Winter Interlude

Well, today was the day. A warm spell between two cold, dry spells. So guess what I did? I watered my grass.

It seems silly to water the lawn in the middle of January, but this isn’t an ordinary January. The average temperature seems to remain about the same, but we go from above normal to below normal, which averages out to . . . normal. With no moisture except one decent snowfall and one light dusting, the recommendation from the people I bought the grass from was to make sure it got plenty of water even in the winter.

So I finally caught the right day. I missed the last perfect day because I had to work, and although the highs have been respectable, the lows were way low, so the hoses didn’t thaw out. And to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have thawed out. I tend to sprinkle myself as well as the lawn when I set the hoses, and I don’t fancy myself as a Patsicle.

I don’t expect to have this situation once the grass takes hold, but the lawn is still too new to be left to the vagaries of the weather. And anyway, it was a pleasant day, and I had a chance to be outside for a while and soak up some sun, though how much sun I soaked up wearing a winter coat and a sun hat, I don’t know. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

Tomorrow will be another day much like today, but I doubt I will water again. With a new cold cycle starting, the moisture won’t be evaporating any time soon. So, a whole day to myself with nothing on the schedule! Wow! I’ll certainly enjoy the freedom.

[I just deleted a whole section that mentioned plans for after my day of freedom. The Tarot cards today warned me to be prudent, keep silent about future plans, and take into confidence only those I absolutely must. I figured since I go through the trouble of reading the cards every day, I ought to heed them when they offer good advice. I certainly don’t want to advertise when I’ll be away, even though I have nothing anyone wants, except perhaps the house itself.]

I hope you’re doing okay wherever you are, and that those caught in the winter storms sweeping across the USA will be safe and warm.

Incidentally, those aren’t my sprinklers in the photo, and that’s not my grass. The sprinklers I have are the kind that can be held by hand or placed on the ground. I use them both ways, on the ground for large areas, by hand for the narrow strips. In the spirit of prudence, I thought it best not to post a photo of my house and lawn, though I have done so many times before.

***

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

Dedusted

I actually felt like playing house today and had the energy to do it, so I dry mopped then wet mopped the floor and dedusted all hard surfaces.

Yes, I know — dedusted is not a word, but it should be. The way the word stands, “dust” as a verb is the opposite of itself. For example, when snow dusts the ground, it means that a light coating of snow was deposited on the ground. Some cookie recipes require you to dust the finished cookie with powdered sugar, which means to putting a light coating of sugar on the cookie. I dusted today, but I did not leave a coating of dust on the ground. In fact, the rooms were already dusted with a powdering of dirt particles. So, see? When I cleaned off that dusting, I dedusted. If I had redusted, then I could say I dusted the room, but I didn’t add another layer of dust; I removed what was there.

Look at it a different way: if you bug a room, you place electronic bugs in the room. If you debug the room, you remove the bugs. If you code a text, you put that text into code. If you decode it, then you remove the code to reveal the plain text. If you clutter a room . . . You see where I am going with this.

It is interesting to me though, that a whole slew of words mean the opposite of themselves, not just “dust,” as I pointed out here, but “cleave,” which means both to cling and to unite and “trim” which means to add something or remove something. In fact, there are so many such autoantonyms, they have their own category name: contranyms.

I just realized that spell checker didn’t underline dedust, so I looked it up, and lo and behold, it is a word, and means exactly what I said it should — to remove fine particles and to free something of dust. Who knew? Not me, obviously, because I thought I was being so very clever and whimsical. The truth sort of puts the kibosh on this whole essay, but I’m posting it anyway because whether I dusted or dedusted, the house is clean.

***

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

Back to Normal

It was cold this morning, with supposedly a wind chill of 25 below. The weather service issued a warning to be careful, that such a chill could give exposed skin frostbite within 35 minutes. I wasn’t concerned because I always bundle up, then I remembered — my face! I don’t wear a ski mask or anything like that, not even a muffler pulled up over my nose, because it tends to fog my glasses, and then the fog freezes. It’s so much better to simply stay inside.

