Loss and Sorrow

October 31st, 2018: Wednesday

It was Halloween and we took our kids trick-or-treating as we always do. Before hitting the streets, we made the usual rounds at my aunt and uncles, my grandparents, and my parents. We kept the visits very brief this year as the previous year, we stayed too long talking and catching up. As a result, most of the houses had stopped giving out candy for the night. Wanting to make sure our kids had a good experience, we limited each visit to only a few minutes.

November 20th, 2018: Tuesday

My grandfather had called to let me know my grandmother was in the intensive care unit at the hospital I work in. I went to see her that morning, but she was tired, only being able to talk briefly. She fell asleep three times in the five minutes I was there. Though my grandmother slept a lot normally, this seemed unusual to me. I presumed it was whatever drugs they must have had her on. I left and came back later that afternoon.

When I did, my parents were there and my grandmother seemed to be in good spirits, very lively and awake. We talked for probably a good fifteen to twenty minutes, and everything seemed well. I figured she’d be going home within a few days. That night she was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland. She wasn’t expected to make it through the night. I found all this out the next day.

My parents went down to visit her on Thursday. On Friday, I called them up because I heard they were going to see her on Sunday.

November 25th, 2018: Sunday

My parents picked me up early that morning. They had my cousin’s daughter with them and we drove down to Maine Med. My grandfather was there sitting in her room. He’d been there all day and night since that she was brought down that Tuesday night. We all talked and laughed. There was worry, but we were getting through it. And then the doctor came. And he explained to us the situation. I’m not going to go into the details, but the basic gist of it was if they didn’t operate, she would die. If they did operate, she might die. If they operated and she didn’t die, then the odds were she’d never have the same quality of life she had before and the odds of her ever being able to go home were slim.

In my thirty-seven years alive, I had never seen my grandfather cry until that day.

Everything was explained to my grandmother. My grandfather continued to ask questions. There was one more test they could run that they hadn’t done yet. I guess, if they found fluid in a certain part, they could drain it easily and it would greatly increase chances of recovery. If it was found in another part, well, it would be extremely difficult. They took my grandmother to get the test. And when she came back, she called us each one by one into her room and gave us the death talk.

That afternoon we went home. When I got home, I drove an hour away to my friend’s house for the WWE Survivor Series PPV. We had been planning on this for like two months. It may seem strange that I didn’t stay home with family, but I had had a long rough day with far too many tears. I knew harder days were coming and what I needed was to have a normal night with friends. We had beers, an unnecessarily large pizza, wrestling on tv, and lots of laughs as we had done most months for nearly 20 years. It was just what I needed.

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Seriously, look at the size of this thing in relation to the table and everything around it. My friends say they had to tilt it sideways just to get it through the door. I think they said it was 32 inches or something absurd like that.

November 26th, 2018: Monday

They found fluid in the place they didn’t want to find it. My grandmother opted for hospice. She came to the hospice in our area as she knew people who had used it an knew it would be comforting for her. After work, I went up with my wife and kids. Most of the family was there. It was a good time. My daughter had drawn a picture of her and my grandfather in their chairs at home for her. My grandmother was more alert than I had seen her in a long time. Somehow, it was a very happy event. So many smiles, despite knowing what was to come.

November 27th, 2018: Tuesday

I swung by after work to see my grandmother. It was snowing. Because of the weather, I was a little later than I intended. When I arrived, family from out-of-state was there. They almost didn’t recognize me. I don’t think I had long hair and a beard when they saw me last. My grandmother was awake, but I could tell she was getting ready to go to sleep, so I didn’t stay long. Near her bed was a large glass door. A light was on outside and you could see the snow gently falling in the calm winter night. I said to my grandmother that I was glad she could see the snow falling. She was too. I told her I loved her and wished her a happy birthday. She said, “See you tomorrow.”

Interlude:

Up until this point, there had only been two deaths in my life that I can say had any major impact on my life. The first was my father. He was murdered shortly after I turned four. I’ve heard all sorts of stories. I’ve heard it was a crooked cop. I’ve heard that it was a drug deal gone bad. I don’t know what happened exactly other than he was shot in his home and he dragged himself to the front porch where he died. The murder has never been solved.

The next was a friend from high school. She got into a bad car accident in my early twenties. The power flickered and then went out as the car crashed. The fog was heavy that night. As I drove a friend home, I was going less than 10 miles an hour and could only see a couple of feet in front of the car, even with the lights on. We took what side roads we could to avoid getting into accidents with regular traffic or pedestrians.

November 28th, 2018: Wednesday

I stopped by the hospice at seven am to see my grandmother. The door was closed. I reasoned she was still sleeping. Not wanting to wake her, I went to work with the intent to return that night. As I pulled away in my car, I saw my grandfather driving past. I called him on his cell but he didn’t answer, so I left him a message telling him I just saw him on the road.

A couple of hours later I was at work trying to fix an account in the Sports Therapy department when my phone rang. My mother was calling to let me know that my grandmother died this morning at about seven am. While I was right outside her door. I left work and headed to my grandfather’s house. On the way there, I picked up a six-pack of Boston Lager and a cigar. The cigar to keep my steady as I drove and the lager loosen my up when I got home.

