If you're wondering where I've been lately, I have been outside working to bring my yard into compliance with the desires of my "neighbors."  I use this term exceedingly loosely because there is nothing truly neighborly about them.  Mind you, I wouldn't care if they went about their lives and let me go about mine.  What I object to is that they never come to see if they can help, they just cowardly tattle to the teacher (in this case the City of Houston) when I don't meet their OCD, anally retentive, control issues sense of what things could be like.  

To be honest, I don't many of them by name. What I do know is that most of them arrived in this neighborhood after I did.  When I arrived in June of 1957, most of this area was still woods, open fields, or farm land.  I heard coyotes howling at night.  there were bats swooping out of the sky to eat the mosquitoes, lightening bugs, and yes the odd rattlesnake in our yard.  What do you expect?  Immediately behind our house were acres of piney woods.  I reckon I learned to dispatch a rattler to meet his maker with a garden hoe by the time I was 6.

These people can call in anonymously and get me in trouble -- threats of liens and big bills from the city to clean up my land.  Let me make it clear.  I don't have 2 or three junked up cars sitting out front.  It's just that we had a drought last summer, which allowed bermuda grass (where the heck that came from, I have no idea) and some weeds (ditto -- I know I didn't sow 'em) that got GASP över nine inches tall!  Some weeds, not a whole yard full.  The grass was about three inches tall.  We have been battling to get the yard in shape ever since last fall when the drought and pine bark beetles took out six of the large pines which were living here when I arrived.

I cannot describe how seriously the stress of the threat, along with the hours of physical labor, has impacted my health.  I'm not supposed to be out in the sun.  So I found shaded areas where I could work.  We do not have thousands of dollars to spend on this project, so my husband and I are doing it mostly by ourselves.  My brother did provide some money to pay for tools and maintenance supplies for them, and for some temporary labor.  The latest purchase today was a 48"two man crosscut saw.  We needed this to cut up the REALLY big logs.  These are 6-8' lengths of loblolly pines, all upwards of 55 years old.  Some of them were probably in the 75-100 year old range.

What I can tell you is that every joint in my body aches, and I am so tired that I fell asleep outside several times over the last couple of days while working.  I have chopped two or three brush piles into mulch.  What looks like a huge brush pile reduces to about 1 cubic yard of mulch.  I did this with a set of pruning shears.  I have also sawn up, with a bow saw, about a dozen or so branches 3-6" in diameter.  We did find a bargain on a chipper/shredder which takes anything up to 1-1/4"diameter, so I spent a few hours feeding that as well.  Anything over 6" and under a foot in diameter gets the chainsaw.  My husband does that. Anything over a foot is gonna get the crosscut saw.

There's another solid week, two weeks of work to be done, and I'd appreciate any prayers you care to offer for the strength to keep on keeping on.  I was barely walking this morning.  I worked until the bottom dropped out of the clouds and then I came inside.  I gotta admit that I didn't get as much work done today, because I hurt so badly every time I pull the pruning shears shut to cut a limb that I have to stop and will the pain away.

I have decided a couple of things.  One, I am going to find the money to put privacy screening -- like they have on tennis courts -- around my backyard.  I have a couple to the south of me that have been calling the city on us for forty years.  Complete assholes the pair of them.  She's a nosey gossipy pretentious cow whom I have done my best to avoid since her family moved in around 1960.  He's so compulsive he went outdoors in very hot weather to mow his 1 1/2"buzz cut lawn to 1/2"one year and had a heart attack.  I don't want this for my husband.   They also violated the city's water rationing last year to keep their freaking lawn green!  I resented this because when I went to take a shower I was lucky to get water at all.  Did I call the city on them?  Noooooooo.  Nor on the other neighbors who were also violating the restrictions.  I'm not the kind of person who tattles, snitches or looks for ways to make life difficult for other people, even when they do it to me.  However, when I take all these sawn up pieces of my old friends the trees to create bed edgings, I am going to place some in this pattern facing their plate glass window: n9m.  Maybe I'll make it a recurring pattern.  They steal my Meyer lemons every year anyway.  

Behind me is another jewel of a neighbor.  He came to the fence to talk to my husband one day.  He wanted us to cut down all the yaupons that make up our back hedge "because they drop leaves in my yard."  "It sure would help me out," he says.  When my husband told me, I gave a few minutes thought to remembering what he'd done to help us out.  Since I came up empty, I let my husband's answer to them stand "Feel free to cut off the branches on your side of the fence.""  This OCD also wanted us to cut down a pine tree in OUR YARD because it dropped needles on his yard.  We offered to rake them up, but he said no, that tree was going to come down in a windstorm some day, and it should come down.  He'd pay for it.  This exchange occurred while we were cutting down the dead trees and that was one of the two living pines left.  Then he started in ragging us about the pine logs two days after they were cut.  Since he's not my boss, or my father, or anyone whose opinion about anything means a damn to me, I ignored him..  Privacy screen him out too!.

