Remembering

It’s amazing to me that after seventy-six straight days of blogging, I can forget to blog. I didn’t actually forget because here I am, and it’s not quite the end of the day. The truth is, I am here only because I happened to catch a glimpse of my note reminding me to blog. I’ll probably have to start leaving myself a note reminding me to remember to look at the note reminding me to blog.

Not that it’s important — I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a day off from my mental meanderings — it’s just that I challenged myself to write a blog every day for one hundred days, and it’s the one challenge I’ve ever managed to complete. (This is the second time I’ve done this — the last time, once the hundred days were finished, I kept going for four years!) It seemed like a good idea back then, but right now? Not so much. I’m too tired to make sense of this day.

I spent most of the morning and afternoon baking, and now my freezer is filled with cookies, not just those I made today, but those I made a couple of weeks ago.

It’s strange to be doing all this baking. I don’t usually keep things like flour and sugar on hand because I try (not very successfully) to stay away from both wheat and sugar, and if I have treats on hand, I eat them. I don’t know where this urge to bake has come from. Maybe it has to do with having my own grown-up Suzy Homemaker kitchen. Maybe it’s because I’m remembering my mother, which I have often done ever since I got this house. I’ve been especially interested in making the cookies she used to make at this time of year, like Cherry winks and date nut pinwheels.

I’ve been remembering my father, too. Some friends invited me to a VFW Auxiliary dinner this evening, with the hopes that I would join the organization. My father’s Navy service in World War II would make me eligible . . . maybe. He didn’t serve in a foreign country, unless the Bermuda triangle can be considered such — he was one of those tasked with trying to track down the planes that disappeared in that area. More than that, he was a great one for making notes to help him remember, so every time I make a note, I remember him.

Now that I think about it, I’ve been remembering all my dead — not just Jeff and my mother and my father, but also two of my brothers. The memories seem strong here where I now live, though this is neither a house nor an area where any of them have ever even visited. But I am here. And the memories came with me.

I might need notes to remind me of certain things, such as writing a blog, but I do not need a note to remind me of all those who are gone.

I remember.

***

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.

 

 

Suzy Homemaker

When I was a little girl, I wanted a toy oven that really worked. Actually, now that I think of it, I’m not sure it was the oven I wanted but the accessories — small baking pans, child-size utensils, and especially the miniature boxes of cake and muffin mixes.

My mother, being the practical woman that she was, thought those mixes ridiculously high priced for the little that came in the package. (I’m sure she thought the adult-size mixes too high-priced, because she baked everything from scratch.)

On Christmas morning, I found huge present, almost as tall as I was. Instead of the tiny boxes of mixes that I wanted, she had given me dozens of full-size mixes as well as a full-size Pyrex mixing bowl set.

Somehow, she just didn’t get it.

Still, it was sweet and thoughtful of her. I enjoyed using those mixes, of course, and the bowls, which I kept for many years, though I don’t know what eventually happened to them. (I think the orange Pyrex bowl I found in her kitchen when I cleaned out the house after my father died was mine, but I couldn’t keep it — I already had too much stuff.)

Well, now I have my very own kitchen, and though all my utensils and such are adult-sized, I still love small things. I spent several days baking, not just making my pretty flower cookies, but miniature cranberry muffins,

Miniature toffee bars,

And, even some full-size cookies that I baked and painted free-hand for an upcoming Snowman (Snowperson? Snowfolk? Snowpal?) exhibit at the museum.

In another couple of weeks, it will be the twelfth anniversary of my mother’s death, and I wonder what she thinks of me now, in my own house, in my own kitchen, using my own oven to make baked goods from scratch — and not a cake mix in sight!

***

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.

Nest Building

I’d been counting the days until it got cool enough to start planting the three hundred spring bulbs I bought. The instructions said not to plant until the highs were consistently in the mid-60s or cooler, and today was supposed to be the day. A couple of times during the past weeks I’d almost given in to the urge to start plant, but considering what a non-green thumb I have, I figured I needed to give those poor plants the best start possible.

So I waited.

After a few unexpected (and lovely) eighty-degree days, the temperature did drop today as forecast, so I got all gussied down and went out to play farmer.

And then the winds came. Severe winds.

