can be attained in many different ways. I developed new habits I had never had before, such as eating dinner on a TV tray in front of the TV. I found comfort in such routines. Anything pleasurable, especially in the early days of the lockdown, was worth pursuing

Today most of my food cravings still exist, but some have faded away (my hot dogs again sit unused in the freezer). I am optimistic about the pandemic’s end, although it is still with us. I have discovered some joys in living alone, and much of my grief has subsided. I am still working on figuring out my place in this world going forward. When a new craving comes along, I indulge myself with pleasure, because…why not?

Falling Apart

After a day of sightseeing, we returned to our tiny stateroom on the river cruise in France. I took off my socks and sneakers, which were feeling tight. Looking aghast at my feet and ankles, I hollered to my sister, Denise, “What is this? My feet and ankles are all fat! And my legs and ankles are all red.”

            She gazed down at my feet. “It’s edema. Your body is retaining water.”

            “But I’ve never had anything like this before.”

            “It could be from your diet and being on your feet all day. Or too much sitting, from your flights. I have had it before, and I have pressure stockings to help alleviate it.” I was feeling a bit panicked, but Denise was very calm. “It’ll probably go away when you return to your normal life.”

            She found me a pair of her stockings, which were flesh-colored and went up to the knee. She then had to show me how to put them on, by scrunching up the foot of the stocking. They were tight but my feet immediately felt better. “Do you sleep in them?” I asked.

            “No,” she replied, “You get a break then.”

            My feet eventually returned to normal after I got home, but I couldn’t help but wonder what other manifestations of my body changing I must prepare to face. I had been suffering from the illusion that I was healthier than other women my age because I am so active. This was like a wake-up call that anything could happen.

Unfortunately, that is not all I discovered about my body while traveling with my sister. I was walking in front of her one time when she said to me, “Did you know that you are crooked?”

“Crooked?” I croaked, with some trepidation.

“Your left shoulder is lower than your right. And your right shoulder is more forward than your left. I wasn’t sure so I have been watching you.”

I immediately stood up as straight as I could, pulling in my stomach for good measure. “Is this better?” I asked.

She shook her head. “You need some kind of adjustment.”

For days I worried about being crooked. I couldn’t deny it when I looked in the mirror but I didn’t think I looked that bad. I watched people to see if they were looking at me, but I didn’t notice anything. It brought to mind the old nursery rhyme,

“There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile.

He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile…”

I couldn’t understand these new afflictions because I am feeling fine, regularly taking classes at the Y, and I am back to playing pickleball and loving it. I will have to visit my doctor and get her opinion about what I should do. Falling apart!

There are other ways our bodies may let us down. I have always thought that we – all of us – carry cancer cells within us, and our immune system fights it off. When the immune system fails, we get cancer. Then we resort to hoping it was discovered early enough to enable treatment.

            I have too many friends and family who’ve been diagnosed with cancer: breast, colon, stomach, ovarian, to name a few; is my turn coming? After my recent health revelations, I  know that I should appreciate whatever good health I have. I can walk, I can run (but only to chase a ball in pickleball), and I am even feeling better about my mental acuity. I have a few pounds to lose after the indulgences of my trip, but I am back to eating a healthy diet now. And feeling good, did I mention that?

            It just doesn’t pay to worry about things you can’t control. Find whatever in life there is that brings you joy and live into that. It may take some doing, but you will know. Yesterday, in between games at pickleball, I just sat, soaking up my good feelings and marveling at how much all of us players were captivated by this sport. There were about 12 people there, mostly seniors, enough for two courts. One plays with an oxygen tank on her back; another just got her third COVID shot because she is a recent cancer survivor. Still another broke her pelvis in a pickleball fall but came back at full strength. Then there is me, another fall survivor. I felt awash in happiness.

            Falling apart? I guess change is inevitable, and I can live with it. As long as I can chase that ball and hit it over the net, I will be doing just fine.

