My Changing Identity

Before I bought my house, I rented a room in a house. There were three of us — the owner, another tenant, and me. Sounds so Judge Judyish, doesn’t it? Though truly, my only problem was the owner’s careworker who used up one of my favorite spice mixes. But that was minor. And none of this introduction has anything to do with what I plan to write about except to explain why I watched certain movies.

A television and basic programming came with the room rent, but I didn’t watch until the last few months when it occurred to me that I might never have television programming again. (I actually have two televisions, one hooked up to a DVD player and one hooked up to a VCR, but I don’t have programming and I don’t watch any of the movies I’ve stockpiled.) Anyway, that Christmas, I watched Hallmark movies galore. In fact, I watched so many, I was able to tell when the next twist would come. (For example, twenty minutes before the finish, the couple had a huge misunderstanding, and then, five minutes before the end, they finally found out the truth and made up.)

One of the big drivers of such movies is that because of the main character’s problems or her parent’s problems, she has to leave her power job and adopted big city behind and move back to her hometown.

It always seemed such a contrived plot, especially since once she was there, her values suddenly changed, going from a power player to a more laid-back lifestyle. I didn’t have that experience moving here because I’ve always been something of a small-town person even though I grew up in Denver. Back then, though, there wasn’t so much driving every which way — we all more or less lived in our parishes and congregations in our own discrete neighborhoods. Each move I made as an adult took me to smaller towns, except, of course, when I went to look after my father in California, and even that conglomerate of three linked towns had a small-town feel, mostly, I think, because again, I mostly lived in one particular neighborhood, the only one close to the desert.

What I am discovering, however, that despite my feeling at home in this small town, the movie scenario, while trite, it isn’t all that contrived. I noticed that when I moved into a place of my own — a very nice place, probably nicer than I had any right to expect — my sense of self began to change. I was no longer one step away from being homeless but instead was fully homed. My habits changed and I became more of a neatnik than I ever imagined. (Well, except for my office. I still have piles of paper on my desk, heaped blanket and pillows on my daybed, and an empty cup on the bedside table.) I also became houseproud — proud that this house belongs to me as well as being proud of the way it looks and the way I keep it up.

I’ve settled into that version of me — the houseproud one — and now it looks as if I will have to rethink who I am based on the looks of the grounds the house sits on. I’m more of a dirt and weeds with a few scraggly flowers kind of person. And now . . . well, now I’m not. I’m the proud owner of an — almost — landscaped property with reddish paths meandering through brilliant green grass and skirting around bushes that are still too small to be noticeable. But one day those bushes will grow up, the wildflower sections will bloom, and I will live in a showplace.

This all seems so . . . not me. And yet, obviously, it is.

I just need to get my head around that.

***

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.

The Grass is Greener

Today was one of those special days you cannot plan. Or maybe you can, but I sure didn’t. When I was unexpectedly given the day off, I’d planned to go to the library, run a few errands, then work on clues for the mystery at the museum. I got as far as going to the library. Then things changed.

I noticed that the “open” sign was lit at my mechanic’s shop, which is a rarity since he’s been dealing with The Bob and various Bob related side effects for almost a year. I stopped by to see how he was doing, and he seems to be doing well. I asked if he was ready to work on my brakes. When he said yes, I asked when would be a good time. He said, “What about now?”

So I left the car walked home, lugging my books.

A little after that, a trailer full of sod was pulled in front of my house.

A couple of workers started laying the grass. And wow! That grass sure is greener on my side of the fence!

By now, most people’s grass has started to fade, which made mine look fake.

But it’s not fake, and that sort of worries me. All along, I wanted a relatively easy yard to take care of, but I thought one patch of grass in the front would look nice and be easy enough to take care of. But eek! A local landscapers had a couple of pallets of sod left over, and they asked my contractor if he thought I wanted it. I figured a couple of pallets might be a bit more than I wanted, but if so, I thought they could keep laying the sod until they ran out.

Well, they kept laying it down and laying it down, and not only did those rolls of grass cover the front yard, but also all down the side of the house as well as the patch of yard I was going to turn into a wildflower meadow. (Never fear, those seeds will be used to fill in other places in the yard to give it some color.)

There is still more grass left, so tomorrow, they will lay it down where I planned to put a parking space. Why not? I don’t need a parking space and if a rare visitor came and needed to park there for a bit, well, it shouldn’t hurt the grass. And anyway, I have the grass and I don’t have the gravel for the parking space.

All that grass looks great, but now I’m locked into watering and mowing that meandering lawn forever. Perhaps not forever, but certainly for as long as I live here. One mitigating factor is that the grass is so very thick that any weeds will have a hard time finding a place to roost, so just like that (a snap of my fingers) any future weeding will be relegated to a few garden areas.