Being stubborn, I didn’t let a little — or a lot — of wind force me inside, but I postponed the precision work of planting the bulbs for another time. Just as well. The guys who’d put up the fence hadn’t yet finished burying the bottom of the chain link fabric, and they’d left the dirt they were going to use piled in the middle of front yard where I’d planned to plant. So I raked leaves away from the fence and moved the dirt — shovelful by shovelful — where it belonged. Then I gathered up the leaves, and smashed them to use for mulch.

Such excitement!

I’m laughing to myself. A friend made a remark the other day about certain blogs that said nothing important (she wasn’t referring to mine; she hadn’t known I had a blog), and well . . . I sure hope she doesn’t read this one. Talk about nothing important!

Not important in the grand scheme of things, that is. The job was very important to me — to be outside despite the wind, to work physically, to accomplish something. To continue building my nest. And that nest building, of course, is the most important of all.

It’s taken me my whole life to get to the point where not only could I own a house but that I wanted to. And anything I do for my home is a way of honoring the house, and me, and the painful journey it took to get here.

***

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.

Joys of Planning

I still have scabs and scars from the multitude of mosquitoes that feasted on me this summer, but I’ve already made plans for protecting myself next year. For example, I bought some khaki pants (they love the black pants I normally wear) and I intend to soak them in permethrin to make them abhorrent to the little monsters. I’m also collecting long sleeve shirts I won’t mind wearing for gardening or painting or any of the myriad outside chores that come with owning a house. And even though I do not like bug killers, I will spray my yard in self-defense. I tend to be allergic, and do not get small bumps and short-lived itching that apparently are the norm; instead I get immense lumps that itch for weeks.

Despite what it might sound like, the issue here is not the mosquitoes, but the planning. It’s been many years since I could pretty much count on being in a certain place the following year. I have lived on the edge of uncertainty for so long, that it’s a real joy to be able to plan on being somewhere and to know that, with a little luck, I will be that “somewhere.”

I have planned, of course, but always in the back of my mind was the qualifier: If I am here.

This need to qualify the future started long before Jeff died. His health was iffy for so long that we never knew from one day to the next if we could follow through on any plans, never knew if he’d even be around to put those plans into action. It was the same thing when I went to take care of my dad. I never knew from one day to the next if he’d be around and if I’d have a place to live. After he was gone, I traveled, never quite knowing where I’d be the next day, and when I returned to my dad’s town, I rented various rooms, and again, never quite knew how long I’d be there. I knew I couldn’t stay in California — didn’t want to stay — but with no compelling reason to move, I just . . . stayed.

Besides not being able to plan, I couldn’t buy anything big even if I wanted to because I didn’t know if it would fit whatever lifestyle I might have. Would I be forever a nomad? Would I move to a city? Would I bunk with a friend?

Well, now I know. Now I can plan.

And I’m planning what to do next summer when the mosquito invasion begins.

***

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.

Putting the Pieces Together

Today is my twentieth straight day of blogging. So far, I am honoring my commitment to blog for 100 days straight, though I almost didn’t make it today. The note by my computer reminding me to blog got knocked over (during a wild game of solitaire) and without the reminder, it was too easy to let the day go by.

Not that the day was easy. It wasn’t particularly hard, either, just . . . well, let’s call it a rerun. When I first moved here, much of my stuff was stored in the enclosed porch, but when the workers came to redo the foundation of the porch (there were only two small columns of concrete on either end of the 20-foot room, and since that wasn’t enough to hold up the weight of the house, the porch was rapidly sinking), I had to move all the stuff into the garage. At the time, I thought it was the final move for the camping equipment, tools, and things I wasn’t ready to throw away — there’d been a huge crack down the center of the garage, and the patch seemed to hold. But then came a freeze/thaw cycle, and that was the end of my pretty floor. Now the crack is bigger than ever.

The workers are planning on coming later this week to redo the garage foundation as well as the concrete floor, and so all the stuff had to be moved. I’m hoping by the time I get it all back in the garage, it can stay there.

There are so many bits and pieces to putting together a home, it seems like I am forever moving the pieces around, trying to get it right — and to get my life right. I seem to manage not to do things I should, like exercise, and I seem to manage to do things I shouldn’t — like eat unhealthy things.

I’m sure there are also extraneous pieces that will need to be set aside one day, but that’s not a problem for today.