So I did.

Because I’ve been spending so much time inside lately, the Christmas clutter has been getting to me. I figured today was a good day to start putting things away, and to my surprise, not only did I start, but I finished!

Without all the decorations and Christmas boxes and ribbons and such, the living room seems bare, but by tomorrow I will be used to the bareness again.

It’s funny to me how so often in mystery stories, a character who lives in a stark place with no pictures and knickknacks strewn around is suspect. Such a person has to be secretive, burying a shady past or hiding a felonious present.

I hope that’s not true in real life, that people who see my empty walls and lack of knickknacks don’t automatically assume I am not as I appear. And if it is true, I don’t suppose it matters. Mostly, though, people seem to be comfortable when they are here. Without being suffocated by my stuff, visitors can — for the time they are here — write themselves into the place. Many people love to have photos and knickknacks everywhere, which does put a personal touch to their space, but it can be overwhelming to live with. For me, anyway. Hence my empty walls and tables.

I do have a couple of personalizing touches — a book shelf and a glass-fronted cabinet — so my space isn’t a complete blank, but there’s nothing on the coffee table and the only things on the lamp tables are lamps.

There is one room with clutter, and that is my work/play room, but the clutter is that of living — electronics and books and notes and started projects. Oh, and a shelf for all my tarot cards.

I’m hoping for one more cold stay-inside day so I can do a thorough cleaning. I did vacuum up as much of the glitter as I could, but I’m sure a lot of sparkles drifted under the couch and bed the way dust does. Of course, no matter how well one cleans, there will always be a bit of glitter hiding in corners and cracks, so it’s a lost cause, but I would at least like to make an effort now that my living room is back to normal.

***

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

Someone to Call

Apparently the tarot cards are right. This year is starting off with failure and defeat. Actually, that’s not anywhere near the truth. Failure and defeat are sometimes simply in the mind of cursed — a mishap that is a defeat for one person can be one of life’s negligible challenges to take in stride for another, and that is the case here.

I hope you know that my talk of the tarot and its prognostications is more or less me being facetious and playful. Whatever the cards say is not something I take personally. If anything, they seem to reflect my state of mind, and I think that’s because I interpret the cards through whatever my mood is at that particular time.

That being said, I started off the day with a frozen hot water pipe in my kitchen. I had cold water in the kitchen and both hot and cold in the bathroom. To be honest, I didn’t know a hot-water pipe could freeze, at least not more so than a cold-water pipe.

I texted my contractor for help, and he suggested putting a space heater under the sink, and if that didn’t work, he’d come out and unfreeze the pipe for me. So I opened the hot water spigot (to relieve the pressure), put my little electric space heater under the sink, and in the hopes that the hot water in nearby pipes would help, I also took a shower. Not the smartest thing, perhaps, to leave a heater alone in a semi-enclosed space, but this heater is so small and uses so little electricity, that I wasn’t worried.

Whether it was the shower or the heater, I don’t know, but the hot water soon came gushing out of the faucet.

So, not exactly a disaster.

Even if my efforts hadn’t helped, the contractor would have come out or sent one of his workers as he did last year when the entire pipe (both hot and cold) to the kitchen froze. He’ll be replacing the water lines someday, and when he does, I’m going to ask him what all the pipe are, how they connect up, and where they go. I can see some of the water lines, but I’m not sure which are hot and which are cold and where they meet up. (Last year, I guessed wrong about which was the frozen pipe and heated one that wasn’t a problem.)

As long as we’re even and I’m not too far ahead of the contractor with my payments, I’m fine with however long it takes him to do my work because he always responds to my texts, so it’s like having a contractor on retainer. (I must admit I do get worried when the payments get too far ahead for too long because if something happens to him, I’m out the money. I am certainly not going to dun a widow and her fatherless children, and I can’t afford to just write it off.)

It’s not supposed to get down below zero (Fahrenheit) again for a while (apparently eight below is too much for my pipes), so I should be okay. If I remember, the next time I’ll open the cabinet doors under the sink so maybe it won’t get as cold under there as it did last night. That’s assuming, of course, that those are the pipes with a problem.

