Settling In, Not Setting Out

A blog I wrote the other day reminded me of one I’d written a long time ago called “The Importance of Being Important,” and I wanted to quote from that old post. I never did find the post; apparently, I had planned to write it, had written the title down on a list of blog topics that eventually got thrown away, and then I forgot all about it. I have no idea what I wanted to say about why we need to be important, but at one time, the idea must have been important to me.

I do think we humans have a need to feel important — to ourselves, if no one else. Importance could be tied in with a need for purpose, for being needed, for feeling that life does mean something, because feeling as if we aren’t important in the scheme of life is a crushing burden.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. In searching for that non-existent post in my archives, I came across essay after essay about my dreams for an epic adventure, plans for such an adventure, preparation for such an adventure, as well as actually setting out on various ventures. It struck me how different my life is now, and how different I am. Instead of setting out to experience more of the world, I am settling in to a world of my own making.

Even if it’s not actually a world I am making, it’s definitely a home — a place of refuge, a place where I belong, and most especially, a place that connects me to the rest of the world. In that respect, it is a way of experiencing more of the world, or at least experiencing the world in a different manner.

After Jeff died, I was afraid of settling down. Since I was well aware of my penchant for being a quasi-hermit (though it’s possible it’s more laziness than an actual penchant because sometimes it takes too much energy to be social), I feared that in settling, I would become a crazy cat lady (sans cats, of course, since I don’t want that much responsibility) and that when my expiration date came, weeks would go by before anyone would know I was gone. Luckily, I have neighbors who keep an eye out for me, and anyway, the role of crazy cat person in this neighborhood is already taken by a man who lives across the street.

[If I ever do write my small-town novel, there are certainly plenty of archetypes to choose from — the aforementioned crazy cat person; the hoarder who won’t let anyone in his house; the neighborhood talker; a generous and civic-minded man and his greedy slumlord brother; the tireless club woman who is active in just about every organization in town; the neighborhood drug dealer and thief. Except for the clubwoman, all the characters are men, which puts a bit of spin on the archetypes.]

Until the Bob issue, I did a good job of finding people to socialize with, but oddly, it’s my place itself that makes me feel as if I am settling in (which to me means taking an active interest in making a comfortable life for myself) rather than settling down (which to me connotes staidness and passively accepting the status quo).

The place seems almost like a presence in my life, as if it wraps itself around me in a comforting way. (I’m laughing here. That sounds almost like the premise of a horror story rather than a pleasant feeling, and perhaps, that’s how crazy old ladies living alone become crazy.)

It’s still early days, of course. I have been here less than three years, and I am just now beginning my journey into elderliness, so who knows how the experience of settling in will turn out. But so far, although I sometimes miss the excitement of setting out, settling in has been 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.

Happy Fourteenth Bloggiversary to Me!

I created this blog fourteen years ago today, back when I hadn’t yet become a published author, back when I had just acquired my first computer and didn’t even know what a blog was. I had read how important blogging was for authors, both as a way of getting known and as a way of connecting with readers, so I decided to “act as if” I were going to be published in the hopes of making it happen. I had nothing to say, no one to say it to, no reason to say anything, but I didn’t let that stop me. I started blogging on September 24, 2007, and haven’t stopped since.

Did acting as if I were going to get published work? Perhaps, though there is no direct connection that I know of. Still, one and a half years after starting this blog, my first two books were published. I now have nine books available: four suspense novels, one mystery, three books about grief (one fiction and two non-fiction), and my most recent book, Bob: The Right Hand of God. (My publisher said, “Bob: The Right Hand of God is playful, fun and well-written. It spans genres, so I’m not sure if there is an exploitable target audience. I don’t care. I like it.”

Two-and-half years after I started this blog, my life mate/soul mate died, and his death catapulted me into a world of such pain that it bled over into my posts. This blog became a place where I could try to make sense of what I was going through, to offer comfort and be comforted, to find my way to renewed life. And I struck a chord with people who were also dealing with grief. It’s no wonder my top posts are grief related: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? with 91,801 views and The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief with 40,705 views.