As for my car . . . apparently, the parts company sent the wrong master brake cylinder. Although it’s listed as the right part, it’s missing a hole or has an extra hole (something about clocking?). Anyway, the car still is not fixed. Maybe Monday.

***

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 Tale of Two Mysteries

I’m supposed to be figuring out a mystery for a “Nite at the Museum” event at the local historical museum, but instead, the bare bones of my next book are poking at me. Not that I know what will happen in that story any more than the I know what will happen at the museum, but I am getting the feel for the story — a woman (Pat!) buys a house years after the death of her husband in an effort to build a new life for herself. As she digs around her yard, cleaning things up, she finds remnants of a previous owner’s life. She gets curious about the woman, and tries to find out what happened to her, but everyone she talks to has a different story. Some think she went to a nursing home in a nearby town. Some think she went to live with a relative in another state. As Pat continues to dig and learns more about the woman’s life, she discovers that the woman was much like her — widowed, alone, elderly, no children, few financial resources, and no one to really care what happened to her. That’s when Pat ramps up her search for woman — because whatever fate the woman met, so might the hapless Pat.

I have no idea if there is a book in these musings or if they are only in my mind to keep me from thinking about what I am supposed to be thinking of — the museum murder.

We have a basic plot for the murder, where the murdered couple (The Crows) were put in a hotel room at the Gardner House that someone else wanted. That someone else had stolen an artifact (or been given it to dispose of it), and hid it in the hotel until the heat was off and now person came back to get the artifact. Why it was necessary to get the pipe that particular night, I haven’t yet figured out, so if you have any ideas, I’d be glad to hear them. Apparently, Mrs. Crow wakes up and sees the thief. The thief swoops down on her, and when she awakes again, she finds herself dead.

What fascinates me about writing is that once a scenario presents itself, research almost always helps bring the story to life. (This has been called the gift of the library gods.)

In this case, research brought me to the Medicine Hat Bundle, which included a ceremonial pipe and a buffalo horn, and was the most sacred possession of the Northern Cheyenne. After a dispute with the Keeper of the Sacred Medicine Hat Bundle, the pipe disappeared until 1908 when a woman named Hattie Gott acquired it from a Southern Cheyenne called Burnt All Over. Hattie Gott donated the artifact to the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1911. The significance of the pipe was finally discovered around 1997, and from what I can tell, it’s been returned to the Northern Cheyenne.

So my dilemma for The Murder of Crows is how the pipe wound up here (Southern Cheyenne territory) at the turn of the twentieth century, eight years before it ended up in Oklahoma, why someone hid it in the Gardner House, and why reclaiming it was so urgent as to necessitate killing the occupants of the room where it was hidden.

I suppose it could have been stolen again, either on purpose (knowing what it was), or accidentally (not knowing what it was). I also need to have some idea of what the thief hoped to gain by owning the pipe. Maybe holding it for ransom if the person knew what it was? Or desperate to get rid of it and the bad luck that followed it if the person didn’t know what it was? Although the pipe was supposed to be good luck for the Northern Cheyenne, it brought bad luck to other folk. It’s probable that the pipe was placed in the room previously, and only now has the person found a chance to return to the area to retrieve it.

So confusing!

No wonder it’s easier to think about a novel I might or might not write in some eventless future rather than thinking about a mystery event I have to create in the very near future.

Like before the end of the month. Eek!

***

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

A Place That’s Uniquely My Own

It’s hard for people to understand one another because each of us come with particular problems, needs, and perhaps even assets that help define who we are. If we don’t take all that background information into consideration, we can never truly understand another person’s point of view. That’s a good thing for me to remember as a writer because it might make for a deeper character portrayal or put the story in a different light, but in real life, it’s not so interesting.

I talked to someone yesterday who harangued me for quite a while about my keeping the same contractor. The word “sucker” was even bandied about. To be honest, most people don’t approve of this particular choice, but they tend to keep their opinions to themselves. And admittedly, they do have a point since the contractor is way behind on the work he’s promised to do, but that’s not the issue here.

The person I talked to is young (well, younger), married, strong, has an extended family in the vicinity, has lived in the same area his whole life so he has a solid place in the community and knows where to go and who to call to get things done that he can’t do himself. He probably also has people who owe him favors from years back.

Then there’s me. Old. Alone. No family in the area. No ties to the community except those I’ve managed to secure in the past couple of years. No idea how to take care of a house or where to find honorable people who will get things done.