I tried to keep my composure, but the first thing I did when I got to see my grandfather was basically burst out into tears apologizing for not being there. I should’ve gone in the room to be with her she took her last breaths. I should’ve waited for my grandfather so he wasn’t there a lone when it happened. I felt absolutely horrible.

He hugged me and cried with me. He didn’t blame me. He wasn’t mad with me. Nobody was. They all understood. But I still felt horrible about it. The fact that I didn’t go in, the fact that I didn’t knock, the fact that I didn’t wait around five damn minutes so my grandfather didn’t have to find out alone, that ate me up inside.

And it still does.

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Tickmageddon!

I spent much of my youth running around like a little idiot. You could often find me running through a field of tall grass, climbing trees, or recklessly wandering through the woods. Being one who could not stand the feel of lotions and sprays, my only protection from the sun and various bugs looking to use me as a buffet were my hands and clothes. Despite all my years playing in the exact areas ticks love to call home, I never once saw or even got a tick on me. All of that changed for me this year.

In this year alone, my wife and I have pulled so many ticks off of me and our children that we can scarcely believe it. Despite living away from the center of town, I do my part to keep my yard tidy to keep the little bastards at bay, and yet they still come. Just today my daughter was outside for not terribly long while I was doing yard maintenance and somehow managed to get a tick on her leg under her tights. After doing a thorough tick check on her, I had my wife do one on me. Thankfully, I was in the clear. Earlier in the year there was one embedded behind my ear, so we’ve been cautious to do regular tick checks. Considering that I haven’t had a haircut in over two years, tick checks aren’t the easiest for my wife to perform on me. After taking my shower, I decided to check over my jeans before putting them back on. I’m glad I did as I found a tick on the inside of one of the pant legs. Suffice to say, the tick met a watery demise as it was whisked away to my septic tank. The jeans went straight into the washing machine.

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Believe it or not, when we moved in, you couldn’t even see this stone wall. To someone who didn’t know better, you’d never know it was there.

If you take a look at the photograph above, you’ll see my recently uncovered stone property line. That wall is a veritable tick breeding ground. I’ve gotten more ticks on that wall than I have anywhere else on the property. That’s why I’ve been doing my damnedest to clean it up. That picture was taken today and if you think it looks like a mess, you should’ve seen it before. In the next picture down below, you’ll see a huge pile of brush. Most of that brush was what I had cut away and cleared from the wall. It was so thick there, you couldn’t even see the wall when we moved in almost two years ago. Since then, the vegetation around that wall has been met with branch cutters, a chainsaw, a machete, and good old-fashioned pulling. I have tried to mow and weed whack as best I can along that wall every week. I’ve been making progress, but the basic stuff comes back quickly. I would love to just coat that entire area with industrial plant killers, but my wife is against the idea.

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The area that you see before you looks absolutely nothing like it did when we moved in.

In this next picture in left corner between the wall and the trees, you can see branches and plant growth. Though it’s difficult to tell, that pile of branches and brush goes up above my head in places and much further back, just to give you an idea of how much I have cleared from the wall. If you go back to that first picture, you’ll see I’ve got a lot to go. Well, that’s not really that much compared to how much I’ve already removed. However, before I can get the wall fully cleaned up, I need to take some time to talk to my new neighbors about cleaning up their half of the wall. Cleaning up my side will only do so much if the other side is still a breeding ground.

Anyhow, back to the second picture. If you look between the left tree and the brush pile, you’ll see an empty space. Until very recently, that space was occupied by ancient and rusty farm equipment. It was also full of waist high plants, large dead sticks, and rocks which made it very difficult to clean up. Once the farm equipment was gone, it was much easier to go in there and clear the area out.

The space between the trees had a very large shed in it and was extremely wet. Throw in there very large rocks, boards with nails, and very high plants, and it wasn’t even worth the effort to clean it up until the shed was gone. Thankfully, that went the same day as the farm equipment. Within hours of that shed moving, the wetness began drying up very quickly. This allowed me to go through and cut down the high plants as well as remove the large rocks and boards with nails.

The are around the right tree was full of tall plants. Once I actually got in there, I discovered that most of those plants were not actually grass and the such, but lots of little trees that had sprung up over the years. So many skinny trees, most of them half an inch to an inch thick. We used (and I don’t know what you would call it) what I can only describe as a weed whacker with a saw blade. It took quite a while, but it got the job done, though I lost much of the feeling in my arms that day from the sheer vibrations of it. Then I used the branch cutters to remove the stumps. It wasn’t fun work, but I’m proud of what I did. The yard looks so much nicer now and I’m not nearly as worried about ticks in the part of the yard as I once was.

In the back, you can see what appears to be more bushes. These are more of those thin trees that have cropped up over the years that need to be cut down and removed, just as were around the right most tree in the picture. In time, I will remove these too, however, they are not priority right now and will have to wait for a future date. I am considering having a go at these during the winter when there aren’t any leaves to obscure what I am doing. Winter will also allow me to cut the wood into better piles. Without all the summer growth, I should be able to take care of a lot. Hey, maybe I should consider doing some heavy work on that wall during the winter as well.

