What a Wonderful World

Two years ago, my youngest sister got a couple of rescue kittens. She claims they walked around the house saying, “Wow, wow, wow,” because they couldn’t believe they were living in such a wonderful place.

(Below is a gratuitous Pat and Cat photo. It really has nothing to do with this post, but I never before got to post a picture of a cat. Besides, it’s interesting to see myself as others see me — I had no idea my sister was taking this photo. I was laughing because she said Isabella liked me — that if a cat turned her back on you, that meant the cat trusted you, and I said the cat was only warming her behind on the heat emanating from the computer.)

Driving back from my visit to Seattle, I often thought of those cats because I kept hearing myself say, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” Everything I saw seemed astonishingly beautiful. Often there was no place to stop and take a photo, so I had to memorize the scenes, such Mount Shasta appearing out of the clouds for one glorious and shining moment, the abundant wildflower bloom and vibrant greenery along the side of the road, the piney mountains sweeping down to grassy meadows and the meadows sweeping down into the desert. I have no idea why the world seemed so spectacular that day. Maybe I was still giddy after the successful visit with my sisters. Maybe it was the perfect weather or the perfect time of year. Maybe, after being forged in the cold fires of grief, I had come to a place of new clarity.

The reason doesn’t really matter. It’s only important that I could feel the wonder of that day, enjoy the world spread out before my eyes, and surrender to the surprises. At one point, I drove around a curve and had to brake suddenly because I was so astonished by what I was seeing.

Luckily, there was a place to pull off and get out of the car before I caused an accident. The lake far below in the shadow of the mountains was the loveliest shade of green I had ever seen. Is Mono Lake always that color? I don’t know. But I was blessed to have seen those waters with my own eyes. Later, when road construction forced me to halt by the lake itself,

I realized that everything I was seeing had never been seen before by anyone and could never be seen again. We all have a different point of view tempered by our experiences, the angle from which we see a scene, the way the light hits at the very moment we look at something, so the world I saw that day was seen only by me.

Wow. Wow. Wow. I couldn’t believe I got to live, if only for a day, in such a wonderful place.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Feasting My Eyes and My Soul

I’d never had any particular interest in seeing Crater Lake, probably because the photos of the lake are so ubiquitous, but everyone I talked to about my return trip recommended that I go. So I did. And wow. Photos simply do not do the place justice, not even my photos. The park is astonishingly beautiful, from Annie’s Spring on the way to the crater,

to the sculpted cliffs,

to the mountains in the distance,

to the lake itself.

If anything, the day was too perfect, at least too perfect for a photograph. While my eyes could distinguish the edge of the lake where the cliffs were mirrored in the water, the camera could not, so the photos came out looking weird with those upside down cliffs.

And yet, totally awesome. I’d planned to stop by, take a photo, and wander around for a few minutes to stretch my legs, but I ended staying most of the day. I simply could not stop feasting my eyes and my soul.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Sisterhood

When my two sisters and I were on Whidbey Island, we realized that with all the photo-taking, we not did have a single picture of the three of us together. We didn’t see anyone who seemed approachable enough to ask them to take a photo, but we decided it was okay, that maybe every time we got together for a sisters’ event, we could say that it was another time when we didn’t get a photo.

We all liked the idea, actually, until we discovered the 3 Sisters Market and 3 Sisters hooded sweatshirts.

Although the “hood” connection to sisterhood didn’t come to me until after the fact (it was one of those “duh” moments that makes me wonder why it took so long to see the connection) I get such a kick out of the above photo, because — how perfect! Three sisters with hoods celebrating sisterhood. (The pictures on the wall above us are of the three sisters the market — and the farm — are named after.)

It seems weird to me how much we look like sisters in the photo. We never did, not really. We must have grown into it. Nor has there ever been any “sisterhood” among the three of us. We always paired up or if we were together, it was with others in the family. More than that, though, we never considered ourselves “three sisters,” perhaps because we were so far apart in ages and had brothers in between each of us. We are also so different from one another, as if we are sides of an equilateral triangle. (Which makes me wonder what is in the center of that triangle.)

We had such a great time (and surprisingly, got along better than any of us ever imagined) that we are planning another adventure for next year — a camping trip at The Three Sisters Wilderness Area.

How odd to think that after all these years we have discovered our sisterhood.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Islands, Adventures, and Other Perfections

I feel kind of silly that after all my talk of finally going on a solo backpacking trip, I never even went camping. Partly, it was too cold and damp for my desert-acclimated bones, but mostly, the whole time I was on my trip, I was fighting chest congestion, and I didn’t want to take a chance on getting pneumonia. It worked out well, though, because I was able to spend that extra time with my middle sister in Port Townsend, visiting her favorite spots. When I returned to Seattle, my brother-in-law took me and my little sister (yep, the “little” sister who towers over me)

to dinner at a fabulous salmon-themed restaurant

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where we had Copper River salmon, truly the most luscious salmon in the world. (And the most expensive!) On Sunday, our last day together, the three of us sisters explored Whidbey Island, a delightful gem of a place in the Puget Sound. (And another ferry ride!) There was much to see, including a lighthouse,

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black-tailed deer,

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small boats

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and big ones (unfortunately, I didn’t actually sail — I just toured the boat),

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sculptures,

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trees (and me!),

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water (of course),

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flowers everywhere,

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and something we called a cheese puff bush, (because if you don’t know the name of this horticultural, what else would you call it?).