This is certainly no omen for an unpleasant new year. It’s just typical of the myriad things that need to be taken care of when one owns a house.

It’s funny, now that I think about it. One reason I preferred renting was that when things went wrong, all I had to do was call the landlord, and have him do the work or arrange to have it done. Too many crappy landlords and landladies taught me that this was a naïve view, so I didn’t take the matter into consideration when I had the opportunity to buy. Now, though, I have the best of both worlds. A house of my own, and someone to call.

***

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

A Toast to Mother

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of my mother’s death. I have thought about her more since I moved here to my new home than in all the years since she died. Sometimes the memories come from nowhere, just the odd thought that I haven’t talked to her for a while and should call to see how she is doing.

Sometimes the memory comes from something of hers I have and use. She used to have a cupboard full of unmatched stemware. I kept those goblets when I cleaned out the house after my father died, and so now I, too, have a cupboard of unmatched stemware.

Sometimes an old memory arises, and I’d like to ask her what that was about. For example, decades ago she told me that when I was a baby, I had casts on my legs. I was under the impression that the casts were to correct leg or hip alignment, though why casts, I don’t know, since my siblings all had braces (a curved metal piece connected to shoes). I read that the current research shows that babies’ legs adjust on their own, so I don’t even know if they use such devices anymore. But I never heard of using casts for that problem, and now I will never know what they were for. It never really mattered, but now my feet seem to be turning in more than they used to, and I wonder if age and use is undoing what the casts did. I’ll never know that now, either.

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

I didn’t copy all of her cookie recipes. Neither cherry winks nor date nut pinwheels were favorites of mine when I was young, but a couple of years ago when I suddenly got a taste for those cookies, I thought of calling her and asking for the recipes. Luckily, my sister kept them, thinking that mother’s treat recipes shouldn’t be thrown away so now I’ve collected some of the recipes I didn’t back then. Also, I imagine that at the time I got that first bunch of recipes, I wasn’t considering the distant future when she’d be gone.

Well now, she is.

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

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

***

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.

Inauspicious Day

This was another long day at work, and it turned out to be a good thing, not just because of the extra money but because this was not an auspicious day to do much of anything.

For one thing, last night I dreamt that the neighbor’s tree, which creaks horrendously in the wind, fell and destroyed my garage (even though in actuality, if the humongous branch would fall, it would be his garage that would be destroyed, not mine). This morning, before I was fully awake, tree trimmers came and started working. They were trimming a different neighbor’s tree, but I did not like the coincidence of both the dream and the reality.

Even worse, my tarot card today was the ten of swords (called the ten of weapons on this particular deck) followed by the nine of wands (nine of staves.) The ten of swords is not a good card to get because there is nothing remotely cheerful about it, speaking as it does of misfortune on a grand scale. The second card was the nine of staves, a card of great strength and denotes being prepared for any contingency.

My preparation for the looming disaster was simply to go about my day as planned.

One good thing about a tarot reading (beyond the fact that the cards I turn up so often have nothing to do with me) is that the effects last only until the next reading. Which means tomorrow is a whole other story.

Speaking of story . . . when I was at my client’s house, I read an excerpt from a book where the character mentioned that the tale of how she met her husband was different for each person she told it to. I thought something like that — telling the truth, but picking different elements of the truth to focus on each time you told it — would work well in the small-town novel I am thinking of writing. Perhaps each person in town thinks they know the truth, but since they assume everyone knows the same truth, the salient points get buried until our hero (me!) starts asking questions and sees the variations of the truth. I guess it would be sort of like the folk tale from India about blind men “looking” at an elephant. Each person who touched a single part of the elephant found out a truth that reinforced their own belief, but it was only when they put all the concepts together that they came across the greater truth of what an elephant was.

In a way, I suppose, all mysteries are like that, with every character believing they know the whole truth but only knowing part of it, so perhaps it wouldn’t be such an interesting idea after all. And anyway, I am no closer to writing the book now than I was when I first started thinking about it, so I have plenty of time to figure it out.

