A Toast to Mother

Today is the twelfth anniversary of my mother’s death. I have thought about her more since I moved here to my new home than in all the years I lived at her house.

Admittedly, by the time I got to her house to take care of my father, it wasn’t really her house any more. During the last nine months of her life, she’d cleared out all of her things, and returned all the presents we’d given her over the years. (As one sister said, “If I had known we’d get this stuff back, I’d have given her better gifts.”)

There were a few things left that reminded me of her, like the cupboard full of unmatched stemware. I kept those goblets, and so now I too, have a cupboard of unmatched stemware. I also kept a few interesting utensils, ones that I didn’t already have, and a tiny cutting board, just perfect for cutting an apple. Also a few bits of furniture.

Ah ha! Now I know why I think of her so much. After my father died, I’d packed away the gifts she’d returned to me along with the few pieces I kept when I closed out their house. Now those things are part of my daily life, and every one of them reminds me of her.

When I got my first apartment, I asked her for the recipes that I especially liked — things like pierogis, tuna roll with cheese sauce, and hamburger rolls (known to others as Runzas or bierocks). I found it interesting that I was the only one of my siblings who had those recipes, so several years ago, I made each of my siblings a “Taste of Childhood” recipe book, which included those recipes as well as a Friday staple of our youth: creamed tuna and peas on toast. (Sounds disgusting but was actually quite tasty.)

I didn’t copy all of her cookie recipes. Neither cherry winks nor date nut pinwheels were favorites of mine when I was young, but luckily, my sister kept them, thinking that mother’s treat recipes shouldn’t be thrown away so now I am collecting some of the recipes I didn’t back then. Also, I imagine that at the time I got that first bunch of recipes, I wasn’t considering the distant future when she’d be gone.

Well now, she is.

She wasn’t much of a drinker, though she did love Bailey’s Irish Cream, so in honor of her this day, I offer a toast — in a Bailey’s glass that once belonged to her!

Here’s to you, Mom. I hope your new life is what you’ve prayed for.

***

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.

Taking a Pot Shot at Pot Shops

In this tiny town where I now reside, there is one grocery store, one drug store, two dollar stores, two liquor stores, and three pot shops with another two rumored to be opening soon.

In addition, a hemp shop is supposed to be opening, and at a local craft show, several people sold CBD oil products, including brownies.

I’m not drawing any conclusions, just laying out the facts, but it’s no wonder that at certain times of the growing season, the whole area smells like skunk. (There are commercial growers as well as many recreational growers.)

Unsurprisingly, there is controversy about what the legalization of recreational marijuana means — some people think that since it’s legal to buy and use in this state (though still illegal according to Federal laws), they can smoke it anywhere, even at work. Moreover, the city is considering getting rid of drug testing for jobs since so many people test positive for marijuana. (Apparently, it stays in the body a week.)

Common sense, of course, tells us that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is acceptable to smoke on the job (or even right before). After all, liquor is legal, but it’s not acceptable to drink or be drunk at work. For example, I’m sure no one wants their children under the care of someone under the influence of anything that might take their attention from their jobs.

You’d think that all this legalization would get rid of this particular aspect of the drug trade, but apparently, there is still a lot of illegal pot being sold. (The stores limit how much a person can buy at a time, though with three stores, all within a block of each other, it’s easy to enough to triple the dose.) The prevalence of marijuana also increases drug traffic because some people “trade up,” using their pot allotment to get more potent drugs.

None of this affects me, at least I don’t think it does, but I do have to be careful since I am highly allergic to all aspects of jute and hemp — both the smoke and the oils (and burlap!).

I know a lot of people use these products for pain and various other ills, but I’ve never understood the fun of using any sort of mind-altering substance. I have a hard enough time dealing with life when my brain is working on all available cylinders. (Nor would I use CBD oil. Since there is no regulation, the quality varies widely. Even worse, anyone can sell anything and call it CBD oil.)

Apparently, from the proliferation of the pot shops, I am in a minority here. But if I ever change my mind, I certainly have a plethora of places to choose from!