Musings from a Green-eyed Girl

In my aerobics class, we had just finished exercising to Brown-eyed Girl, one of my favorite songs, when one of the women participants began walking around examining each of us. “Do you have brown eyes?” she’d ask peering at someone, then go on to the next exerciser.

“Do you have brown eyes?” she asked me.

            “No,” I replied, “but I used to. My eyes are green now.”

She seemed interested, so I continued. “I had light brown eyes with a little green around the edges. My sister had dark brown eyes but hers are green now too. My mother’s eyes were green, as are my brother’s. The other three members of my family have blue eyes.”

            I don’t know why she wanted to know; her eyes are a pale blue.

But I got to thinking about eyes, and how intricate they are, and what a miracle sight is. All of our body systems are intermingled with each other, so that each can do its job. How lucky are we that, most of the time, everything works?

            I also think it is amazing that everyone is different. Billions of people and no one is the same. Even identical twins don’t share all their DNA; it is changing a little bit while they are yet in the womb.

            Of course, we are only one species among billions of living things. Which brings me to the thought that we are all more alike than we are different; DNA proves it. So it is true that we are all in this together. Whether we like it or not.

            Does it matter what color your eyes are, or how tall you are, or what you like to eat? I believe that every person has value, and we could go a long way toward getting along if we all believed that. Our value is intrinsic, there is nothing to prove, we are born with it. True, some people are easier to get along with than others. And I cannot deny that there is evil in the world. So my belief is a little hard to defend.           

But I am weary of hearing so much about how we disagree. Politically, okay, we each may subscribe to a different world view – and rather noisily, I might add. But are we really all that different?

I give blood regularly, but no one cares that I am an older white lady with brown hair and green eyes. If your blood type is A+ and you need blood, well, my blood will probably do just fine, no matter your race, age or gender. Tattooed, long haired, bearded (not my favorite thing), my blood is good for anyone who needs it. Which is the reason I keep giving. It is not hard to do, and for little time and effort I can really help someone I don’t even know. My husband received several blood transfusions during his last days. We never talked about where the blood came from, but we simply appreciated that it was there when needed.

            I don’t want to stress myself about the people I share this world with, and whether we will ever see eye to eye. But it is a cinch that the “miracle” eyes we see each other with make us all special as human beings, and worthy of all the goodness we can bestow upon each other.

2019 – Our Miracle Year

In August, 2018, my husband, Jerry, was admitted to the VA hospital in Durham with a blood clot in his intestine. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), with an estimated prognosis of from five to eight months to live, although that could possibly stretch up to 18 months with treatment. He received several infusions of intravenous chemo but they did not produce the results the doctors had hoped for. In September he was admitted for fungal pneumonia. He was very sick and spent two weeks in the hospital.

            Things were not looking good for Jerry. He had lost quite a bit of weight, but returned home hoping for the best. Not a person to sit still for long, he resumed his normal activities as he was able, fishing with his buddy John, golfing and volunteering with the Civitan Club. Late in the year his oncologist began talking to him about a new medication, Venetoclax, which had produced excellent results in clinical trials and had just been approved for ALM.

            Jerry agreed to the medication and began an oral treatment, which he could do at home, starting on January 28, 2019, his 80th birthday. We had just had a pig-pickin’ to celebrate his birthday, surrounded by family and friends. He had put weight back on and was looking good. Results from the new drug were apparent quickly, as Jerry felt better and his blood test results were improving. However, he was having some side effects in his colon, so he quit the one-month treatment a few days early. A bone marrow biopsy in April confirmed that there was no trace of cancer – complete remission!

            Jerry’s doctors were ecstatic, as were we. He had developed a special relationship with a new oncologist, who was amazed at Jerry’s response, and was cheering for him. Doctors had no idea how long the remission would last as they had had so little experience with Venetoclax. My husband and I had a lot of plans for 2019, but we were only cautiously optimistic. The cancer he was fighting was deadly and powerful.

