Real Life Beach Read

The term “beach read” started out as an advertising gimmick for books published in the summer for the beach-going crowd. They were non-challenging books, a bit frothy and fun, and could be almost any genre as long as the story was good enough to keep one’s attention but not so serious it would spoil one’s vacation. Nowadays “beach read” seems to be an actual genre, generally a romance or woman’s story that takes place at the beach. In a typical beach story, three sisters who are all at a crossroad in their lives end up at the family’s beach house, often to figure out what to do with house they jointly inherited in the hope that a sale will help solve their various issues. The book ends up with all their problems being resolved as well as the three disparate and far-flung sisters reconnecting and reestablishing their sisterhood.

My sisters recently came to visit, and I couldn’t help thinking I was living in a real life “beach read.” They weren’t here to help resolve the issue of our parents’ house because that had been taken care of eight years before. (Oddly, they just happened to be here on the eighth anniversary of our father’s death, but it was our mother we toasted with her favorite Bailey’s Irish Cream.) And anyway, this house is a done deal — it’s mine and mine alone.

We had no serious issues to resolve, and no true crossroads, though both sisters are dealing with a change in their circumstances, and the visit allowed them a respite from their respective issues. We had reconnected as sisters during our first “three sisters” weekend, but we haven’t all been together in the intervening four-and-a-half years. And rather surprisingly, this was the first time ever the three of us spent the night alone under the same roof.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous about hosting this gathering (three women and one bathroom seemed an untenable equation), and I didn’t know how generous I’d be about sharing my house. But it all worked out well, perhaps because they didn’t stay long, just a couple of nights. It was fun being with people who had known me most of my life (I say “most” because one sister is eight years younger and one is twelve years younger). And it was especially nice solidifying our sisterhood.

Even though I live in a town way out on the prairie, we even managed to spend some time at a beach!

The body of water — a reservoir — is huge, 30 square miles, and is adjacent to a 13,100-acre state park. Obviously, there wasn’t a whole lot of the place we could explore in one afternoon, but we managed to see several beautiful areas and take some stunning photos.

Unlike the characters in a beach read, I don’t suppose any of our lives were changed by the visit, but it definitely was a special time for all of us.

***

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.

Playing the Hand I’ve Been Dealt

I do really well most of the time playing the hand I’ve been dealt in life.

Did I really use a game metaphor? Apparently, it’s not just gardening I see as a game, but life itself. This isn’t my conscious view of life — life has thrown too many tragedies and tragic consequences my way for it to classified with amusements such as card games or ball games or even gardening — but it does seem at times as if fate is willy-nilly dealing out experiences. Wealth to this person, beauty to that one, grief to another. Admittedly, at some point most people deal with grief, as if it’s a wild card that can fill out any hand, but still, I don’t think life is a game with distinct winners and losers. Nor is life playful or amusing as games should be — it’s generally too serious. (Though people who do manage to deal with life’s vicissitudes in a playful manner — people who believing the underlying energy of the universe is that of a child at play — find that things go their way more often than not.)

But all that is by way of an aside. I really came here to write about a moment I experienced last night. As I said, I do really well most of the time playing the hand that life and death (not my death, obviously, but the death of various loved ones) has dealt me. In fact, the cards I am holding at the moment are great ones — a comfortable home, a yard to get creative with, someone to call when I have a house emergency, a job that pays for such trivialities as groceries, good friends.

And yet, there are those moments . . .

Last night I went into my bedroom to turn down the covers in preparation for sleep, when suddenly I was hit with a vast wave of loneliness. I have no idea where it came from or why it chose that particular moment to engulf me, but there it was, stopping me in my tracks.

I let that devastating moment pass through me, though a faint sense of being alone lingered as I finished my task.

That’s all there was to it — just that moment. It wasn’t enough to send me spiraling into grief, but it was enough to temporarily overwhelm me.

And it was enough to make me take stock and realize that after all I’ve been through the last decade or so, I really am lucky to be doing as well as I am.

***

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 Big Picture

I spend so much time focused on the individual aspects of my garden, both the delightful things like the flowers that bloom, the butterfly that flitted through the yard one day, the hummingbird that sipped nectar from my hanging plant, then stared at me through the window as if to thank me, as well as the undelightful things like stinkhorn mushrooms, encroaching weed grasses, and swaths of brown lawn, that sometimes I forget to look at the big picture. Well, today, I was skirting the house after my morning stint of watering, and the “big picture” suddenly took my breath away. I went inside for my camera, stood at the back door and shot this photo. Wow! This is my back yard? Really?