Not surprisingly, the only person who agrees with me about sticking with the same contractor is also an older widow with a house to take care of and no family nearby. She knows, because she’s been there, how almost impossible it is to find someone who will do all that is necessary, and who will respond to calls and concerns, and who will show up in an emergency. All of that is as important as the work getting done.

I do get frustrated at times, but the truth is, in some odd way, it doesn’t really matter. The work will get done. Or it won’t. Someone told me that the Chinese have a proverb that when your house is done, you will die. At the rate I’m going, I will live forever. (And, since I’m paraphrasing proverbs, the Irish have one they’ve used since the 1300s about better the devil you know.)

The other thing that’s hard to admit to anyone but myself is that I’m not sure I want the work to be finished. Certainly, I want the jobs that are started to be completed because I get tired of tripping over things that are in the way, but there is an excitement to having people come and work on my place and even offer suggestions. (Some of the unfinished projects are ideas they’ve come up with that I would never have thought of and that will vastly improve the accessibility of the property as I age.) It’s almost . . . familial . . . having someone else care about and get invested in creating a safe and attractive place for me to live out my final years.

And when the work is all done, that part of my life will be finished.

Perhaps these are simply excuses for keeping the status quo, but they’re my excuses, coming from a place and a point of view and a set of requirements that’s uniquely 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

I Dig Digging

Lots more digging today! I did my morning stint after I came home from the mechanic’s shop without any work being done on my car. (The shop was closed, so I hope he’s not having another setback.)

I can’t do much digging at a time, only a strip of one or two feet by eight feet because the soil is compacted clay held together by the dense roots of Bermuda grass. To be honest, I don’t care how little I do. I’m just delighted to be able to do any physical work at my age. Apparently, I am considered elderly, which isn’t as bad as being called an old woman. I mean I am one, but still, it’s demoralizing to be defined in such a way. In my world, I’ve never been this age before, so it’s new to me. In fact, this is the youngest I will ever be, and besides, I still have the whole rest of my life ahead of me. Does that sound old-womanish? No, I didn’t think so.

But I digress.

After I did my morning dig, I relaxed a bit, so when the mail came with a package of plants that needed to be put to bed, I was raring to go. Luckily, it’s a lovely day with a cool breeze, so it didn’t matter that I was out working just after noon. (Last week, the afternoons were hot enough to give me heatstroke if I did anything outside.)

The plants are magnus echinacea. I ordered one plant a year ago, and it seems to be doing well, so I thought I’d try a few more. They are in their new home now. Since they don’t like to be transplanted, I hope they like where I put them.

One other gardening project I did today was start a notebook at the suggestion of one of my gardening readers. I got an empty binder, which I will fill with the planting guides that come with my purchases, descriptions of the plants, location in my yard, and whatever else I need to keep track of. The yard is a good size, but it’s not so big that I couldn’t keep track of all my plantings, but there is that elderly thing, so who knows when the memory will go. Having a ready guide to my various gardens should make up for any forgetfulness.

I’m glad I didn’t get a house with a yard that was already landscaped. I think it would have been too much for me to keep up at the beginning — it was complicated enough getting to know the care and feeding of a house without dealing with someone else’s idea of what a yard should be. This way, I get to figure it out as I go along. And if I eventually decide it’s too much and let it go, well, it will only be myself I’m letting down and not some master gardener.

Tomorrow will be another cool day before we hit the nineties again, so more digging is in my forecast.

***

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

Dreaming a Garden

After Jeff died, I did many things that ordinarily I wouldn’t have done, such as taking dance classes and joining a hiking club, because I worried that otherwise I’d stagnate, that I’d become the crazy cat lady sans cats, the one who was so alone that she’d be dead a week before anyone ever noticed she was gone.

Even after I moved here, I kept up with socializing, and I did rather well for a year until The Bob came and changed everything. Now I spend most of my time by myself, with only my job, a weekly visit to the library, and a monthly get together with the art guild to take me out of myself.

Perhaps I am on the way to stagnation as I feared, but the one saving grace is my interest in gardening, which means I won’t be the catless cat lady, I’ll be that old lady who is only seen when she is outside working on her garden. There are people around who, I am sure, would make sure I don’t devolve into that woman, but more to the point, there will be the garden.

I’m still such a neophyte that no matter what I do, a percentage of what I plant ends up dead, but that is not discouraging me. In fact, just today, I received a mailer from a plant company for things to plant this fall. Cold hardy hibiscus. Carpet phlox. Oriental poppies. Shade loving astilbe. Even the names are evocative! My ability to keep plants alive in both the burning heat of mid-summer and the bitter cold of mid-winter isn’t what I would like it to be, though I wonder at times if the problem is solely with me and if perhaps the soil, the plants themselves, or the seller share some of the blame. There’s only one company I ever purchased plants from who sent plants that are all still alive a year later. The plants from other companies don’t fare as well; in fact, all but two of the plants I got from a company that specializes in prairie plants never made it through the winter.