(I found this quite disturbing piece in a puzzle of featuring a cardinal in a cottonwood. It took me awhile to realize I had it upside down and that it was not part of the bird but a face. It took me even longer to discover that it is part of Chaz Palminteri’s face from a movie puzzle.)

***

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.

Don’t Fence Me In

Oh, wait. Do fence me in! At least do so if you are the people putting up my new fence.

I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of fencing myself in — I worried I would feel a bit like a prisoner, and I worried it would cause problems with the neighbors since the fence would cut off some of the access to their vehicles. But I do like the safety factor, even if it is mostly an illusion.

This town is a mixture of the good and the iffy, with less than 50% of the houses owner occupied. The street where I live is wonderful, though there have been instances of people walking off with stuff that doesn’t belong to them, more homeless are moving to the area, and the drug dealers are quite blatant. One drug dealer lives on the corner, and a couple of drug dealers supposedly got in a gunfight in the rental across the alley right before I moved here. (The rumor is that one of the guys killed the other, but the dead guy has been seen on the streets of a nearby town, and the killer was never arraigned. They say he could have been a cop or agent checking out the local drug situation.)

To my surprise, I feel good about the fence, and not just because it will protect against impulse theft, keep dogs out, and deter the reprobates. I think my neighbors have come to an acceptance, not of the fence, but of my need for the fence. (Whew!) And I don’t feel at all as if I’m fenced in, at least not in a bad way. It feels as if I am claiming my territory, and expanding my home into the outside.

When I moved here, only a fraction of the backyard was fenced, and originally, I liked the idea of a small yard, but it turns out I like the big yard even better. Although it’s only about 1/6th of an acre, this property feels quite substantial with the little fence out and the big one in. It will feel even more substantial when the garage is done and the carport out. (Right now, it sits in the middle of my backyard.)

I’m so looking forward to planting flowers and bushes and whatever else I can think of to make my outside “room” as livable and homey as my inside rooms.

***

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.

A Dirty Little Tale

I used to love wall-to-wall carpets. I grew up with wooden floors in the bedroom, and even with bedside rugs, oh, were those floors cold in the Colorado winter! As an adult, I always had carpets. Carpeting not only made the floors warmer, but seemed to give rooms a warm, welcoming feeling.

The first time I wondered about carpets was after the carpets in my dad’s house were cleaned before putting house on the market. The dark areas in doorways and at the base of sofas came clean, but then, though the carpet cleaner bragged about his expensive, top-of-the-line, sucks-everything-up machinery, it took only a few days before the dirt started rising to the surface.

Then, after moving into the room where I lived for a couple of years before moving back to Colorado, I really wondered. That room had a truly filthy carpet. It had supposedly been cleaned before I moved in, but walking on it made the soles of my feet turn black. After a few months of my complaints, the landlord had the carpet cleaned. It looked great for a day or two, then the dirt again became apparent. Finally, he hired a professional. And the same thing happened. Looked good for a couple of days, then they went back to looking as dirty as they had before cleaning. And that triple-cleaned carpet still turned my feet black, so even in the heat of the desert summer, I had to wear something on my feet while in my room.

This house I bought seven months ago doesn’t have carpets. At first, I worried about freezing my feet, but so far there hasn’t been a problem.

What is surprising is how dirty the floors get.

It’s been just a few days since I last cleaned, but this morning, I dusted, swept and dry mopped (turning the dust mop black with dirt), then I damp mopped with Murphy’s Oil and a dash of Old English lemon oil. And the damp mop turned black, too.

The dirt isn’t a problem. Although I live alone without pets, change the furnace filter, don’t wear shoes in the house, and have a sort of mud area to put on and take off shoes, this is an old, house, it’s a windy area, and dirt happens. Luckily, the floors are easy to clean.

What shocks me every time I clean, though, is what a difference a carpet would make. All that dirt I can easily clean up would get ground into a carpet, and from my experience, vacuuming and even steam cleaning does not remove any but the surface dirt. In addition to that, carpets emit fabric dust and can emit toxic fumes.

Yikes.

So now, suddenly, I have an entirely different view of carpets.

And — not so suddenly — I have developed a fondness for my very warm-looking (and clean!) antique hardwood floor.

***

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.