Life, Death, and Dancing

I’ve gotten so used to living my uncoupled life, that I seldom stop anymore to think of what has happened to get me where I am, and yet, this past week, I did marvel at the strangeness of it all.

If Jeff hadn’t died . . .

If I hadn’t gone to take care of my nonagenarian father . . .

If I hadn’t stopped by a dance studio to inquire about classes . . .

And so there I was, all last week, in rehearsals for dance performances that would take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Me? Rehearsals? Dance performance? Remarkable.

This might not seem strange to people who have only known me in the post-Jeff phase of my life where I have become rather adventuresome in a small sort of way, but before that, I lived a quiet life, a bookish life. I have always tried new things and looked for challenges, but never have I gone so far out of myself as I have in these solitary years. I suppose it makes sense — all comfort died with Jeff, so it doesn’t make that much difference if I am comfortable or not.

Oddly, though, I was perfectly comfortable performing this weekend, though I still remember how hard it was in the beginning to push through the discomfort and be able to even think about dancing in front of a crowd.

(I’m second from the left, costumed for “Rejoice” from The Wiz.)

I sometimes wonder what the person I was all those years ago would think about the future she is living, but I’m glad she didn’t know. It’s taken many painful years to get to this point, and it was probably better that she didn’t see what was before her.

I should remember this when I worry about the future. Back then, I couldn’t know what my life would be like eight years in the future, so any worry would have been wasted. And perhaps it is the same now. In eight years, my life could be so different, that any worrying I do today would be wasted.

For me, then, the moral is to take each day as it comes while trying to go beyond what is comfortable, and to enjoy any accomplishments that might ensue.

All that and dancing, too!

***

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.

Memorializing Memorial Day

I don’t often gear my posts toward national holidays and such, but this year I did a special post for Mother’s Day, and now I am doing one for Memorial Day weekend mostly through serendipity because this particular stop, as well as the rest of my return journey, was unplanned.

After I left Seattle and before I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon,

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I encountered a wonderfully bizarre (and touching) World War I memorial — a full size rendering of Stonehenge as it might have looked if it were made of reinforced concrete.

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In fact, Sam Hill, the founder, enlisted the aid of a whole slew of authorities on archaeology, astronomy, and engineering to make the monument as accurate as possible. It took more than ten years to build. On Memorial Day in 1929, it was dedicated to the servicemen of Klickitat County, Washington who died in the service of this country during World War I.

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Why Stonehenge as a war memorial? When Hill first saw the real thing, he was told that the place had been used for human sacrifice, and he said, “After all our civilization, the flower of humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war on fields of battle.” Even though Stonehenge is now considered to be a device used by stone age astronomers, the memorial on the Columbia River remains a powerful and intriguing statement about war.

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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.

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.”)

 

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!

***

(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.”)

 

Friends, Flowers, and Fowl

Ordinarily, I live an uncolorful life. In the desert, I see mostly brown and gray. On the trip up to the northwest, I saw mostly green and gray. The glimpses I had of the ocean were blue and gray. And all of a sudden, as I was driving along, I realized I was starved for color. Well, when a couple of friends took me to the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland, I was able to feast my eyes and bathe my soul in riotous color.

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I’ve spent the past couple of hours going through all the photos I took of the garden and discovered an interesting problem. How does a person choose between one perfect photo after another? If you add a good eye for form and content to a place where every single thing you looked at offered a perfect opportunity for artistic expression, you have a hundred fabulous images. Admittedly, many of the images have a sameness to them because, of course, this was a garden with but two theme — flowers and waterfowl — and we were there at the perfect time for both. The flowers were stunning, and the ducks and geese were carefully strutting their stuff while watching over their families. Oh, my. Such a surfeit of beauty!

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From shimmers of flowers in the pond

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to reflections of foliage in the water,

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from waterfalls of petals

to fowl families,

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the three of us had a fabulous time. Although obviously, some of the photos were staged — the flowers preened or the ducks and geese blossomed — a few shots were totally candid, such as this amusing photo of the women I went to the garden with. I saw them standing there, and had to capture that truly awesome sight.

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Although I still crave color, I am no longer starving for rainbow hues. The day was truly a treat.

***

(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.”)

Stuttering Start

Yesterday I went to get gas and to run a last few errands before I started my trip. I was distracted at a light, and stalled my car. It’s not hard to do when one is weak from being sick — apparently, I did not have the clutch pushed in all the way. That’s not a problem. It happens. But what has never happened before is that the car did not start afterward. Nothing. No grinding, no sound at all. Just a dead click. I was in the middle of three lanes of rush hour traffic on a horribly busy highway. (60 miles per hour on the road, and stoplights every mile or so. Yeah. I know. Crazy.)

Cars all around me were trying to pull into the other lanes, and I just sat there with no way to pull off to the side. So I called my mechanic. We decided I’d have the car towed to him, but I tried one more time, and after a grumble or two, the thing started. So I headed to his garage, thinking all the while how silly I was to stall the car and then not be able to start it again. I mean, it’s not like it’s an unfamiliar car or anything — I’ve had it for more than forty-two years. (Wow. That sounds absurd. Who the heck owns a car that long?)

Everything was fine, and I felt sillier and sillier. Then, on another super busy highway, I heard something metallic fly off the car. So, I pulled over to the side and somehow stalled the car again. I couldn’t find what I’d lost (it was only later I realized the frame around the headlamp had flown away in the wind), and the car did start, but with that same grumbling noise.

About that time, I stopped feeling silly. Obviously something was wrong more than a weak clutch leg. As luck would have it, the mechanic finally heard the noise too. Apparently, the starter was stuttering, a sign of it going bad. So, instead of heading out early this morning, I head out to the mechanic for a new starter.

Someone told me that having the starter go out before a trip is good luck, and it certainly is. Better to have it happen here with a mechanic I know than out in the middle of nowhere with no mechanic at all.

This trip certainly has had a stuttering start, what with my getting sick and now car trouble. Let’s hope this new starter presages a new start for the trip, albeit several hours late, and that my luck continues to hold.

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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.