Meanwhile, I missed all the commotion of the tree trimming even though the woodchipper was parked in front of my house because I left to go to work. Luckily, the tree was trimmed without any damage to my property except for a few small twigs in my rocks that did not get swept up. I’m back at home now, safe from whatever dangers lurked out there for me. And tomorrow is a new day . . .

***

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.

Raking Up the News

I didn’t watered my grass for a couple of days — the first day was too cold, the second day was very warm but I had to work all day. Even though I didn’t notice any difference in the grass, I gave it a good watering today, letting the hose run while I raked up leaves. Odd how I have no trees except a couple of babies, and yet I get a yard full of leaves from all the neighbors’ trees. In previous years, I never paid attention to the leaves, but I need to make sure they don’t damage my sod, so I did the work. I considered giving the leaves back to the neighbors, but despite my blisters, I was glad to get the leaves. I dumped them among some bushes, thinking they will help rejuvenate the soil when the leaves break down. As someone once said to me, “Compost happens.”

I had to unfortunate task of laying off a handyman who was working at the house I’m taking care of. He was in such a panic over the loss of income, that I hired him to do a couple of small paint jobs the contractor has been putting off. I was kind of surprised (but just kind of) when he never showed up, so even though I’d paid twice for those jobs, I ended up doing them myself. At least the raw wood surfaces are protected now.

A friend had some good news today — my contractor is going to work on her house, which was left unfinished when her husband died. It’s a huge job, and they are both glad to be connected — she needs the work done, and he needs to keep his employees busy. I’m not sure what it will mean for me, though I tend to think my jobs as always will be delayed. I’m not really sure I care, at least not all that much and not all the time, because the undone work gives me a sort of lien on his time. When I have an emergency, he comes right over or sends one of his guys. If all the work around my house was finished, perhaps he wouldn’t be as conscientious about taking care of my problems. On the other hand, he probably would especially now that I recommended him for that big job. And anyway, he does try to look after me when he can.

I asked my friend if she minded if I mentioned her and her unique situation, and she said okay. She was born in Malaysia of Chinese parents, and educated by Irish nuns. She has three sisters — one lives in Malaysia, one in Singapore, one in Australia, and she, of course, lives in the United States. Talk about a far-flung family! Luckily, there is Skype. The sisters talk every weekend, which is more than I do with my own siblings, and they live here in this country.

She would make a great character for my book, though I’m not sure how her story would contribute to whatever story I come up with. For now, I’m just collecting interesting characters and waiting to see if they want to engage with one another, literarily speaking.

Well, that’s about all the news I can rake up for you. I hope you had a more exciting — and blister-free — day than I did.

***

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.

Eternal Good Luck

1000 origami cranes is called a senbazuru, which translates as “1000 cranes.” Legend says the crane lives for 1000 years, and from that legend arose the mystique behind the senbazuru. Paper cranes have come to be a symbol of peace. Before that, they meant healing. Before that, a person who folded a 1000 paper cranes was said to have one special dream come true. Originally (at least I think it was originally — the legend has become so entwined with the story of Sadako and Hiroshima that it’s hard to find the original meaning), folding 1000 paper cranes gave a person longevity and happiness — one crane per year for a thousand years — as well as eternal good luck. (Which is why the cranes are often associated with weddings.) Further, the cranes must all be folded within a year. 

I had no special wish when I started folding my 1000 cranes at the beginning of this year, though I was taken with the idea of good luck forever.

I’m not sure my 1000 crane project is strictly a senbazuru because from what I can gather, a senbazuru has come to mean 1000 cranes strung together and mine are in plastic bags, 10 cranes per sandwich bag, ten sandwich bags per gallon bag. That was the easiest way for me to keep track of how many I had folded, and now that I am finished and my good fortune stowed so neatly, I see no reason to string them. (Though I did string some other origami birds and hung them in my garage so I know where to stop when I pull into the garage.)

Whatever the name — “senbazuru” or simply “1000 paper cranes” — I just finished folding my origami cranes, well within the required time frame. So now it’s a matter of waiting to see what will happen.