            On May 15th, I fell while standing on a kitchen chair and cracked my pelvis. Jerry was right there to help me and provided wonderful support as I suffered through weeks of recovery. I don’t want to think about how I would have managed without him.

Our granddaughter was getting married in Lake Tahoe on July 19th, and we badly wanted to go. We could only hope he would be feeling good. We bought tickets to fly into Lake Tahoe and home from Las Vegas. This was our chance to see Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, where neither of us had been.

All of our travel plans came to fruition, and we had a wonderful summer. Jerry’s remission continued into the fall, but eventually his blood tests began to indicate that the cancer had returned. He started to take Venetoclax again, but his colon was damaged, and he could not tolerate the drug. A colon surgery early in February, 2020, was only partially successful. Another surgery was tentatively planned, but he was too weak to tolerate it. Jerry died February 20, 2020, just 18 months after diagnosis.

I know it was difficult for Jerry when he realized that he was going to die, but he and I talked often about our miracle year of 2019, when he felt so good he could do anything he wanted to. How happy he was to see his granddaughter get married, and to explore the Grand Canyon with me. We also welcomed a new great-grandson in August.

We would sit together and I would take his hand. “How lucky are we,” I would say, “that we had this wonderful year together? Nothing can ever take that away from us. It had to be Providence.”

It was as if God said, “I will give you the world, but only for a little while.”

I grieve the loss of my husband, but I will never forget those months in 2019, when I still had him, when anything was possible, and life was beautiful.

Working on boat with brother Den May 2019

At Lake Tahoe July 2019

39th anniversary July 2019 at Ruddy Duck

Luau at Attitudes August 2019

Family Christmas in New Bern 2019

Thoughts While Scraping My Deck

Our deck was not my late husband’s finest hour. I do not want to affix blame here, because he did do the job and I did not help, but the paint has not worn well. So this summer I am scraping my deck by hand because the old paint has come off in quite a few places – I have to make sure that what is left won’t peel when it is painted again. My deck cannot be stained because the wood is in bad shape, so it needs to be painted with special paint for old decks. Right now I am just trying to get it ready to paint.

I considered buying a paint stripper, but decided I did not want to deal with messy chemicals and could handle the job myself, with a lot of elbow grease. It is so difficult, however, that I can only work about an hour before I am exhausted. And I must work in the morning, when there is no sun, now that our weather has turned hot and humid. I showed the deck to my handyman (I have a handyman!) but he politely refused to do the scraping, reminding me that it would cost me a lot of money for him to do that. He is waiting in the wings to do the painting. As I scrape, I must confess that I love it when I find a patch that peels way up the board. The pleasures of peeling!

To keep my mind occupied while I scrape, I sometimes sing old favorite songs, or hymns. Some of the words to those hymns come right out of the Bible, and I feel like I am praying when I sing them. Sometimes I talk to God while engaged in this mindless work. To date I have not heard back from Him/Her but that doesn’t mean I won’t.

Here is another thought I had while scraping:

I have been thinking about all the little steps it takes to become the person I want to be, and how I am still trying. Each time I do a kind thing it makes it easier to do it the next time. My first inclination is still toward my own needs before I can do the right thing, however, or even imagine it. So maybe it would help to not care so much. Or maybe I do care about something, but it really doesn’t matter. I can care but I can keep it to myself. How much does it matter?  is a question I need to ask myself. I guess what I am saying is, I need to get away from myself. If I can stop worrying about getting my needs met, I can be more accessible to others. That’s a tall order.

I try to think positive thoughts while I scrape. I imagine how nice the deck will look when it’s freshly painted, and how I will enjoy entertaining then. Or I think about my future travels, this summer with my sister, this fall with my daughter.  I solve problems in my mind by talking them out with myself. I talk out loud to myself so much these days I am afraid I will get caught in the supermarket debating the merits of one vegetable over another!