This blog sustained me during the years I cared for my father after Jeff’s death, and it gave me a place to rest when my father died four years later, and I was thrown out into the world, alone and orphaned.

This blog offered me a place to call home when I set out alone on a five-month, 12,000 mile cross-country road trip, gave me a place where I could talk about all the wonders I was seeing. Often on that trip, when I was between visits with online friends, I thought of William Cowper’s words: How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude! But grant me still a friend in my retreat, whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet. And this blog became a place where I could whisper, “Solitude is sweet.”

And when I settled into a house of my own, this blog gave me a place of familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar life.

Currently, as I am dealing with the infirmities of the encroaching years as well as the many facets of first-time homeownership, it’s nice to know that whatever life throws at me, whatever problems I encounter, whatever challenges and adventures — and joys — come my way, this blog will be here for me.

During the past fourteen years, I have written 3,207 blogs, received 21,115 comments, and garnered 960,164 views. It amazes me that anyone wants to read anything that I write here. This is so much a place for just letting my thoughts roam, for thinking through problems, and (I admit it) for pontificating a bit. It’s been a kick, writing this blog, and I want to thank all of you for indulging my whims and whimsies.

Thank you for reading. Thank you all for your comments, your likes, your support. They have meant more to me (especially this past eleven and a half years) than you can ever imagine.

***

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.

Call to Adventure

As I’m sitting here, mentally sorting through my recent activities to find something at least vaguely interesting to write about, I hear a train whistle as it passes through town. This train whistle has an old-fashioned mournful sound, evocative of summer days and faraway places.

I’m glad the trains that pass by within a few short blocks of where I live use that particular whistle. The last place I lived before I moved here was also close to the tracks. It was actually about a mile away rather than a matter of blocks, but there were no houses between me and the train to absorb some of the sound, so sometimes, the train sounded as if it were racing past my window, a few feet away from where I slept. From what I understand, there is a variety of horn or whistle sounds that can be used when a train goes through a town, and trains in that particular area used a horrendous screeching noise. Sometimes, I’d be awakened by what sounded like banshees shrieking outside my window. At first, it scared me until I realized what it was — no monsters, just a train making a monstrous noise.

I never did understand why those trains shrieked rather than wailed; perhaps the train rushing through a populous area made it imperative. Luckily, that train is a thousand miles away. Even more luckily, at least for now, the trains trundling through this town use the more traditional sound.

It’s too bad the trains just pass through. There is a station here that once was used for passenger traffic, and if it were operational to this day, I could walk a few blocks, get on the train, and head . . . somewhere. As it is, the train stops at a town about twenty-five miles away, which isn’t far but would require a concerted effort and some planning to take a trip rather than the impulse of the moment.

It’s just as well, I suppose. I’m still working, still have a house to take care of, still have a yard to landscape. Besides, there truly isn’t any place I would rather be than where I am at the moment: in my own house, on my own property, listening to the train calling me to adventure.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

At Home

Several friends have each recently bought a travel trailer, motor home, or camper, and are planning on hitting the road. I don’t know why the sudden urge people have to be on the move. Perhaps their age dictates a now-or-never attitude. Maybe it’s being holed up at home for so long. It could be any number of reasons, actually. Not that it matters. They are going and I am not.

I spent my one-last-trip travel money on a garage, which, considering the weather this year, was a great investment. My car is out of the cold, and when I do need to drive, I don’t have to spend the time uncovering it. Nor do I have to clear away snow or worry about the car not starting. (What I do have to worry about is the choke — the last guy who worked on the car either didn’t set it right or knocked it out of whack, because when it’s frigid out, the poor car bucks and stutters, and I haven’t had a chance to get it fixed yet.)

I haven’t gotten rid of any of my camping or hiking gear in case I do decide to go on a camping trip someday, but for the most part, I am where I want to be. No amount of wanderlust, no desire to be in the mountains or to see different things outweighs the sheer joy of being in my own house, wandering around my own yard.

It seems odd that after all those years of looking for adventure, the only outdoor adventure I find is in my own backyard, though admittedly, it’s been so cold, I don’t spend much time outside except to sweep snow off my ramp or to shovel the sidewalk, but still, it’s my place to go out and enjoy whenever I wish.