To the north, the neighbors aren't so bad.  Her grandfather was a pain in the ass when he lived there, but we made our peace with her mother, and she and her husband, while they have some annoyingly noisy dogs seem to be pretty good hearted live and let live people.  

The other thing I decided is that modern Americans are woosies that our Founding Fathers would be ashamed of.  I have a deeper appreciation of those brave souls who entered the deep woods, swamps, and such over Carolina, Virginia, Georgia way and hacked down all those trees by hand and made them into log cabins, tool sheds, barns and the like.  It's damned hard work!  And I didn't have to take down the 90' trees by hand either!   I'm trying to imagine what would have happened in 1730 if someone had called all his neighbors together and said "Let's implement something called deed restrictions that mandate everyone having a St. Augustine lawn in front of their cabin, and not letting any weeds get over 9" tall on their land nor having any undergrowth over 9"tall.  Oh and no dead, decaying vegetable matter such as leaves or pine needles or fallen twigs."    I swear I hear laughter and calls for commitment to the state asylum for the insane!

On the bright side, I got to watch a number of lovely songbirds flitting about my trees in my little glade on my NW corner.  Lizards, skinks, anoles, and even a bunny live in my overgrown area.  Not a pet rabbit, but a wild one.  I haven't seen much of him while I've been working ;  I think he's afraid of us.  My husband put out some rabbit food for him though.  Sadly, my bees have departed, probably as a result of the heavy spring rains.  I have a clematis virginia, known also as Virgin's Bower Flower on my north gate, in full, luscious bloom.

I've also made a couple of vine birdhouses when I take a break.  One-and-a-half really, but I'll get it finished.  Now I have to get in bed before I fall apart. 
 
 
For me, the greatest blessings have always been the people who come into my life.  Some of them stay.  Some of them go.  A few became lifelong friends; others were around for a few years.  Many of them are momentary or casual encounters, such as retail employees, clerks in offices, medical personnel at hospitals.

I have blogged before about two of these people.  Tonight I want to write about another one. He works part-time at the ALCO Store here in Houston.  He also works at Auto Zone.Nothing wrong with his work ethic!  

Twice now, during my shopping trips I have had the opportunity to talk with him.  He's a young Black  with children.  I haven't asked his age, but I'd guesstimate it in the 27-32 age range.  He's cheerful, considerate and extremely helpful.  Tonight I ventured into ALCO alone, so he helped me take my purchase out to my car and load it in.  We were chatting about one of the items I bought, and I discovered he was born with a heart murmur.  I told him of losing my father at age 46, just days after my 10th birthday and how it tore my life apart.  I begged him not to eat so much salt, since heart disease in Blacks takes more of them  at earlier ages than it does Caucasians.  Then we chatted a bit more about nutrition and its importance in combating heart disease.  

That conversation took a glissade into living each day as if it were your last.  We both felt that that attitude goes a long way toward putting things into perspective.  It's very hard to remain depressed, angry, or selfish if one asks one's self each day "If I die today, how will people remember me?"  It's also hard to rush through life oblivious to others and to the beauties that lay around every corner, whether that beauty is the laughter of a child, a carefully tended flower garden in a run-down area of town, or something else.  

"I try to do God's work every day," he said.  Now in one of my smart mouthed moments, or with someone who knows my warped sense of humor well, I might have retorted "So what's wrong with God today that He can't do his own work?  He call in sick again?"  Instead, I commented that we never know just what it is that God wants us to do every day, or in our lives.  We may think we know, but only God knows.  Maybe it's a kind word to a stranger badly in need of kindness, something seemingly inconsequential.  The conversation ended with him telling me to take care of myself because, he said, "I love seeing you up in here, moving and smiling.  You have a beautiful smile."

Each of us has an opportunity to be a blessing to someone each and every day.  It need not be a grand gesture.  Nor need it wait until Christmas when one is feeling generous.  Hold the door open for a person in a wheelchair, even there is someone pushing them. (You might be surprised how hard it is to open a door and push someone through, even the person being pushed is helping.)    Take a couple of cans of food to the local food bank every week.  People have to eat all year long.  Order an extra packet of vegetable seeds and send them to a community garden in an "urban desert."  If you see someone at the gas station driving an old beat up car, wearing old clothes, pay for an extra gallon of gas for them.  You can think of a 1000 ways to do little things for people, at little to no cost to you.  Suspend your judgment about whether they "deserve" it.  Do you think God withholds His grace because "(s)he didn't deserve it?"  If that question gives you a problem, perhaps you could look up "grace" in a dictionary and rethink your answer.