As far as my deck project goes, I always keep in mind that this task has a finite end and then give myself the pep talk: I can do this! There will be more unpleasant jobs in my future, I suspect, but that doesn’t matter. I am just grateful that I am healthy enough to do it. Good for me!

One Step Back

My left thumb rubs against my ring finger. It is turning my wedding ring, a nugget ring patterned on one side only. Except there is no ring. I took it off several months ago, after the first anniversary of my husband’s death. I felt it was time. I wanted to move into the next phase of my new life as a widow: the transition from my life with Jerry, now over, to whatever comes next.

            Just as my thumb was acting out of old habits, so am I these days. I have good things coming, I am sure of it. But I am stuck right now, feeling out of sorts, not liking myself very much. Today I am not comfortable in my own skin.

            I was sure I was “healed,” ready to move on. So why does everything look so bleak? I am taken back to 2020, when I was so lonely, when the pandemic went on and on. I go out, I see people, but I want more. It seems like nobody gets in touch with me unless they want something. I feel like I am on the outside, watching the world moving along without me. And I am weighed down – again – by home maintenance.

            I cannot define these feelings other than to say it is probably depression. It will pass, and I will feel a part of the world again. I think if someone were here, they’d get tired of the Gloomy Gus I am today. I am sad, missing the partner who, it seemed, could always solve every problem that came along, problems I just don’t want to deal with.

            I guess this is another manifestation of grief. Two steps forward, one step back. Life does this to us, you know. Sometimes it is much harder to do what you need to do. Grief is work, not for the faint of heart.

            This somber mood may have been precipitated by a call I made to my late husband’s best friend, John. I call to check on him periodically, and he is always doing well, although he is 92 and being treated for cancer. I am so glad that he has a support network to envy, several women who call, who bring him meals and go places with him. Nonetheless, he never fails to mention how much he misses Jerry. Today he said, “He and I were so compatible, I really miss him.”

            I replied, with a smile in my voice, though I was blinking back tears, “He and I were also compatible, and I miss him too.” And indeed I do.

I am the Psalmist, offering a lament to God :

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” Psalm 130:1

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” Psalm 130:5

            Hope is the message of the day, and I cling to it. At some point, I know this malaise will be over. I will wake up to greet the day with a smile on my face, realizing that life is worth living. I will know that I have much to offer this unpredictable world I am a part of, and that joy is just around the corner.

            My smile, then, will be real.

Sister Love

I have two sisters and two brothers. Lately, I have been thinking about the enduring connections among siblings. I am closest to my brother, Dave, two years older than I, and my sister, Denise, (or Denny), six years younger. That is mostly because our other siblings are quite a bit older than we are, almost like they were one family, and we three were another. I think Dave loves me as much as I love him, but he is not a good communicator. Denny and I have done a better job of keeping in touch.

            I can’t describe to my satisfaction the “blood” bond between us siblings. It has to be that we spent all those years living together, sometimes playing games, sometimes squabbling, sometimes furious with each other. Love was just a given, a baseline from birth, but never talked about among us.Denise and I have always been close. She was six and I was twelve when our mom went back to work full time. We were the two youngest children. My job in the family was to come straight home from school so I could babysit for Denny. I never minded much, because she was sunny and sweet. In fact, she has a sweetness about her that I can’t define, but it is part of why I love her so much. She has an open, adaptable personality that makes her attractive.  

            Nowadays, it might be frowned upon for a family to require a child to babysit every day, but I think it was more common in the 50’s and 60’s, when we grew up. The age difference between Denny and me as children meant we were not equals – I was the boss, which seemed to suit both of us. I could hone my bossy skills, and she could just be a sweet little girl. In later years we joked that she was my first child!

Singing was a regular pastime for Denny and me. When I went to Girl Scout camp, I developed a love for harmony, bringing all the songs home to teach her. She had a pure soprano I could easily harmonize with. My dad was a Boys Club Executive Director, and all the family was involved summers with the Club’s Brady Camp. I remember Denny and me performing songs for the campers around the evening campfire.