I feel fortunate, not only to have a place to call my own, but that I actually want to be there! So often, during the years after Jeff’s death, I didn’t want to be anywhere, and whatever place I happened to be didn’t really seem to fit; I could feel itchiness and discomfort as if I were wearing ill-fitting clothes. I had such a need to escape those “clothes” that being on the move seemed to be the only time I felt vaguely like myself.

Now, surprisingly, I feel like myself all the time. That’s a major change, and a welcome one. Not only do I not feel the need to travel to understand my very existence as I once did (hence the poster accompanying this blog that I made back in my wanderlust days), I’m not sure I even worry much about trying to understand my existence. It’s more important for me just to be, to be in the here and now, to be at home.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Feeding My Adventurous Spirit

I always walk home from work, even now when it’s dark and the roads are slick from snow. To my surprise, it doesn’t worry me. In fact, I enjoy the small adventure of making my way home in the wilds of this town.

The “wilds” part is just me being facetious. The trek is but two city blocks with street lights. Still, I am alone out there, which adds to the enjoyment. I stop, look up at the sky, look around, listen, feel the chill air, take deep breaths. Sometimes I imagine myself in the wilderness as if I had taken that winter backpacking trip I had once (briefly) considered taking. Mostly I just enjoy the moment.

Not so oddly, this adventure of mine does worry other people.

It’s nice to have people concerned about me, but it’s also a bit amusing. As I’ve been explaining to various folks who think I’m doing something inordinately dangerous by making this brief trek, I have often gone adventuring on my own.

I hiked in the mountains alone. I hiked along beaches alone. I hiked in forests alone. I camped alone. I backpacked alone. I took a cross-country trip alone, going from coast to coast and back again. I took an upcountry road trip alone, going almost from Mexico to close to Canada. Many times I took a half-country trip, from California to Colorado, making the trip so often, in fact, that those roads are very familiar to me.

Even though people flat out told me I couldn’t do each of these things alone (not “shouldn’t” as in a suggestion, but “couldn’t” as is in an order), I went about my merry way. If I had waited for someone to accompany me on any of my various adventures, big or small, I wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere. Looking back, my adventures seemed blessed. The problems I had were minor and easily fixed — a dead battery, a cracked fuel line, a broken speedometer — but even if there had been larger issues, I would have dealt with them.

Now that I have a home, I tend not to travel far, so currently my biggest adventure is that two-block hike in the snow at night.

I’m not stupid — I am cognizant of my age, the weather, and the conditions of the road. I wear waterproof, non-skid hiking boots in the snow and I use my Pacer Poles to help me navigate the icy areas. I also have pepper spray, though since it’s in my bag, it wouldn’t do me much good if I needed it. Besides, I need both hands for the poles. I also have a phone, and all along those two blocks, I get good cellular coverage in case I need to call for help. Lately, because of the snow and the two hiking poles, it’s been bright enough I don’t need a flashlight, but when the streets are clear, I carry a hiking stick in one hand and a flashlight in the other.

Yesterday, when I told friends about my nightly trek and they expressed concern, I just shook my head and mentioned all the things I’d done alone. “But that was years ago,” they said. I agreed, and it was only later I realized they probably meant when I was much younger. What I meant by “years ago” was a mere two years in the past. Most of my adventuring didn’t start until I was sliding down the bannister into old age. (I’m still sliding. Spending so much time with a woman decades older than myself makes me feel young since I can still do most things as well as ever. A bit slower, perhaps, but I am still out and about, for which I am grateful. And she thinks I am just a kid, which helps the illusion.)

So you can see, as adventures go, this one is rather mild, though it does help feed my adventurous spirit.

***

My novel of a quarantine predated this real life experience by a decade. You can read the first chapter online here:  http://patbertram.com/A_Spark_of_Heavenly_Fire.html

Buy it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0024FB5H6/

Download the first 30% free on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842

Happy Thirteenth Bloggiversary to Me!

