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It’s not a bad life

We’re having another of those moments where the sky is blue, the sun blinding, and the air so mild that fleece sweatpants and a turtleneck under the tee-shirt are almost too much.

So the guy who helps with my yardwork turned up to do some long-discussed brush clearing, trash hauling, and felling of small trees. (Totally blowing my January “minimalist” budget, but that’s another story.) Twice this week he and a couple of grubby kids (one of whom is his daughter-in-law, a tough bundle of charm) have crawled down the slope across the road and dug in. They’ve attacked noxious giant weeds (which my beekeeping neighbors won’t let me poison if I want to keep peace in the valley). They’ve taken down and heaped up small, malformed trees. They’ve hauled out every sort of trash, from microwaves and broken toilets to dozens of bags of cat poop.

The cat poop is also another story. Later perhaps. But you get the idea what it’s like over there.

I really like this guy. He’s just somebody I spotted on the street last summer with a trailer full of mowing equipment. I gave him my address and asked him to come take a look. He could have been a psycho killer for all I knew. I was just desperate. But he came over right away and he’s been the yard guy of my dreams. Reliable. Knowledgeable. Very reasonably priced.

I must admit it amuses me, and slightly humiliates me, to have a yard guy. It makes me feel like I’m some Beverly Hills housewife lounging by the pool while Miguel trims the oleander hedge — which is pretty embarrassing when I had to hold a beg-a-thon for my roof last summer (and oh my, did you respond!) But the truth is, the days when I wanted to push a mower (which I don’t even have) across a half-acre lawn or (worse) stand amid broken bottles and old tires whacking weeds on a steep slope that’s been used as a household dump since the Depression … well, those days never were. And certainly are not now that I’m Ms SilverHair.

So please allow me this one indulgence.

Anyhow, the cheerful, roll-your-own-ciggies, don’t-smell-like-Irish-Spring yard crew are clearing not only my yard, but my view. Which is exciting. The view itself is no big deal; just a salt marsh and some low, dark hills that I could walk to if the swamp weren’t in the way. Still, it’s fun to watch it emerge.

Actually, right now they’re obscuring it as fast as they uncover it, heaping cuttings in 10-foot-tall stacks. A pair of bonfires is in the future (a prospect that makes me very nervous, given the proximity of neighbors’ houses). But after those … oh boy.


Anyhow, once again it occurs to me that despite my born-to-depression temperament, despite freedom being carried to hell in a statist handbasket, despite being a hermitty semi-curmudgeon, I don’t have a bad life.

I’m not rich and I’ve barely made it to the borders of semi-hemi-demi-quasi-pseudo famous. I don’t have any great talents and I’ve wasted the ones I might have had. I missed out on the One Great Love. Didn’t get born into the happy family (but then, who did?). I work hard mainly because I’m secretly lazy. Sometimes I’d like to be able to quit being so freakin’ reliable and responsible.

But given all that, I have it amazingly good.

This house is more work than I imagined it would be. And that despite the fact that its problems were plain to see. And I’ve done this before so I should know better. But I love the results. I love the funky little cottage it’s eventually going to turn into. I love being on a hill amid the greenery. Once that slope across the road is cleared and we’ve built a path and stairway down to the edge of the wetland, I’ll be able to put up a little covered bench and be able to watch blue herons, mornings and evenings.

I may have lost one local friend to a cruel form of cancer and another to just the kind of things that go wrong between friends but I’ve got you amazing people. And the community I’m in is friendly, helpful, and a good place to go networking and volunteering. It’s just a scruffy little half-dead town like so many in the middle of nowhere, but it’s cute and it has lots of cool places. I can walk to the post office, library, bank, waterfront, grocery store, several restaurants, and a very atmospheric espresso place. (This is, after all, the Northwest. Even towns that are nothing more than a gas station, a post-office-in-the-back-of-the-grocery-store, and maybe a few barns have espresso places.)

So yes, all things considered, this is a pretty darned amazingly amazing good life.

I should remind myself of that the next time I wake up and don’t want to get out of bed.


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty January 30, 2015 4:36 am

    I hear you, dear heart. Don’t be too hard on yourself. 🙂

  2. Claire
    Claire January 30, 2015 4:46 am

    Thank you, ML. I thought of you while I was writing that. I do worry that people will judge me for not doing all the heavy lifting myself, but I know you’ve been there and done that when it comes to accepting help.