Even the left side of the red pathway (as you are viewing the photo) looks good although the green comes from freshly mowed weeds. The gorgeous greensward just to the left of the sidewalk is the area that I dug up last fall for a wildflower garden, and since there was sod left over, we decided to sod that area, too. I felt silly for having done all that work for no reason, but as it turns out, it was essential. That’s the best patch of grass on the whole property. The worst patches are where they simply laid the sod over the existing weeds and weedy grasses. The grass in those areas started out bright green, but now have now surrendered their precarious place to the original occupants. With any luck, this fall when the weeds die off, I can reverse the trend, but who knows? I sure don’t. Despite my pretty flower photos, I’m still pretty much of a neophyte gardener. (A neophyte photographer, too, but it looks as if I am more accomplished than I really am because I only post the photos that turn out. The rest end up in the trash.)

The green on the right side of the sidewalk is what’s left of the wildflower garden. It looks green but there is a lot of white from the copious alyssum. It’s called a carpet of snow, and from a certain angle you can see all the white, but obviously not from the angle the back yard photo was taken.

I friend had once suggested that I take a photo from the same place every day so I could see the changes, but I never did. For most of my tenure here, things were in such a state of disarray that there was no day I thought would a perfect time to start such a project. I realize, of course, that was the point, but I also had no concept of how the yard would turn out or even if it would turn out. For all I knew, there would forever be a heap of junk in the middle of a field of weeds. (This particular junk pile is just to the left of what is now the sidewalk. It isn’t really junk, just all the stuff that had to be moved to make room for the new garage.)

The only photo I have of the original yard is one from the opposite angle, looking toward the house instead of away from it. The old garage is where the raised garden now is, and the new garage is in front of where the carport was, which gives me a rather large yard!

I do have a few photos of the back yard that I took as work was being done, which gives me (and you) an idea of how much has changed over the years. Oddly, going by these older photos, it looks as if this yard was just a patch of dead dirt, but that was seasonal. Come spring and a little rain, and yikes . . . so many very tall weeds!

The above photo was taken in January, shortly after the old garage was torn down and the fence put up. The gazebo was erected over the existing concrete pad that once was in front of the garage. Eventually, the garage was built in front of the double gate, and the gate was removed. The brown bushes next to the pedestrian gate had to be dug up, and they were replanted in the angle formed by the sidewalk and the concrete pad. Looking at this photo, I am amazed at all that has been done in two-and-a-half years, not just what the builders did, but what nature and I did. No wonder I feel as if I work hard on the yard. I do!

It just goes to show that in gardening, as in life, it’s good to focus on the details, because that’s where the work is done — one detail at a time — but it’s even better to stop occasionally and look around to see all that you have accomplished.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

A Day in the Middle of Summer

I spent the morning outside. I hadn’t really planned to. Since it rained last night, I didn’t have to water today, and I figured the ground would be too sodden to weed my flower gardens, so I thought this would be a good day to take it easy.

Still, I had to go outside to toss out the furnace filter I’d just changed (after being very careful going down those old basement stairs), and I needed to reattach a motion-activated light that had somehow become unattached from its perch on the side of the house (I was especially careful going up the ladder since I’m not sure it’s something I should be doing), and because I was outside anyway, I pulled a weed or two.

A couple of hours later . . . Yep, that weed or two turned into a massive cleanup of one of the two uncultivated areas of my yard. It’s not as if the area needed it — the weeds were only waist high. (I’m being ironic here, if you can’t tell. Not about the weeds being waist high, because they were, but about the area not needing to be weeded.) I would have to clear it out eventually — I will be ordering some purple echinacea and Goldsturm black eyed Susans to plant there this fall, so this gave me a head start on the project.

Speaking of which, the echinacea that I planted last year came in a five-inch pot, and they did well. The price has gone up quite a bit, so I’m considering getting plants in three-inch pots, which are half the price, but obviously smaller. Would that be a foolish economy? Obviously, for the same budget, I could get twice as many of the smaller pots, so if a couple of the plants died, I’d still be ahead of the game, but am I sabotaging myself by getting the smaller ones? Or does it sound like a smart choice? I sure don’t know.

But I’m getting off the topic of spending the morning outside . . . After I finished my chores, I took a few photos of flowers. I love how this morning glory turned out — as if the sun were rising from its center!

About then, a friend stopped by and we sat in the comfort of my gazebo (me with dirt still under my fingernails) to chat for few minutes. Next thing we knew, the church bells were tolling the noon hour. Yikes! Those hours do tend to disappear on a person.

We said our goodbyes. She headed out to finish her errands, and I went to harvest my cherry tomatoes. All three of them!