I created this blog exactly thirteen years ago today, back when I hadn’t yet become a published author, back when I had just acquired my first computer and didn’t even know what a blog was. I had read how important blogging was for authors, both as a way of getting known and as a way of connecting with readers, so I decided to “act as if” I were going to be published in the hopes of making it happen. I had nothing to say, no one to say it to, no reason to say anything, but I didn’t let that stop me. I started blogging on September 24, 2007, and haven’t stopped since.

Did acting as if I were going to get published work? Perhaps, though there is no direct connection that I know of. Still, one and a half years after starting this blog, my first two books were published. I now have eight books available: five suspense novels, one mystery, and two non-fiction books about grief. A ninth book will soon be published, a novel that my publisher said, “is playful, fun and well-written. It spans genres, so I’m not sure if there is an exploitable target audience. I don’t care. I like it.”

Two-and-half years after I started this blog, my life mate/soul mate died, and his death catapulted me into a world of such pain that it bled over into my posts. This blog became a place where I could try to make sense of what I was going through, to offer comfort and be comforted, to find my way to renewed life. And I struck a chord with people who were also dealing with grief. It’s no wonder my top posts are grief related: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? with 82,261 views and The Five Major Challenges We Face During the Second Year of Grief with 38,122 views.

This blog sustained me during the years I cared for my father after Jeff’s death, and it gave me a place to rest when my father died four years later, and I was thrown out into the world, alone and orphaned.

And this blog offered me a place to call home when I set out alone on a five-month, 12,000 mile cross-country road trip, gave me a place where I could talk about all the wonders I was seeing. Often on that trip, when I was between visits with online friends, I thought of William Cowper’s words: How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude! But grant me still a friend in my retreat, whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet. And this blog became a place where I could whisper, “Solitude is sweet.”

Currently, as I am continuing to settle into a house of my own, it’s nice to know that whatever life throws at me, whatever problems I encounter, whatever challenges and adventures — and joys — come my way, this blog will be here for me.

During the past thirteen years, I have written 2,842 blogs, received 19,481 comments, and garnered 873,352 views. It amazes me that anyone wants to read anything that I write here. This is so much a place for just letting my thoughts roam, for thinking through problems, and (I admit it) for pontificating a bit. It’s been a kick, writing this blog, and I want to thank all of you for indulging my whims and whimsys.

Thank you for reading. Thank you all for your comments, your likes, your support. They have meant more to me (especially this past ten and a half years) than you can ever imagine.

***

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.

Old House Noises

I’ve done well adapting to being a homeowner, but I don’t think I will ever adapt to the sudden and unexplained noises that come with owning an old house. I always imagine the worst, though often, the house is simply sighing or creaking or settling into a more comfortable position.

The search for the source of the noises isn’t always successful, but it has always been benign. Until the other day, that is, when the search led to a rather uncomfortable situation.

It was afternoon. I’d done my stint of gardening work that morning — watering my bushes and pulling up weeds — and I was happily reading (well, reading. It was a Dirk Pitt book. Not exactly a happy series) when I heard a loud noise. I went searching through the house, and the only thing I could see out of place was that the basement door was ajar, though I keep the door shut. (The basement is not my favorite place, and unless you like dungeons, it wouldn’t be your favorite, either.) I opened the door wider, glanced down the stairs, and noticed that the electric switch box was open. I tried to close it, and when I couldn’t, I realized what the noise must have been — one of the workers had blown a switch a few days previously. After he flipped the switch, I’m sure he would have forced the cover closed, and the noise I heard was the cover springing open. I don’t know why it had done that. Perhaps a difference in temperature? Or the pressure of being jammed shut got to be too much? (Though how it could have popped the basement door open at the same time, I don’t know.)

On the off chance that something else caused the noise, I went outside to look around the house. And saw my neighbor. And stopped to chat. And got bitten by red fire ants.

Although I am always interested in new experiences and adventures, there are some, such as that one, that I could have done without. I am truly glad I wasn’t aware of how abominable those bites were back when I was reading the sort of books where people were staked out over red ant hills and left to be ravaged by those hideous beasts. Even just thinking of it, now that I know how excruciating and hellish those bites are, gives me the willies.