Still, I try. It seems to me as if my gardening expertise is a lesson in hope over reality. But I continue to dream anyway. And as long as I can dream, even if it is only dreaming a garden, I won’t stagnate. Oh, I might well become the neighborhood crazy lady, though in my own head and in my own garden, I’ll be active and spirited and very much alive.

One of these days, too, I’ll get back into writing, though I haven’t yet thought of a story or characters I’d be willing to live with for the year or so it will take to write the book.

Meantime, it’s a matter of deciding what plants to order and where to put them.

***

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

Impact of Owing A House

On my way home from the library yesterday, I passed the hardware store and exchanged a few words with the workers who were outside taking a break. When I continued on, it dawned on me that owning a house has had some odd impacts on my life, including this one. I had never before been on a first name basis with any hardware store employee. Nor has any hardware store employee ever known where I lived. One of the workers lives around the corner from me, but that’s just a coincidence. Mostly they know me because of deliveries they have made to my house.

I’m also on a first name basis with contractors and other laborers.

Those aren’t the only impacts on my life because of home ownership, they are just the ones that got me to thinking. Some of the changes to my life since moving here would be the same whether I owned or rented, such as a library within a few blocks, easy access to a grocery store, and nice neighbors. I tend to think the neighbors are a bit nicer to me because I own the house; after all, if I own, I am one of them and will be around for a long time if everything goes as planned. Also, I’ll take care of my property unlike most of the renters around here.

The most basic impact is a feeling of being at home. As long as Jeff and I were together, I always felt at home because as long as we were together, that was my home. After he died, I tried to find a sense of home in myself, and mostly succeeded. Oddly, until now, the feeling of being at home was strongest when I was camping in a national park because to a certain extent, the parks belong to me (to all of us), and when I paid my camping fee, that small plot of land was specifically mine for the nights I stayed there.

Almost as important as a feeling of being at home is peace of mind. For almost the entire decade after Jeff died, I was unsettled and uncertain. I often brooded about what I wanted, where I wanted to move, where I could afford to live, how to start over. That last point was a major one, because truly, how does one start their life from scratch? Well, I’ve done it — started my new life — so I don’t have to think about that anymore. Nor do I have to think about where to go because I’m here. And, since I’m working, I don’t have to worry how to pay for this new life.

Also, for the first time in a decade, I don’t think about what I have to get rid of. I got rid of a huge amount of stuff after Jeff died, and then again before I moved my things into storage after my father died, and yet again before I moved here. Even though the current philosophy seems to be that if you haven’t used something in a year, you should get rid of it, I don’t subscribe to that idea any more. I’ve gotten rid of so many things over the years I needed to repurchase, that as long as I have space, I might as well keep what I have. Obviously, as time goes on and I reach my expiration date, I’ll have to get rid of almost everything so no one will have the huge chore of sorting through my stuff when I’m gone, but until them, everything I own has a place. After the huge increase in possessions when I bought this house and furnished it as well as adding a garage, I’ve made no major additions to my possessions. Well, there are all the outside things I’m doing — the landscaping and plants and such — but those aren’t really possessions, they are simply additions to the property that will remain in place.

Having a permanent address is another benefit of owning my house since I won’t have to change the address until . . . well, until I have to because of age or whatever.

I’m sure there many other ways that home ownership has affected my life but they don’t come to mind at the moment. What does come to mind, however, is the thought — still so surprising to me — of how much I love owning my own home. I can feel it wrap around me like a well-worn and comfortable garment. Any place I’ve lived in the past was simply a place to park myself, but owning a house makes me feel as if I have a partner in life, as if the house and I are in this together. I take care of it, and so far, it has taken care of me.

And yes, I am exceedingly grateful for this blessing.

***

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

To Shirk or Not to Shirk

I was on my way out the door to take my car in to get the brakes fixed when I got a call from the mechanic cancelling the appointment. Even though he’d ordered the part in plenty of time, it turns out the company he ordered it from, which generally has next day service, had to special order it. So it won’t get here for a few more days. That’s the joy of owning a classic car! Luckily, I can still drive. The brakes work fine, but the warning light keeps coming on, so I never drive anywhere I would need to slam on the brakes in an emergency. Mostly I do what I’ve done for the past year and a half — drive the car slowly through town then head out on the four-lane highway until the end of the divided highway, then I come back and do whatever errands I need to do.