And then finally, I went back inside.

What a nice midsummer’s day!

Only it isn’t a midsummer day. It’s merely a day in the middle of summer. A quick Google search to find out when midsummer really is told me that midsummer is celebrated around the summer solstice, which we call the first day of summer. So confusing!

Still, whatever you call it, I spent a pleasant — and unplanned — summer day outside.

***

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.

Downpour

I had a wonderful surprise last night, and you’ll never guess what it was. Aww, shucks. You guessed it. And here I thought I was being subtle and crafty.

Last night’s surprise downpour was anything but subtle, though it was crafty how it slipped in past the weather forecasters’ crystal ball. The meteorologists all said there was almost no chance of rain for the near future, and a few hours later — deluge!

I was thrilled to see the rain for many reasons. One, we needed it. Two, it was a lovely sight — and sound. Three, I was dreading today and having to be outside to water when it was so dang hot.

I also dreaded today because I’d signed up to work at the museum, and although I would have liked to help, I simply did not want to go meandering about in the afternoon heat. I lucked out on that, too. Because of the rain cancelling my morning chores, when a friend called and asked if I wanted to go to the “big city” with her (big only in comparison to this town; anyone anywhere else would consider it a miniscule place) I jumped at the chance to get away for a bit. Shortly afterward, I got a message that the time to help at the museum was changed from the afternoon to the morning, but it was too late; I was already on my way out of town.

So the day I dreaded turned out to be not so dreadful. Even better, I got to see my yard from a different perspective (from the street as we drove away from my place), and it looked pretty good for having to survive such a searingly hot summer.

It’s funny that although we are in the midst of summer (“midsummer” sounds much more romantic than it actually is), I only have three months to come up with and to write a mystery for the museum’s October event.

A friend is doing research for me on a tale she was told as a youngster — something about the military, the Cheyenne, gold, a cave, pictographs, and a totem pole. There was also a hanging, but I don’t remember if that’s part of that story she told me or a different one. (Not only did I talk to her yesterday about what she remembered, I also leafed through a book that gave some of the history of this area, and all that input is jumbled together in memory.) I sure hope she can track down some people who might remember the story because it sounds interesting (more interesting by far than this heat, that’s for sure!). If necessary, I could use those same themes to create my own story, but since it’s for the historical museum, I’d just as soon the mystery have some basis in fact.

But for now, it’s a matter of waiting to see what transpires, both with the story and with our midsummer weather.

We could see a few more showers tonight, but since it’s in the forecast, I wouldn’t be surprised if the rain passed us by — those crystal balls the forecasters are currently using seem rather murky and not at all trustworthy. Because I don’t have my own private rainstorm tucked away somewhere that I could trot out on days like today, I’ll just have to hope that everything again turns out for the best.

***

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.

Homefull

I often write about (or at least refer to) the changes in my life since Jeff died twelve-and-a-half years ago, but I don’t write that much about the changes since my older brother died. Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of his death, and it surprised me that it wasn’t that long ago (or perhaps it surprised me that it was so long ago — with death and grief, it’s sometimes hard to tell). His death set into play a long string of happenstance that ended up with me, in a house, in this sweltering corner of Colorado.

Mostly, his death changed me in some fundamental way so I was ready when my other brother suggested I take my small savings and buy a house. He’d come to help me clear out our deceased brother’s things and deal with any legal issues, and I have a hunch he wanted to make sure I was settled so he wouldn’t have to worry about yet another sibling. Whatever his reasoning, the idea he broached made sense to me, especially when he told me about this area that actually had houses I could afford.

The time was ripe, apparently, for buying houses in and around this area, because every one I liked (and could afford) disappeared from the market even before my real estate agent could look at it.

Luckily, I only needed one house, and that house came looking for me.

It seems as if I’d been looking for a very long time before I became aware of this house, but considering that my brother has been gone only four years and that I’ve been here a couple of months shy of three and a half years, the whole upheaval to my life — ambitions, geographical location, as well as the mental change from life-long renter to homeowner — happened in a matter of months.

It’s ironic that because of the death of my homeless brother, I am homefull. (That’s not a word, though it should be.) At any rate, whatever the proper word, because of him, here I am, with a home of my own.

***

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.

History Repeating Itself

I filter through a lot of information every day — books, articles online, pretty much whatever comes my way — and out of all those words, whatever sticks in my head is what I write about.

So what is sticking in my head right now?

Electricity.

The increase in electric rates, to be exact.

A lot of communities in southeastern Colorado are dealing with electricity rate hikes, which is no surprise considering that everything is going up. But what caught my attention is that along with a notice about the price increase, the electric companies are telling people how to save money by using less electricity.