***

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.

Small World

I noticed in the local weather forecast, that one day the winds would come from the north, the next day from the south, the next from the west, and it got me curious about what all those winds mean. After an hour or so, I’m still not sure. Too much of the information seemed roundabout and obfuscating, such as “the north wind blows from the north.” Despite this, I have gleaned enough to guess that the north wind brings cold, the south wind brings dampness, and the west wind brings dryness. These guesses might not be correct, but I got tired of researching a rather meaningless topic — after all, the wind will blow when and where it wants, and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. As long as it’s not huffing and puffing enough to blow my house down or my roof off, it doesn’t really matter.

During the course of this hunt, I stumbled across something that amused me:

Sanandaj, Iran (7,028 miles away); Shāhreẕā, Iran (7,343 miles); and Alik Ghund, Pakistan (7,671 miles) are the far-away foreign places with temperatures most similar to the town where I am living.

In the annals of vital information, that has to be far down the list of importance, much further down even than wind direction.

Does knowing this get me anything besides amusement? To a degree, yes. It ties the world together in a way I hadn’t expected. Those towns I had never heard of, those townspeople I could never in my life have even imagined, are experiencing same weather today that I am.

Apparently, it is a small world after all.

***

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.

The Stockings Were Hung by the Heating Unit with Care

A word of advice — if you don’t like the sun setting before 4:30 in the wintertime, be sure to move to the western end of a time zone. The sun sets at the western end of a time zone almost an hour later than the eastern end.

And I live close to the eastern edge of the mountain time zone.

Even worse, there are still three weeks until the end of the creeping darkness.

Usually I wait to put out my bowls of light until close to the winter solstice to celebrate the returning light, but this year, I need them early. Not only does the sun set at 4:30, the long twilights I remember from my previous years in Colorado seem to be missing (maybe because I am further south than where I used to live). So, full dark comes at 5:00. Yikes.

Yesterday I put out the bowls of light.

Today, I put up my Christmas trees. The red tree was a gift to cheer me up three years ago when I couldn’t go anywhere because of my destroyed arm, the green tree was my father’s. I hadn’t intended to bring it with me, but someone thought I needed it, because when my brother helped me move my stuff into a storage unit after my father’s death, there is was.

And now here it is.

One odd aspect of growing older is that everything has a story. Those trees, of course. The stocking that was hung above the heating unit with care was a gift from my sister about fifteen years ago that has been packed away. The bowls the lights are in used to be my mother’s. The table used to belong to an aunt, got handed down to my brother, and now it, too, is here. The red wreath started out as a hatband and will again become a hatband in another week or so.

Every ornament has a story, too. Quite frankly, I had no idea I had so many ornaments — I haven’t had a tree for decades. I put up my father’s tree for him but decorated it with the cute felt nativity set I’d made for my mother when I was young. (It seems to have disappeared. I know she gave it back to me before she died, which is why I had it to use for my father’s tree, but I must have gotten rid of it during one of my storage unit cleansings.) I did recently buy some ornaments from an artist friend — the arabesque (onion shaped) ones — but mostly what I have are things I was gifted. A couple of things I found in with my ornaments, I don’t remember ever seeing before.

It might sound as if I get too attached to things, but if you knew how much stuff that I liked that I’ve gotten rid of over the years, you’d see that some things attach themselves to me, and those are the things I still have.

In this case, it’s good I have the stuff. I mean, first Winter Solstice/Light Festival/Christmas in my new house? Of course, I’ll decorate!!

Besides, it makes the long dark nights on the eastern edge of the time zone a bit brighter.

***

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.

 

 

Misplaced Outrage Over Self-Checkout

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Facebook where people who are against self-checkout proclaim that they don’t work for the company. Yesterday, at a community pot luck, I got caught in a group that began discussing that very thing. Luckily, some friends arrived, so I could make my excuses, but that smug line, “I don’t work for them,” has stayed with me.

The truth is, we do work for them.