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Please excuse the unfinished mowing job. I’m waiting on a new mower blade.

In this third picture, you can see a portion of the back yard. It’s difficult to tell, but right after that patchy part of the yard ends is where my yard used to end. From there back, it used to be all field. This year, however, I decided to mow all the way to the property line which you can see in the right corner by that tuft of grass and the line where it goes from short to tall. Now, that taller area is usually much, much taller. Once a year, however, that field is cut down and this picture was taken about a week or two after that had happened. So I decided to mow all the way to the property line for two reasons. The first was that I wanted my children to have a larger area to play in. The second was to keep the ticks further at bay. Ticks enjoy taller grass as it puts them at a better level to grab on to their prey. This is also why I keep my lawn mower on one of the lowest settings. Unfortunately, this is also why you see in this picture that there’s still a chunk of lawn that needs to be mowed.

My mower has hit enough stumps, rocks, and what-have-you hidden by the tall grass and bush that it’s not worth the effort of continuously bending the blade back into place. I found a replacement blade specifically for my lawnmower on Amazon.com for only $12.97 that many of the reviews say is better than the one that came with it. At this point, I think I have removed every obstacle that will damage my blade so if I can get a better one for under thirteen dollars, then I’ll wait the two days for it to come in the mail.

In this picture, you can also see my recently dug firepit. So for those of you about to say that the pile in the second picture is a breeding ground for mice which are a breeding ground for ticks, I’ve already planned for that. As time permits, I go out and cut the branches up, making neat stacks based on thickness. These piles are in turn expended in the firepit in which beer is drank in front of in the darkness of night. Yes, there is still quite a ways to go in cutting down the branch piles into neat stacks, but Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say.

Over the next few years, I hope to eventually line the perimeter of my property with a couple of feet (wide, not thick) of mulch or gravel. It is my understanding that these things are not things ticks like to cross, mostly because it’s difficult to grab on to passing prey. I suppose if there was an area that I would be more likely to be stepped on as opposed to being in a place where I could freely hitch a ride and get free drive through, then I too would try to avoid that area.

So now you’ve read some of what I’ve been doing to keep the ticks at bay. It’s not foolproof, but every little bit helps. Still, the ticks find ways to get in. A few weeks ago my son dropped his hat on the ground. It was only there for a moment before he put it back on his head. When we went in the house later, I found a tick crawling through his hair. Also, turkeys are crawling with ticks and those damn birds just love roosting on my lawn for some reason. It’s not uncommon for me too look out the window in the morning and seeing twenty or thirty of them in my back yard. In addition to ticks, they like to leave other surprises, namely digging holes in my yard. I’ve seen them do it.

I would love to hear your comments on what has worked for you at keeping the ticks at bay. Before you say chickens, at the moment, chickens are not feasible to me, though they are delicious. We have too much wildlife and they would most likely be eaten by a fox in no time. On the plus side, we have lots of robins. As soon as I found out that robins are natural predators of ticks, I installed a bird feeder. I want to encourage the robins to stick around for as long as possible.

Logic and Resolutions

On December 31st, I decided that I wasn’t going to wait until the new year to start getting in shape, I was going to start it right then and there. My faulty logic being that if I waited until the 1st then it would be a New Year’s Resolution and since New Year’s Resolutions are universally meant to be broken within ten to fourteen weeks, I should start beforehand to improve my odds.

Now, I knew that in order keep going, I needed a good workout app. There were some criteria that needed to be met before I would decide on the app I would use. First, it had to have week long routines pre-built into it. I knew I would make poor choices if I had to make my own AND I didn’t want to risk getting bored doing the same workout everyday. Secondly it needed to be intense but not overly long. Workouts twenty minutes or less are a lot easier to get in when I can than carving out a block of forty to sixty minutes on a regular basis. And finally, the workouts needed to be bodyweight. I didn’t want to risk getting equipment out to become a chore and I wanted to be able to do this anywhere.

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“What do you mean I forgot the bench? I don’t need no stinkin’ bench!”

So with that criteria, I found a great app that met my needs. It was called Home Workout MMA Spartan Free. Excited to get into it, I took my lunch break, locked myself in the back room, took my shirt off, and loaded it up. I was promptly greeted with Leonidas in track pants, shirtless and screaming in my face.

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Clearly a workout designed for if I should ever need to kick someone into a hole.

I could tell that this was going to be intense, so I started with the newbie routine. Twenty minutes later, I was beat. It kicked my ass and I felt great. On New Year’s morning, I woke up and my glutes were so sore. The first words to my wife that morning were, “My butt hurts.” She responded with, “I promise I did not spank you in your sleep.”

It was then I remembered workout I had done the previous day as a sly smile and an elongated, “Oh yeah” came across my lips. I’m about halfway through my second week of the routine and it’s still a beast, but I must say I feel great and it doesn’t feel like a chore. Once the newbie routine starts to become easy, I’ll jump to the next routine up. Here’s hoping I keep with it.