Normally I don’t post so many photos, especially not photos that include me, but be grateful I chose only the best. It was one of those perfect days where everything, including the photos, turned out to be absolutely . . . well, absolutely perfect.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Once in a Blue Moon

One of the many treats of this sisters’ weekend was a painting class.

We started with acrylic paint, brushes, and a blank canvas

but the teacher soon had us smothering the canvas with a dark blue black paint. Then we painted a moon. Since my background was too wet even after a short break to let the canvases dry, the paint kept smearing so to add highlights and craters, I had to daub the paint, so I ended up with sort of a pointillistic style.

The few paintings I had previously done were postcard sized water colors, so I enjoyed slathering paint on a canvas that was about 12″ by 18″. To my surprise, I actually ended up with a pleasing painting. I had planned to do a series of photos that captured the experience, but got so caught up in the experience, that I forgot about taking photos. At least I have a photo of the final project!

Although I have done none of the things I planned, such as the solo backpacking trip, the days have been spectacular, not just the things I have done, but a renewed connection to my sisters.

I hope this connection continues and didn’t happen just once in a blue moon.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

 

Ferry Magic

I used to think that if one took a cruise, one could stand at the prow and feel the water a few feet below and the wind in your face, and I was so disappointed to discover that is not the truth of it. I have, however, found the desired sensation standing at the end of a pier or on the deck of a ferry.

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The first time I was on a ferry — the Outer Banks of North Carolina — Pamlico Sound was so big, I felt as if I were in the ocean, traveling to some exotic place. Which I was, of course, because anywhere you have never been has an exoticness all its own. Still, although the ferry trip was much shorter, I still had the feel of a fabled ocean voyage because of the nearness of the water and the wind in my face. The reality, of course, is that the ferry itself is a cross between a floating garage

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and an airport waiting room, but fun all the same.

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The Olympic mountains in the distance welcomed me to Kingsport and expressed sadness that I had to cancel my camping trip to the national park.

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My middle sister and I spent a lovely couple of days wandering around Port Townsend, visiting the little libraries,

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and picnicking on the port.  Looking back, on the ride home, I could see the boat’s wake. Looking forward, I could see Seattle (barely visible in the center of this photo.

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The next day, we three sisters got together for lunch in Edmonds.

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We strolled through downtown admiring the gorgeous blooms

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and stopping to smell the roses.

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At the end of the day, I waved to middle sister on the ferry.

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Ah. Ferry magic.

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***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

 

 

Forged in Fire

I do so love sampling new things, whether places, food, puzzles, people’s lives or . . . blacksmithing. Yep. You read that right! As fully equipped as you think your workshop is,

my brother-in-law has done you one better. His includes a forge, a leg vise and an anvil.

I spent a totally awesome day yesterday wearing a blacksmith apron and pounding hot metal!

Mostly I tried to make a couple of matching leaf shapes for a pair of earrings, which wasn’t very dramatic,

so to show the full effect of blacksmithing red hot metal, he let me pound on a bigger piece of iron.

Way cool! Well, cool in the sense of awesome. Not cool in the sense of the absence of heat. Working with forges, fire, heated metal, and heavy hammers is hot work.

People often have bucket lists, but how could I ever have such a list? The most wonderful things I have ever done, such as learning to dance or learning to blacksmith, would not have made it onto the list because I could never have imagined such treats.

The best part of the experience, of course, was the experience, but at the end of the day, I had a pair of earrings to show for it. Or rather, my sister has the earrings — I gave them to her for a hostess gift. The background leaf is the iron I pounded out and shaped. The dome top and the pepper dangle (added for color and because they are “red hot” chili peppers) are purchased beads.

Ah, sweet life. I can’t imagine anything better than getting to try new things.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Blue Skies in Seattle

The bluest skies are not in Seattle — it takes a lack of humidity to create the deep blue skies I often see in the western slope of Colorado and the high desert of California — but after the first rainy day, Seattle showed me its best (and bluest) side.

And my little sister — who towers over me — showed me her best side. (Well, that’s not true. All her sides are her best sides.)

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Not only did I get to see the bright side of Seattle, I got to see the dark side.

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Also the artistic side, both nature made

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and human made.