  3. Karen
    Karen January 30, 2015 5:19 am

    Absolutely nothing wrong with giving someone else an opportunity to be self-employed and self-sustaining. Living freedom for both of you.

  4. Pat
    Pat January 30, 2015 5:29 am

    This week has been a bummer. Thanks for reminding me how good I’ve got it.

    It’ll soon be time to think gardening, and your yard should be ready to go by then. Does that guy build raised beds, or you know someone who does? If so, have a couple made, they will save your back. Or just use some BIIIG pots.

    A gardener/cook out your way (Ann Lovejoy, who used to write for the P-I) offers a lot of good advice (on both gardening and cooking), but you have to search through her archives for what you may need.

  5. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal January 30, 2015 7:22 am

    I’ve had a couple of not so good days in a row, so this was good to read. Thank you.

  6. mary in texas
    mary in texas January 30, 2015 9:27 am

    The winter has alternated between normally cold and normally hot–this is Central Texas after all. When potato planting time came this week, we were strangely reluctant to move out of our comfortable chairs. After a lazy winter any excuse will do. Finally the excuses ran out and we did the onions and potatoes. Now we can be lazy until the next round of gardening comes around. Like you, we gritted out teeth and paid experts to do a massive pruning that was beyond our skills and desires to do. It’s a real blast to see a group of skilled workers turn out a big job. Sometimes the pleasure of not doing it and seeing it done well makes up for the expense.

  7. Travis H
    Travis H January 30, 2015 10:10 am

    You mentioning espresso places reminded me of how important your Kill the Job Culture book is to me. Learning to fix espresso machines in the city for the past three years is helping me reach my goal of moving to the woods by, hopefully, fixing the machines in the neighboring towns near my little place in the woods.

    Thanks again for that book and for sharing your thoughts on this blog.

  8. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty January 30, 2015 10:17 am

    Indeed, Mary! Watching competent people work has been one of my secret pleasures for much of my life. 🙂 One sterling example was the joy I found in watching the young people who worked at “In ‘n Out” fast food joints all over So. Calif. I ate there lots over my long years on the road, and the food wasn’t the only attraction. These young folks were carefully selected, sent to a special school, and given the tools they needed to do a good job. The terrific attitude toward customers, happy and efficient cooperation among the staff, and the cheerful though watchful eye of the manager (often a young person too) made the entire experience good, for all of us.

    I don’t know if that is still true, and there are no such places out here, but I hope a lot of young people learned how to work, and work well there. I really hope they still do.

  9. just waiting
    just waiting January 30, 2015 12:51 pm

    I don’t know who ta attribute it to, but I’ve found it to be so true that “Happiness is composed of misfortune avoided”

    Thanks for sharing with us Claire

  10. Jesse in DC
    Jesse in DC January 30, 2015 7:31 pm

    Nothing wrong at all hiring skilled work to do things you can’t or don’t want to. And it is part of becoming wise that you can admit there ARE things you simply don’t want to do anymore. And think of the folks that you hired. They probably welcome the work and the cash, and so the economy rolls. Perhaps they will be in a position to hire someone to do something they don’t want to do…

  11. FishOrMan
    FishOrMan January 30, 2015 8:27 pm

    I keep hinting to my mom she should find someone to help out occasionally. I visit not often enough and enjoy getting lots of projects done when I do, but I know there is some independence from getting it done ‘herself’. You’re golden Claire. Oh, been looking at another large purchase thru Amazon for ya again. Bathroom remodel this time. Might still be a couple months out as I found a couple floor joists and subfloor that need fixed first.

  12. MJR
    MJR January 31, 2015 8:26 am

    Claire you really have a good life all things considered but it sound to me like you have a bit of the “black spot.” You know that little bit of the inner you that cries out in the night with all the darkness it can muster hoping to pull you into the abyss. Well Claire you are not alone, we all have our demons. The good side to all this, and yes there is a good side, is that these issues help you appreciate the good things all the more.

    On the plus side…

    While you have to put up with the shenanigans of various people on and off line, you do so on your own terms not theirs. You lost a friend to cancer and yet that friend still lives in your fond memories. Another friend was lost however should you want to, that friendship can be rekindled. You are on the cusp of being a celeb as opposed to being a celeb well that’s not so bad. Look at how well being a celeb works for people like Burt Reynolds who just lost his home to foreclosure.