Denny and I stayed close after we grew up, though we did not live near each other after we married. Visits became less frequent, but Thanksgiving and Christmas together were always a given. Thanksgiving was at my house, Christmas at our parents’ for many years.  When my first husband, Jim, died suddenly, Denise was a freshman at Syracuse. Nobody expected her to get to the funeral, just two days later, over 300 miles away in Pennsylvania.  But she managed to find a guy friend with a car who was willing to drive her. I cried when I saw her, knowing she had realized how much I needed her.

This past year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Denise and I have grown even closer, as she grieved the loss of Ed, her husband of 46 years, and I mourned my second husband, Jerry. They died early in 2020, just five weeks apart. We sisters have talked by video every week since March, 2020, and have come to cherish those calls. In the early days we cried – now we talk about everything. We are trying to make our way and find some direction in these new lives we each have been challenged with.

After more than a year of talking every week, with much urging on my part, Denny came to visit me in May. I had not seen her since the day she and Ed came to see Jerry while he was in hospice care last February. We got along so well while she was here that I am comfortable with the idea of us as traveling companions.

When an Alaskan cruise we were scheduled for this summer was cancelled, I became obsessed with the desire to travel in 2021. Why? Because I am feeling fatalistic. Every time I turn around I see another senior who has fallen down, including myself, or has developed some other disability. I am healthy now, and I want to travel when I am feeling good. When my sister and I are both in good health, for that matter. Plus, we have been through so much that we deserve some pampering. Oh, yes!

We looked at several websites with interesting excursions, but they were all booked. We had about given up when surprise! I saw a Viking ad for European river cruises in July, 2021! I texted her immediately, and we found a trip, Paris and the Heart of Normandy, that fits both of our schedules. I am so excited that my travel dream is coming true. The Paris trip I missed in 2018 is happening!

This cruise will be a first for me, and I am hopeful that this will not be our last trip together. We have siblings in Florida, Canada and California whom we have not seen in years, and none of us are getting any younger. Watch out world, here we come!

The Perils of Pickleball

I had heard about pickleball from several people. Such enthusiasm! Their eyes lit up when they talked about it. “You should try it, you’ll love it!” they all said. As an active person who enjoys sports, I thought, Why not? I’ll give it a try.

From the first time I picked up a pickleball paddle and ventured onto the court, I was hooked. Now I understood what people were talking about – it was fun! And it helped me to get all that encouragement from my fellow players: “You are doing great for your first time,” “You’re a natural,” “I can tell you play tennis,” (though I haven’t played in many years). I found it much easier than tennis, played with a paddle and a wiffle ball, and doubles only. I could tell that this was a sport I might be able to master, and I was raring to go. I texted my daughter that I have the perfect Mother’s Day gift for her to get me: a pickleball paddle!

            In my third time on the court, there were only four of us, so we played round robin, moving in a circle after each game so we played with different partners and opponents. It was obvious that whoever played with me was on the losing team, but nobody seemed to notice. My time will come, I thought to myself. I was improving each time, and it showed.

            I remember running after the ball, when all of a sudden I face-planted on the gym floor. I landed on my right cheekbone and right hand. Everyone ran to me, helping me up. I was not in a lot of pain, but I decided I had better go to Urgent Care. I wasn’t sure I would be able to drive my car, so the players helped get me and my car to Urgent Care and then home.  I was lucky to have caring people to help me.

            The diagnosis was a broken bone in my right hand. I suffered numerous bruises: my face was bruised from under my eye to my chin, sporting colors from blue to green to purple and red. Otherwise I was fine. The orthopedist fitted me for a brace, but I cannot type or write with it. It sits by my side, ready to protect me as needed, but it gets in my way. I have things to do! Company coming, beds to make, house to clean, windows to wash.

            I can be blasé about this fall, but the truth is, falls are the biggest downfall (pun intended) for seniors. I fell two years ago and cracked my pelvis. That was SO much worse than this and took many weeks to recover. I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have to go through anything like that this time.