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It tickled me to see so many California poppies. I didn’t see a single poppy in California as I drove through on my way to the Pacific Northwest. The poppy people say it’s because of the lack of rain, but I bet it’s more the flowers envied the birds their ability to migrate and decided to emulate them.

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The joy of this trip is not just about the outside, but also the inside — staying with my sister is like living in a gourmet restaurant. Since my brother-in-law is a trained chef, every meal is been exquisite. From lamb shanks and watermelon/feta salad to frittatas with a side of lime-splashed mango,

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from linguine with seafood marinara sauce to a fabulous mother’s day brunch buffet, my taste buds have been feted. (That’s a private joke just for me, because I don’t think I’ve ever before feta cheese, or at least not so much.)

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For the first time I can understand why people think there is nothing in the high desert — for them, there is nothing. It’s pretty much a gourmet food wasteland, at least compared to a metropolis like Seattle. Except for some of the fruit, none of the food presented at the Mother’s Day brunch would be available in the high desert. In fact, despite the ever-growing population, Trader Joe’s refuses to put a store in any of the desert towns because there aren’t enough people with masters degrees. It doesn’t matter to me — my tastes are parochial. Grocery store cheddar cheese suits me fine, and I don’t need high-priced out of season fruits.

But today (and yesterday and probably even tomorrow!) I get to live the life of a well-cultured being, as if I were a kissed frog that turned into a princess.

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***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Honoring Mother With Turtles

The impetus for this Pacific Northwest adventure was an invitation from one of my sisters to make turtles on Mother’s Day weekend in honor of our mother.

Apparently, although the turtles were something I made as a teenager, when I went on to something else, my mother took over the hobby. (I don’t think it will come as any surprise to anyone that I was always looking for a new challenge.) Since my youngest sister often made the candy with my mother, she came to associate the turtles with Mother. Hence this venture (since there were no adverse moments, the day wasn’t much of an adventure but simply a wonderful venture) with my two sisters.

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I canot remember ever spending any time alone with my two sisters. I was too much older than the other two (they are shown above stirring the caramel and melting the chocolate) to be friends when we were young, and our lives always took separate paths. We were all a bit uneasy about the day, but came with the great attitude that no past differences would interfere with the pleasure of each others’ company, and so it was. A totally stress-free day. Well, except for the huge amount of supplies our hostess sister had purchased, so we ended up still working long after we were tired. After we packaged up turtles for our brothers and a few friends, we did have a bit of a disagreement. Since none of us are big candy eaters, none of us wanted the copious leftovers. But I ended up with them. Not a great problem if I can parcel them out and keep from indulging myself, which will be hard. They are really, really good.

One sister made the caramel.

One broke the pecans

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and melted the chocolate.

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I grated the chocolate to temper the melted chocolate and make it the right consistency for coating the candy. We all collaborated on making the naked turtles,

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and coating them with chocolate.

Oddly, none of us sampled a single finished turtle, though a couple of us scraped the caramel bowls and ate that.

This experiment was such a success, that we are now talking about doing a camping trip to The Three Sisters Wilderness Area in Oregon. Maybe next year.

Our mother would be so delighted!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

The Wilds of Civilization

After eleven years, Sheila Deeth, a fellow author and one of my very first online friends, has become an offline friend! It was a true delight to see her in person, but the truth is, it has made no change in our relationship. We were friends who knew almost everything about each other, and we are still friends. In fact, as with other online friends who have become all line friends, there wasn’t a second of awkwardness. We simply moved from a written relationship to one with sound.

People always worry about my visiting people I don’t know, but after so many years of sharing blogs and books and publishers and moments of our lives, we do know and trust each other. (Assuming one person can truly know another.) And so it was — a simple segue into a new phase.

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I’d been following online the trauma of Sheila’s flooded basement and its resurrection, and I so wanted to see her library. Instant library envy! After seeing it, I teased her that I might never leave. A roomful of books — wow!

Although she mentioned their disappointment in not having a view, I thought they had a fabulous view. Who needs a distant backdrop when one has such great beauty beside one’s own house? I have lived in desert areas my whole life — and make no mistake, Colorado is a desert with one benefit, its white gold (snow) that makes it possible (assuming that one does not have a brown thumb as I do), with a lot of effort to carve out a colorful space for yourself. Seeing so much almost effortless green seems miraculous to me.

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One thing I love about traveling and visiting people is that for a short time I get to borrow someone else’s life, and that night I got to share in Sheila’s after dinner ritual — a cryptic crossword puzzle. I had often come across the puzzles, but the things were too cryptic for me, with a code language all its own, and they helped me crack the code. If I ever come across another such puzzle, I will attempt to solve it, and think of that lovely evening.

Before I left, Sheila took me to the Pittock Mansion

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to see a panoramic view of Portland.

Although I had planned a trip into the wilds of nature, I ended up a trip into to wilds of civilization, and what an adventure!

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Unfinished, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)