If the cover to the electrical panel hadn’t sprung open, I would still be blissfully unaware of what a red fire ant bite feels like. (I’ve had other kinds of ant bites before, and they burned for a few seconds, and maybe itched a bit, but nothing like the big red sadists.)

It just goes to show . . . something. Maybe the vagaries of life.

Next time I hear a noise that I can’t ignore it, though, I’ll be sure to wear a hazmat suit before I go looking for the source of the sound.

***

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

Dream Come True or Nightmare

Before I bought this house, before I even considered the possibility of buying a house, I’d planned one last epic adventure with what was left of my savings. I was going to go on a year-long road trip, camping out at the various national parks, staying as long as I could at each (two weeks, generally) before moving on to the next one. I’d planned to go south for the winter, north for the summer, and I thought I could stay in motels or with friends when I got tired of being out in the weather.

After my homeless brother died, the idea of having a home of my own grew on me, and when I discovered how inexpensive old houses were in some rural areas, I decided to buy a house instead of taking that trip.

As it turns out, it was an immensely fortunate decision. Not only do I love my house and love owning the house (which surprised me because I never wanted such a responsibility), buying the place saved me from a ghastly experience.

I would have been on the trip this year, dealing not only with some of the worst winter weather in a while, but also park and motel closures, friends in quarantine, and riots. Oh, my! That would have been an epic adventure for sure, though more of a nightmare than a dream come true. I can’t even imagine the horror of such a trip.

Even though the events of this year do impinge on my life somewhat, it’s not really a problem. Oh, I’ve garnered insults and such with some of my writings that attempted to make sense of both The Bob and the riots, and I feel the restlessness of the world (or maybe just my own), but basically, since I’m alone in my snug little house, life has been good.

I’ll probably never be able see those national parks now, especially the iconic ones that everyone should see like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone (the garage ate up any remaining travel funds), but I have the opportunity to make a park of sorts in my own back yard. It might not be as majestic or panoramic or awesome as some of the national parks, but it will be mine. Even if I don’t do anything special with the yard, owning the property and creating a home for myself is an epic adventure of a different kind, more of a dream come true than the nightmare I always thought it would be.

***

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.

Along the Sante Fe Trail

It’s been almost two months since my friend and her sister were here visiting. They came right before all the restrictions, and wow, it seems much longer than that. A lifetime ago. We had a fabulous time exploring the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Fort,

and trails along the trail.

I haven’t been on any adventures since then except in books, but today I received a wonderful surprise from my friend, and now I have my own book of adventures to look at when I get tired of the adventures in the Wheel of Time juggernaut.

This friend makes books of all her adventures, so it was a real thrill to get a book of my own highlighting our adventures.

Most of the photos we took were similar, but she took pictures that I didn’t. I knew what the downtown looked liked here, so I didn’t bother with images of the slummy area, but she made the place look quaint and interesting.

We also went on a bit of walking tour in one town and found some interesting stories beyond the Santa Fe Trail mystique.

Her book ended with . . . what else but me and my hat!

I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing parts of her book, but I thought all of us — not just me — needed something fun to think about for a change.

And yes, my friend. Thanks for the memories.

***

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.

 

Wonderful Surprise!

Look!

The workers came to start framing the garage today. Such a treat, having the garage that much closer to being workable, and especially, having something different in my life.

As much of a hermit as I am, it’s still been hard to be so isolated, especially when life has been the same, day after day after day.

But today, things were not the same. Nor are they the same tonight. While three of the men worked on the garage, one worked in the basement, concreting the floor beneath the water heater and fixing a leaking pipe. I was all set to be without water tonight so that the concrete could cure, which I could have handled — sort of like an indoor camping trip — but they managed to seal off the hot water pipes. So I have water! Cold water, but it’s still water.

They’re supposed to be back tomorrow to do more work, which will be great. Not just because of additional progress on the building project, and not just for the entertainment value, but to start using up the materials that have been littering my yard for months. It wasn’t so bad in the winter when I didn’t go out anyway, but now that I have a few plants to take care of, I do have to go out, and it’s rather unsafe trying to meander around equipment and stumbling across uneven ground.

I’m looking forward to having my yard back. Meantime, tomorrow should be another wonderful day filled with joy.

***

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.