At the beginning, grocery stores were all service oriented. You’d go in, tell the owner what you wanted, and they would pick the stuff off the shelves, ring it up, and bag it (generally with the bag or basket you brought for that very purpose).

As stores grew bigger, they provided baskets for people to pick out their own wares. I’m sure those people were just as miffed as those today. I’m sure they, too, said they didn’t work for the company.

As time passed, and more automation came into being, customers not only had to pick out their own merchandise, but had to unload the carts themselves. I remember how upset people were back then. “We don’t work for them.” But they did.

Self-checkout has been in the works for at least fifteen years that I know of. Twelve years ago, I used a self-checkout for the first time. So self-checkout is nothing new. And has been inevitable for a long time.

Frankly, the whole smugly outraged attitude about Walmart going to mostly self-checkout is too little, too late. And completely self-serving.

The truth is, we do more than work for behemoths like these. Much of Walmart’s rapid expansion was paid by public funds, not just tax incentives and tax breaks, but free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country to the tune of $1.2 billion. In addition, since Walmart underschedules their employees, making sure they work an hour or two a week less than full time, taxpayers end up paying the healthcare costs of Wal-Mart employees through public programs such as Medicaid.

But oh, yes. Let’s get indignant about self-checkout.

To a great extent, Walmart helped to flood the United States with imports from China. I’ve never been able to find out if it was Sam’s decision or if someone in the government approached him — because of new policies to give China most favored nation status along with deals to bring in tons of products, someone needed to peddle the junk to unsuspecting consumers. (Little is ever mentioned about the coincidence of the world’s largest retailer, the world’s largest chicken producer, and a political legacy all rising at approximately the same time from the same relatively backward state.)

Along with the imports (that poured into the stores at the same time their public relations firms touted proudly that the stores were dedicated to carrying things made in the USA) came human rights violations — sweat shops, child labor, dangerous working conditions, sexual abuse and physical violence in Walmart supplier factories. Where was the outrage then? Those things happened in other countries, so no one seemed to care. Nor did most people seem to care about civil rights violations, such as illegally dumped hazardous wastes.

People are outraged that Walmart employees are being replaced by self-checkout, but there was little outrage when the stores come into an area and destroyed local businesses, often businesses who paid their employees more than Walmart did. Did anyone but the businesses themselves and the suddenly-unemployed people care about those jobs lost? And what about the small companies that Walmart destroyed? Who cared about them? When the giant retailer went into the grocery business, they found small companies to supply their needs, and once those companies were committed to supplying the chain, they were forced into ever higher production demands with ever-lower profits. The suppliers had to borrow money to keep up with the increased demands, believing the lies of more business down the line. And it worked . . . until Walmart opened their own supply stations, most recently a milk processing plant that threw their previous supplier into bankruptcy, with way too many jobs lost.

But oh, yes. Let’s be smug and self-righteous when it comes to self-checkout.

***

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.

100 Word Story: A Different Perspective

Tom milled around the prison yard with the other inmates, waiting for the sound of death. There would be no stay of execution for their condemned friend, who would die in a most barbaric way.

“They don’t care that he’s innocent,” Tom said. “As are we all. The system is guilty, but no one wants to buck tradition.”

The thud of the axe made him flinch. He bowed his head out of respect for the dead.

In the silence, he heard the executioner’s voice drifting through the chicken wire fence. “It’s a big turkey. We’ll have a grand Thanksgiving feast.”

***

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.

Dealing With Grief During the Holidays

This is an excerpt from my book: Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One:

***

The first year of grief after the loss of a spouse or a life mate is hard because our grief is so new and so raw that it’s all we can do to take one painful breath at a time. All the firsts we experience during this period can make things even harder.

The first holidays are painful. The first wedding anniversary, the first birthdays, the first major holidays. Each of these days brings a greater sense of grief because we are intensely aware that our life mate is not here to experience these once-happy holidays with us. Whatever traditions we developed together become obsolete when only one of us remains to carry on. The pain and the yearning to be together once more during these times can be devastating.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years are the big holidays with the biggest challenges. These special days are family celebrations, and often we are left alone with our memories and our feelings, even if we are surrounded by family.