One of their suggestions is to set the air conditioner thermostat at 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Since I usually have mine set at 80 if I’m not doing anything but reading, does that mean I’m supposed to raise the thermostat? Wouldn’t that cost me more than leaving it where it is? I might save a few cents on the cost of running the refrigerator but I haven’t found anything that says 78 degrees is a better temperature than 80 for the house and the appliances. And anyway, most of my life I lived without any air conditioning, so 80 is real luxury! Another suggestion was to use the outside grill (which I don’t have) instead of the stove or the oven because it doesn’t heat up the house.

These suggestions aren’t what caught my attention, though. It’s that utilities and other energy providers always pull this stuff — they raise the rates because they’re not making enough, so then they suggest that people use less energy and then . . . guess what?

I don’t need to guess. I know. And so do you if you’re old enough to remember the gas shortages and energy crises we dealt with during the previous century.

What happened back then was that people followed the suggestions and used considerably less energy — fuel for cars, natural gas for homes, electricity — which cut into the profits the price hike was supposed to create. That meant the energy companies ended up losing more money than if they hadn’t raised the rates in the first place. So they raised the rates again.

That seems to be what is happening now. And as history shows, by the time the cycle ends, no one is happy, and we end up paying way more for less.

Lucky us.

I was being ironic with that “lucky us,” but if you forget the cost of the energy, we are lucky that we have such things as refrigeration, lights, hot water, air conditioning, and heat, though I don’t even want to think about the furnace during these incredibly hot days we’ve been having.

Still, it is amusing (somewhat) to see history repeating itself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Holiday Destination

The American Automobile Association predicted a record number of road trippers this weekend. Despite the high gas prices, more than 42 million people in the USA will drive to a destination more than 50 miles from home to celebrate the holidays. There are nebulous reasons stated for all that travel — nebulous because with all the rhetoric being spouted, no one really knows why people are heading out. I tend to think people just want to run away for a bit, to pretend that life is back to normal (or more probably back to a normal they wish existed) where there were no wars, no babies going hungry for lack of formula, no deadly disease ready to spawn a new variant, no political polarization dividing families and turning friends into foes.

I’m lucky — I don’t need to contend with all that miserable traffic to get to my holiday destination because I’m already at my destination. There is no place I would rather be than right here, in my own house or outside enjoying my own private backyard park.

A local friend who knows the true state of my yard — that the pictures of flowers I post are pretty much the only flowers that are growing on that given day — teases me (in a friendly way) about my knowing every flower, every butterfly, every blade of grass in my yard, and that’s pretty much the case. She also thinks people should take life the way I do, by celebrating every little thing that comes along. Although I would never say “should” when it comes to other people, she’s right that I do celebrate each new development in my yard. Although I enjoyed my trips — from ocean to ocean and border to border — and loved seeing new things, it’s a privilege being able to experience the constantly changing environment of my own backyard.

It would be nice if the flowers in my yard bloomed constantly, but they come and go. The tulips were supplanted by larkspur and golden poppies, which in turn were supplanted by wildflowers, echinacea, and almost-ready-to-bloom lilies and daylilies. These will be supplanted by other flowers later in the season — marigolds, mums, and purple asters. At any one time, there are at least a few beautiful blossoms, a few spent flowers, and a lot of greenery.

The lawn, too, goes through cycles. Since it’s a cool weather grass that doesn’t like the heat of summer, I seem to be always coaxing brown spots back to life. In another two or three months, though, when the worst of the heat is gone, my grass will perk up again and stay green until the worst of winter.

But for now, I am glad I don’t have to be on the road with millions of others, and I am especially glad for whatever joys this “holiday destination” throws my way.

***

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.

Seeing the Bright Side

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows I am not a glass-half-full sort of person. Nor, to be honest, am I a glass-half-empty person. I’m more prosaic than either type, more realistic. The nature of a glass is to not remain at a halfway point. If the glass contains a drinkable beverage, you drink it and then refill the glass with the same or a different beverage, or you wash the glass and put it away. If the glass doesn’t contain a drinkable beverage, you toss out the contents and wash the glass or you toss out the whole thing — glass and contents. If you don’t drink the beverage, the glass still doesn’t remain half empty/half full. There is a thing called evaporation, which means that no matter what, the glass will empty itself.

Life, like the level of the contents in the glass, is in motion. A situation can seem bleak with no bright side at all, such as the death of a loved one, and while that situation never changes, you do. When Jeff died, I tried to tell myself that at least he wasn’t suffering anymore and though I suppose that is a realistic bright side, it didn’t help me at all in dealing with my grief. However, there does come a time — years later, perhaps — when a griever has to stop seeing only the bleakness of life and to try to find a brighter side.