    So Claire just remember one thing… When it comes right down to it the situation is hopeless but not serious. :^)

    Oh, and as far as the hired help goes you are an adult who has simply progressed to what I call “the implement using stage.” In this case the implement to getting something done is a contractor. As an example, I can easily change the oil and filter in my car but I go to a garage to get it done. Why? Because at my age (60) laying on asphalt in a driveway hoping that my car will stay on the jacks and not fall on me while I slop oil all over is no fun. Yes after all these years I have come to terms with the fact that I am a ham fisted, knuckle dragging, mongoloid featured gorilla lipped hump. ;^)

  13. Fred
    Fred January 31, 2015 12:48 pm

    Clair,Im glad to hear you are as happy as you can be.

    Lost love,yep,it sucks.But maybe its better it was lost,I often think what happens does so for reasons I dont know.

    ML,on In-N-Out,so true on the staff,and McD’s wonders why they are going down the tubes.Well that and losing their roots and becoming too dam PC.And crappy cold food….yumm…. PINK SLIME! Plate me up!

  14. Fred
    Fred January 31, 2015 12:51 pm

    I apologize misspelling your name Claire.Wish we had ability to edit,I type things poorly.

  15. Betsey
    Betsey January 31, 2015 1:02 pm

    Clare, I am 65 and simply cannot do the work myself any more. I have a neighbor coming in to cut down a tree and chop it into firewood for $300. If I let him have part of the wood it will be $200. I hired a teen boy who loves to work (imagine that!) to clean up the backyard which goes on forever, at least to the neighbor’s fence. I can and will do the front yard myself.
    Since my knees are weak from 40 years of being in the saddle, painting and ladders do not work any more. So I hire that done, too.
    But like you, I am enjoying the process.
    I love especially mornings where I can bring my coffee to my solarium and drink in solitude and the activities of birds.

  16. Dana
    Dana January 31, 2015 7:45 pm

    We’ll give up our yard and plow guy when you pry him from our cold, dead hands. 😉 I thank the good Lord he’s been there (and then some) for us when we’ve needed him.

    And “yes, all things considered, this is a pretty darned amazingly amazing good life.” (c.f. 1 Thessalonians 5:18)

  17. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 1, 2015 8:00 am

    It’s time to think gardening? I just got done installing blueberries and peaches in this place. Not much of a winter in western Oregon this year. The camelias are starting to bloom.

    I was wondering how my wife, who grew up in Hong Kong, ended up enjoying playing in the mud. I may try to talk her into hiring somebody to do this stuff, because I am getting a bit creaky for it.

    I hope we get some crops before we move on.

  18. Ellendra
    Ellendra February 1, 2015 11:10 am

    Paul: You mean there’s a time to NOT think gardening???

  19. Joel
    Joel February 1, 2015 12:29 pm

    Two of my favorite people in the neighborhood raise horses but hate to shovel manure. It’s been the backbone of my income for over five years and I love them so – and yet sometimes I admit that if the roles were reversed I’d feel like a slacker for not shoveling my own shit. So I guess it depends on who’s wearing the shoes. You may secretly condemn yourself for not doing the heavy clearing, but the people getting paid don’t condemn you back.

  20. Don
    Don February 2, 2015 5:20 pm

    The beautiful thing about the valley is everyone can find their sanctuary here! I found mine and it is beautiful. But it has its draw backs, it is large, 2 acres, and there is always some yard work to do! I got lucky this winter and had the local beavers take down a tree I wanted to remove. The local fire guys said my burn pile was too big. So I will haul it off to the landfill in the spring.. I have had mixed results with craigs list. One great guy a couple of summers ago and a no show last summer. As the years march on I often wonder how long I can maintain my slice of heaven. Part of the beauty is being in nature and loving the trees. But a little help now and then can be a welcome thing!

  21. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 3, 2015 6:15 am

    Don, if your burn pile is too large, why not split it up and burn them one at a time? On the other hand, is anything in your burn pile something other folks could use to light or run their wood stoves? Landfill is for the stuff nobody can use again, far as I can see. And even those are now being mined in some areas to recover stuff nobody thought could be used when it was buried!

  22. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 4, 2015 8:40 am

    Yeah, my neighbor gets up a big burn pile every year, lets me go at it with a chain saw to pick out the firewood (madrone, perfect stuff!) and then waits for a wet day and sets it off. But he has a lot of clearance to the trees. Starting a smaller burn next to the big pile and transferring stuff over is a fair amount of work but so is hauling the mess away.

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