Because I can still drive, it’s not that big of a deal that he cancelled, but it did leave me feeling a bit lost as often happens when plans go awry. So I decided to clean house. There’s been a musty smell in here lately, though I’m not sure where it comes from — perhaps the dust I drag in from outside on my apparel, or maybe because I have to sleep with the windows closed due to the continual bad air quality alerts, or possibly because of the stale smoke blowing in from the fires on the west coast. I’ve let the dust build up more than I like lately since I’ve been spending so much time on my garden, and I thought this was the perfect time to get everything cleaned up.

Now the house smells like Murphy’s Oil and furniture polish. (I add the furniture oil to the diluted Murphy’s oil in the hope that it will help hydrate my 93-year-old unfinished wood floors, and so far it seems to work.)

Then I had to go check on the house I’m looking after for absent friends and take photos of some work that’s being done. And on the way back I picked up a few groceries.

I still have a few more things to do today (payback for yesterday, where I did nothing but lounge around and read), including going to work. My next planless day won’t come until the weekend, but that’s okay. It will be even more enjoyable since all my chores should be done and I won’t have any reason to feel guilty for being indolent. To be honest, I don’t feel guilty even if I do have reason to feel guilty — after all, there’s no fun in shirking one’s duties if there are no duties to shirk.

On the other hand, as I discovered today after all my work, there is fun — or at least a feeling of smugness — in not having shirked the day’s duties.

***

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

Looking Good!

It seems as if I wait and wait and wait, and nothing every gets done around here. Well, it seems that way because it’s true, the waiting part, anyway. When people do show up to work, however, they get things done quickly.

Because of work that was done last evening and this morning, the rocks around the house are mostly in place, and a good start was made on the pathway to the back yard.

The pathway on the left as you’re facing the house, the one they’ve been working on, seems so very red, but it will fade to a pale terra cotta to match the path on the right. In the corner on the right, there will be a gray slag parking space. When I bought the house, a driveway ran beside the house all the way to the back. When the fence was put up, a double gate was installed to create access to that driveway. I don’t need the driveway anymore because my new garage is in the back off the alley, so a walking path went in next to the house. But since the double gate is still there, I figured I might as well make use of it. Hence, the parking space that will be laid sooner or later.

I’ll be putting sod in the left-hand corner of the yard. I’m afraid if I merely seed the area, weeds would take over before the grass could have a chance to grow. Besides, it will be nice to have a spot of green in the front yard. That’s assuming anyone will show up to do lay the sod for me.

I’m not sure when any workers will be back here, but for now I’m just glad that they got as much done as they did before they took off to do other jobs.

***

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

Just Like That

Awhile back, I accepted a job as a part-time caregiver (more of a companion, to be honest) for an older woman. I promised to stay a year, and wow! Just like that (snapping my fingers), the year is gone. I signed up for another few months, which is nice for all concerned. I get along well with the women, both the client and her permanent caregiver, they get a break from each other, and I get help with some of my expenses, most notably, my gardening expenses.

I spent a nice chunk of my paycheck on bulbs to plant for this fall. I got carried away, and so my spare time (weather permitting), will be spent preparing the soil for the bulbs. I have a good idea where the bulbs will go, so that’s good. Tulips will go alongside one of my garden paths, and lilies will go to augment the lilies I already have, so that eventually I will have a lily forest.

One area of the yard I have no idea what to do with is the six-foot space between the two sidewalks in my back yard that lead from my back door to the garage and gazebo. This year, I just planted whatever seeds I had plus any extraneous purchased plants. What seemed like a good idea has devolved into rather a mess, and I don’t want a repeat of that next for next year.

I’ve been considering a combination of cosmos, zinnia, larkspur, and baby’s breath because all of those go well together, but since those are all tall plants, I’m not sure how well they’d fit in the overall scheme of my yard. I considered various flowering groundcovers, but none of the samples I bought and planted seemed to take hold. In fact, some of them simply disappeared.

Luckily, I don’t have to make any decision about that particular garden space quite yet. We haven’t even made it through this summer. But the fall and winter will go fast (in fact, by the time next spring comes around, my most recent job stint will have come to an end), and I’ll need to have some idea what to do. I guess if inspiration doesn’t strike, I’ll go with my idea of zinnias, cosmos, larkspur and baby’s breath. Considering that those are all annuals, it would give me an extra year to decide what would look good in that area. Maybe a perennial about a foot tall with big showy flowers. I have no idea what that would be, but it would give me a place to start looking, because (snap) just like that, it will be spring and time to plant.

***

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