After Jeff died, I went to take care of my ninety-three-year-old father. That first Thanksgiving, my brothers and sisters-in-law came to have dinner with us. I felt awkward because my widowed father sat at one end of the table, and I sat at the other end in my mother’s place, even performed her hostess duties. Despite that weirdness, it was a nice meal, but as the guests were leaving, two by two, I fell into a deep crevice of grief that took a couple of weeks to crawl out of.

Christmas is even more challenging because if we do opt to join the family in festivities, assuming we have such an option and want to make use of it, our families don’t know what to say to us. They are afraid of saying “Merry Christmas,” because they know there can be no merriment for us. Their fumbling to find something to say makes us so much more conscious of our situation than the rote greeting, “Merry Christmas,” would have done. After all, no one truly is wishing us, or anyone, merriment. It’s simply the thing we say.

We each have to find our own way to deal with the holidays. Talking to someone about our loved one, perhaps sharing a special memory can help, and if there is no one to talk to, writing a letter to our deceased mate can make the upsurge of grief around the holidays easier to handle. There is great power in writing to our dead because it gives us a sense of connection and continuity. We are verbal creatures, so putting our feelings into words can be therapeutic and can decrease the stress of the holidays.

Sometimes we grievers find comfort in doing things the way we always did because it makes us feel closer to our departed loved one. Sometimes we need to create new traditions for us alone, which is how I dealt with the days.

Jeff loved Christmas lights, and since he still lived in my heart, or so people said, I took him for a walk that first Christmas Eve and showed him the abundance of lavishly decorated houses in the neighborhood. As fanciful a notion as that was, it helped.

Over time, as we build new memories on top of the old ones, the emotional resonance of the holidays and anniversaries diminishes, as does the dread leading up to these days. The upsurges of grief we experience soften to a feeling of nostalgia and even gratitude that once we were loved, once had someone to love, once had someone with whom to share our life.

***

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.

Overcoming Inertia

You’d think, after all these years of doing things by myself, I wouldn’t have a problem with motivating myself, but I do. Ever since Jeff died, I’ve tried to be more spontaneous, but sometimes I simply cannot overcome inertia to just . . . go.

The Union Pacific Big Boy steam engine passed within seventy-five miles of here, and I sort of wanted to see it. But the time for leaving came, and I didn’t go. Apparently, “sort of wanting” is not enough motivation. If I had really, really wanted to see it, I might have gone — after all, I did go searching (in vain) for tarantulas. But maybe not. My days of simply hopping into my car and taking off seem to be diminishing — not just because of no motivation, but because the thought of pulling the cover off my vintage Beetle and folding it up seems too much of a big deal. Also, because I’m not driving all the time, I tend to worry.

Luckily, I can walk most places around here and save driving for the days when the ritual of uncovering and recovering my car doesn’t seem so daunting or if I simply want to drive, worry or no. It might be easier to go somewhere on a whim when (if?) my garage is done, but I doubt it. I won’t have to uncover the car (though a neighbor car guy recommends still covering it), but I will have to unlock and open the garage door and gates, then get out of the car and close them once I’m on the street. Just the thought makes me weary! It’s not an immediate problem, though, since my contractor has disappeared on me again.

Now that it’s getting dark so early, my activities are a bit curtailed — I’m not used to walking in the dark around here, and to be honest, I’m not sure it’s all that safe of a place to be on foot at night — so I don’t attend evening events by myself.

Although all this makes it seem as if I don’t do much anymore, that’s not true. There are many scheduled events I attend during the day, such as the art guild meetings. The meetings are on my calendar, so there’s no need to overcome inertia — I just go. Other times, I hitch a ride with a friend. For example, there was a community dinner last night, and a friend invited me to go with her. It was a wonderful meal, a full turkey dinner, though it amused me — there I was in a Baptist church, eating dinner with my friend and the Presbyterian minister. Only in a small town . . .)