Even if the cranes came with a guarantee of eternal good luck, I don’t expect my life to change all that much. I used to think I was bedeviled by bad luck, but over the years I have come to see that I have more good luck than perhaps I deserve. So often, I don’t get what I want (becoming a better selling author, for example) but more often, I get what I need (a temporary job, for example,) Even better, I sometimes don’t get what I neither want nor need (the Bob, for example. I didn’t want it, didn’t need it, and didn’t get it even though I was definitely exposed to the virus).

The biggest example of more luck than I deserve comes in the form of my house and even perhaps my yard, which, with a little more luck will one day be breathtakingly beautiful as well as safe for an aging woman to navigate.

Whatever the future holds, I know I did my part by folding 1000 origami cranes this year.

***

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.

Righteous Exhaustion

With all the work I’ve been doing to landscape my yard, as well as tracking in dirt into the house via my shoes (even though I leave them at the door, the dirt seems to spread throughout the house), I’d pretty much given up housework as a lost cause. Well, today, that cause ceased to be lost and instead became found. And ai yai yai, what a task!

I hadn’t actually planned to clean the house, but I have been in the habit of doing something physical in the mornings. It was too cold to go outside and sitting down to read so early in the day smacked of wanton idleness, so I decided to get rid of the worst of the dust. Well, one thing led to another, and two hours later, I was still working.

This is a small house, and I have various modern cleaning tools at my disposal, so it shouldn’t have taken me very long, but the place needed a thorough cleaning. Apparently, I stopped seeing the dust on the flat surfaces and building up in the corners. Or more to the point, I didn’t want to see because there was nothing I could do (or wanted to do) about it since I was exhausted from my outside activities.

And now I’m exhausted from inside activities.

To be honest, I think all the digging and planting I’ve been doing were easier than cleaning house. Admittedly, everything is brighter now without dust dulling floors and furniture, but still, it was hard work. Now that most of the outside chores are done — only watering my newly sodded lawn and eventually sowing wildflower seeds remain — I should be able to go back to playing house more frequently rather than working at it as I did today.

Wait . . . I just thought of another outside chore I will have to begin doing as soon as the leaves on the neighbors’ trees are gone — blowing leaves off the ornamental rock around my house and garage. I’m not real anxious to attack that job because I have a feeling not all the leaves will blow off since they didn’t on a trial run, but all I can do is the best I (and my tools) can do. The leaf blower blows hard, so that’s not the problem. In fact, on the high setting, it’s enough to blow the rocks around, but some twigs and leaves still remain.

But that’s not a problem for today. Today I just want to bask in righteous exhaustion and the thought of a job well done.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Taking It Easy

Laziness doesn’t pay, at least not for me. Although I’m supposed to water my new lawn every day, yesterday, I refrained — it was too cold and chilly for me to go out, and the high temperatures weren’t going to get very high. I figured when it warmed up today, I could give it a good soaking.

It was a good plan, but plans tend to be overthrown by other plans. As it turned out, I had to work a full day today, so I needed to water before I left. That early, it was much colder than it was yesterday, and all my digits about froze.

I don’t seem to be able to water, either by hand or by sprinkler, without getting soaked. I thought I was being smart by wearing nitrile gloves to keep my hands from getting wet, which did work for that purpose, but those gloves didn’t do anything to stave off the cold.

Luckily, we will have a respite from the cold for several days starting tomorrow. And since I gave the grass a good soaking today, if by any chance I have to miss tomorrow, I’ll be okay.

It’s funny to me that after my dad died, the last person I had any responsibility for, I eschewed every responsibility except for taking care of myself. I didn’t even want a houseplant — it overwhelmed me just thinking of having to care for it. And now here I am, with a house, plants (both indoor and out), a yard and grass. And a job helping to care for an older woman. That’s a lot of responsibility for a person who wants none. But surprisingly, it’s not a problem. I do what I need to do when I need to do it, and then take it easy the rest of the time.

So far so good.

***

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.