In my case, it was the dance classes I started taking three-and-a-half years after Jeff died. Although I was still grieving for him, my grief wasn’t the only “side” in my life anymore. There was a brighter side, too, which helped light my way through the dark times.

I’ve never trusted people who only look at the bright side of things. It seems to me they are either delusional or indulging in dreams instead of reality. Besides, without dark, there is no light. There was an artist who found fame as a painter of light, but if you were to study his paintings piece by piece (as in a jigsaw puzzle) you will see that most of the painting is dark; the darkness is what makes the light so bright.

I do think it’s possible, because of one’s situation, one’s temperament, or one’s mental frame of mind, that it becomes habit to only look on the dark side. (Which means, I suppose, that for some people, looking only on the bright side is also possible.) If only the dark is apparent, it’s a good idea to try to see the bright side of things. In the case of grief, it’s more than okay to indulge in the bleakness because that’s how we learn to cope with life without our loved one. However, as the years pass, it’s okay to start seeing the bright side of other things.

Although I am still aware of the bleakness of Jeff’s being gone, I have looked for a bright side and in fact, looking for any brightness in my life was how I found myself in a new way of being. It wasn’t that I tried to find a bright side to his being gone — there simply is no bright side. It’s that I tried to find a bright side to my still being here. And there is much brightness in my life now — a house, a home, a garden, flowers, a lawn, friends, neighbors, a compatible town, a nearby library — so much so that I no longer need to find the brightness. It finds 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.

1000th Day of Daily Blogging

Today is my 1000th straight day of daily blogging. It’s not my 1000th post, that happened years ago. In fact, this is my 3,476th post. That is a lot of blogging!

I would have thought that after coming up with something to write about every day for 1000 days in a row, that I would have been at a loss for something to say today, but luckily, my neighbors served up plenty of things for me to write about.

First thing this morning, when I was taking my mower out of the garage so I could cut the grass, my next-door neighbor told me if I ever saw a particular person — middle-aged, skinny, tattoos all over his face — to call the cops because that person tried to break into his shed where all his tools are stored. He said if he saw the fellow on his property again, the person would be dead. Not a good start to the day!

Later, I set out to walk an errand (rather than “run an errand,” because with my knees, I don’t run for any reason, not even from scary dudes with tattoos all over their face). A neighbor down the block was standing in his yard behind a tree where I couldn’t see him, watering his grass on the other side of the sidewalk, making it impossible for me to pass. I couldn’t holler at him because he’s deaf, so I waved my walking stick. He saw it, swung the stream of water out of my way, and smiled at me. Big doings! In the 1,200 days since I bought my house, this was the first time he ever acknowledged my presence in any way.

I turned the corner, and as I was walking down the street, another neighbor that I’ve had little contact with stopped me to warn about a couple of aggressive dogs that were loose. He’d called dispatch because those dogs are often out harassing passers-by, and although this town supposedly pays for a dog catcher, no one has ever seen the person, so basically, unless I wanted to go home for the weeks it would take for the mythical dog catcher to catch the dogs, I was on my own.

Those dang dogs did come running after me, though they couldn’t get close because I was waving my sticks around. (I don’t know about walking softly, but carrying a big stick — or two — is always a good idea when walking in this town.) Luckily, another walker came up behind me, and the dogs left me alone and started harrying him, which didn’t seem to bother the other walker at all.

Eventually, the dogs ran off, but they found me again on my way home. The same neighbor who warned me about them jumped in his truck and got between me and the dogs until the dogs lay down for a nap — too much excitement for them, I guess. On his way back to his house, the neighbor pulled up next to me and said he’d been talking to the deputy the dispatcher had sent, but before the deputy could do anything about the dogs, he got another call and took off.

When I got home, I noticed the deputy talking to my next-door neighbor. (Since the deputy was just around the corner, that was probably the fastest response anyone in this town ever got after calling the sheriff.) Turns out, the scary dude was hiding beneath my other next-door neighbor’s bushes. I tend to think the dude ran off before he was apprehended because I didn’t see anyone in the official vehicle. Maybe the escaped dogs and the escaped dude are hanging around together, though I wouldn’t know. I’ve decided this is a good day to make sure everything is locked up and to stay inside.

So, there you have it. Other people might be celebrating Father’s Day or Juneteenth or National Martini Day or even World Sauntering Day, but me? I’m celebrating a safe return home after my action-packed saunter, as well as my 1000th blog post.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.