And that won’t be my only Thanksgiving dinner. The senior center will be hosting a potluck dinner for all of us strays. They will provide the turkey; we will provide everything else. (My contribution will be my own creation — a cranberry/apple compote.) Although Thanksgiving as a holiday doesn’t hold the emotional hazards for me that it does for many who have lost their mates, it’s nice knowing I’ll won’t be missing out on anything (except maybe the contention that sometimes come with family get-togethers).

The dinner is already scheduled and circled on my calendar. I’m committed to bringing the compote, It’s during the day. And I can walk. So there won’t be any inertia to overcome.

But it’s not exactly spontaneous, either.

***

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.

More Adventures in Baking

Yesterday I mentioned my woes in translating a cookie recipe from grams to cups and such to use with an embossed rolling pin, and today I decided just to wing it. My guesses as to amounts was pretty accurate, though the cookies aren’t really sweet and crisp enough, and the rose pattern does seem to thin out a bit, though I have to admit, they photograph extremely well!

My idea of painting the cookies before cooking worked, too.

I used only a small part of the dough since I didn’t want to waste it if the cookies didn’t work out, so there is still plenty to experiment with. Maybe refrigerating the cut-out cookies longer to keep the indentation from thinning out? Maybe pressing harder on the rolling pin to make a deeper impression of the pattern? Maybe more butter to make them crisper?

I’ll figure it out, but surprisingly, the cookies turned out great for a first attempt.

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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.

Adventures in Baking

I’ve wanted an embossed rolling pin for years, ever since I first saw them advertised, but it seemed silly to get a utensil that would sit unused in a storage unit. Now I have a kitchen and reasons to make cookies (ah, those ubiquitous pot lucks!), so I ordered the rolling pin from the original makers in Poland since I didn’t want a cheap knock-off, and wouldn’t you know, the recipe that came with the rolling pin is in grams rather than cups.

I wasn’t worried since I have the internet to help me make the conversions. So no problem, right?

Wrong!

According the conversion charts, one cup is equal to 201.6 grams (or maybe 198.6, depending on the website).

And yet, according to those same sites, 200 grams of butter converts to 14.109585 tablespoons or approximately 7/8 of a cup.

150 grams of sugar converts to 3/4 of a cup. But wait! The recipe calls for powered sugar, which converts to 1.3 cups.

400 grams of flour is 3 1/4 cups, but not always. If you scoop a cup of flour, sometimes that cup is 120 grams and sometimes its as much as 180, depending not just on the type of flour, but on whether it’s sifted, how much it’s sifted, and how full you filled the cup. The preferred way of measuring flour in a cup to get a consistent number of grams is to use a small scoop or spoon, shake the flour into the cup and then level off with a knife. This should yield 150 grams of all-purpose flour. Now I’m really confused about how much flour I need to measure. 2 2/3 cups?

As far as I know, an egg is an egg, and even though there are various sizes of eggs, apparently it makes no difference when it comes to cookies. At least I hope not. And a pinch of salt seems to be a pinch of salt in any measuring system.

The recipe calls for baking the cookies at 200 degrees. I presume that’s Celsius, since that temperature seems way to low to do anything but boil water (here at an elevation of 3,898 feet, water boils not at 212 degrees Fahrenheit but at 204.5 degrees.) 200 degrees Celcius converts to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Is that even a possible oven temperature?

As if this weren’t bad enough, the recipe needs to be altered for high-altitude cooking, which means I need to decrease the butter by 2 to 4 tablespoons, decrease sugar by an unspecified amount, maybe add a tablespoon or two of liquid, increase flour by 1 to 2 tablespoons, increase baking time by 1 to 3 minutes, or perhaps decrease baking time by 1 to 2 minutes. Or maybe just increase the oven temperature by up to 25 degrees.

You think I’m making this up? Nope. Not even a smidgen (a smidgen equals .18 grams) of hyperbole.

But where does it leave me?

Looking for a good bakery!

***

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.