            My daughter came for Mother’s Day with a beautiful swirly-painted purple pickleball paddle. Today a friend at the Y told me I need to buy “tennis shoes.” Everybody around here calls all sneakers “tennis shoes,” but she meant the real thing, for playing tennis. Apparently, the sneakers we buy for all-purpose walking and gym-going are good for forward and back movement, but tennis shoes are better for lateral movement. That makes sense to me, but I had never heard it before. I had already been thinking about buying new sneakers.

            My second visit to the orthopedist is coming up in two days. By then my guests will all be gone. I have already shopped to buy new tennis shoes, and I will have started again with all my classes at the Y (but not pickleball). My purple pickleball paddle sits in the closet, waiting. I will only have one burning question to ask the orthopedist:

“How soon can I play pickleball?”

5 days after my fall.

Help Wanted: My House, My Yard, My Life!

I first noticed how neglected my house looks outside when I had the roof replaced in January. Walking around the house with the roofing contractor, I noticed things I had just never paid attention to before, because my late husband, Jerry, took care of them. My house clearly needs pressure washing to clean mold and mildew off the siding. My yard and gardens are full of debris, mostly from my plentiful pine and oak trees. I have an area in the back where I dumped lawn debris last year. I need a guy with a truck who can take that – and more junk from the garage – to the landfill.

            I didn’t realize how stressed I was until I made a list of who and what I need. Clarity! The relief I felt then made me realize how happy I will be when all the action items, or at least most of them, are completed. I don’t have to do all these things myself. There are people who do them for a living! Friends at my book club meeting last week came through for me, suggesting several individuals or businesses that did just what I need.

            Last year I did quite a lot of weeding in the back yard, and planted a few things in the vegetable garden Jerry had made. I ended up pulling up flowers in the flower garden that I thought were weeds and failing to grow any vegetables in the vegetable garden. This year my strategy is different. Jerry’s vegetable garden will go fallow. Anything I want to plant will be in a container, including flowers in my barrels. That way I can place them to assure they will get enough sun, which was the major problem last year. I might plant tomatoes, but chances are I will only plant parsley, which I use a lot in cooking.

I love harvesting vegetables, which we grew in a large garden at our previous home in Virginia. Digging potatoes is just plain fun, and asparagus is like a miracle shooting straight up out of the ground.  But gardening is just not my thing. I harvested; I did not do much weeding. I helped to plant, if Jerry asked me to, but the garden was really his.

Now I am faced with roses in front and back that I have no interest in managing. Jerry planted so many things, most of which are perennials. If they will grow on their own, fine. If they need help, forget it. Some have gotten completely overgrown. I am hoping my “guy with a truck,” or somebody else, will take care of them. Still haven’t pinned that person down. I did take some time to pull vines off the azaleas in the front yard, which resulted in a run-in with a tick, which I found on the back of my leg at 2:30 in the morning. I go a little crazy around bugs sometimes, and I knew I could not go back to bed with that tick on me, but I managed to scrape it off with a fingernail.

Since Jerry died, I have noticed that I get stressed when I am faced with decisions in areas that I am not familiar with, jobs that he hired someone for or did himself. I feel like a fish out of water until I give myself a good talking to. This is not rocket science. You can do this. Every time I make a little progress I pat myself on the back. I am pleased that I bought a new laptop for myself, by myself, a couple of weeks ago. I did research with Consumer Reports, picked the one I wanted and went out and bought it. It was much easier to set up than in the old days, because so much is wireless these days. Now if I could only stop fat-fingering the keys I’ll be set.

So I have come to the understanding that it is all on me, which is okay. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s freedom! Freedom from others’ expectations, freedom to work – or not – in the yard, freedom to satisfy only myself. Although I have to handle everything, I feel real satisfaction when I succeed. If I run into difficulties, I will have to learn to ask for help. And continue to tell myself, just do it.