Small Challenges of Homeownership

There have been a few small challenges I’ve faced lately in my new adventure of homeownership. For most people, especially if they are coupled, none of these things would even be considered challenges. The person who knows how to do things simply does them. But when you are alone, you have to hunker down and deal with the situation yourself.

For example, the other night the water went off. If the electricity goes out at night, a quick look out the window lets me know if it is an area outage or if the outage is mine alone. But with water, there’s no way to tell. I did look out the window to see if my neighbor’s lights were on — if so, I could have texted her to see if she was having the same problem. But she seemed to be down for the night. Since I couldn’t call her, couldn’t call the water company, I started to panic. There is nothing that makes a person feel so alone as when there is a problem and there’s no one around you can ask “What do I do now?”

Well, I took a deep breath and realized there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t as if I were in any danger, and I had plenty of water to drink, to brush my teeth and get cleaned up for the night. I even had enough to pour into the toilet tank in case I had a flush emergency. If there was a problem with my plumbing, such as a broken pipe, there wasn’t anything I could do in the middle of the night anyway.

So I went to bed. End of problem. Literally the end. When I got up, the water was back on.

Today, I dealt with another small situation — changing the furnace filter. I suppose I should have done it a couple of months ago, but I am not fond of going down to the basement, though it does seem a bit less dungeon-y than when I first moved here. When the walls and floor are painted, I hope that will be the end of the dungeon feeling, but there will always be those steep stairs to give me pause.

Still, I did what I needed to do. Luckily, I’d already been tutored on how to change the filter, so that wasn’t a problem. It did make me wonder though, what to do if the furnace goes out. Is there a gas shut off valve? Or does the furnace automatically shut off? I’ll have to ask next time the contractor comes (next week, maybe!)

I know what to do when the electricity goes out — mostly just wait until it comes on. (I have flashlights within easy reach, head lamps to make reading easy, and plenty of batteries.) I now know what to do when the water goes off. I know what to do when the smoke alarms start chirping. I even know what to do when they start shrieking for no reason (pull the crazy-making thing out of its socket!) I figured out how to change the battery on the thermostat when it needed changing.

So gradually I am meeting all these small challenges of homeownership, and once met, they are no longer a challenge.

There is always something new to contend with, however, and as long it’s not something dangerous, like the house filling up with gas fumes, I’ll be fine. If something dangerous does happen, well, I’ll do the best I can. Meantime, I am careful. Dryers have been known to start fires, so I never leave the house when the washer or dryer are being used. I am careful about turning off the stove and making sure there is nothing on the surface that can catch fire or melt. Even though it’s electric, it can still cause problems. (I once unthinkingly wiped a drip from the ceramic top, and melted a so-called cotton cloth. Since cotton doesn’t melt, it had obviously been mislabeled.)

I figure such good habits will serve me well in my old age when/if I get more forgetful and less vigilant. But that’s not problem for today, and hopefully, not ever. Supposedly, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And the challenges of homeownership are certainly sufficient unto each day without having to worry about things that may never happen.

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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.

Struck Home

For Christmas, I received a tea towel with the saying “there’s no place like home” on it, and when I saw towel lying there in the box, the saying really struck home.

Ever since Jeff died, even though I’ve always found a place to rest my head at night, I often felt homeless. He had been my home. Wherever the two of us were, that was home.

After he died, I went to stay at with my father. His house wasn’t the place where I’d grown up, and though I was comfortable at my father’s house, somehow it never felt like home. Although he mostly took care of himself, I had to always keep an ear out in case he needed me so I couldn’t completely relax, and even more than that, I was aware that those living arrangements were only temporary.

When I took my cross-country road trip, I felt at home in national parks and monuments. After all, as a citizen, those parks did belong to me, and the space where I pitched my tent especially was mine. Gradually, as the months passed, I learned to find home within myself, so that I felt at home no matter where I was, not just in a campground, but in a motel room or at a friend’s house.

When I returned from the trip, I lived in a series of rented rooms, rooms I was able to make my own, though I was always aware the house — and the rules — belonged to someone else.

Life has a way of taking unexpected turns, and now here I am in my own house. At home.

And I know for sure, there truly is no place like home.

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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.

Being Clever

When I first started participating in the online world twelve years ago, I was unimpressed by the trivia of it all — the posts about what someone had for lunch, what their dogs or cats did, all the day-to-day things that make up the social aspect of networking.

Since I was trying to establish myself as an author, I tried to take a more grande-dame-ish approach. I wanted to be respected, to be seen a someone with dignity and grace, someone who had something to say and had the power to say it.

To that end, I tried to keep my clever, craft-oriented side to myself.

The whole great lady idea went out the window after Jeff died. It’s hard to try to maintain the appearance of being a grande dame when one is screaming their pain into the blogosphere. Still, I did try to maintain a bit of dignity and grace through it all. Now that my grief has been subsumed into my new life as homeowner and no longer brings me close to the great mysteries of life, what I’m left with is . . . whatever is the opposite of grande dame. Unsophisticated, maybe. Inelegant, perhaps. No high-blown thoughts, for sure.

There’s certainly no reason to keep my cleverness under wraps, especially since it’s about all I’m left with to blog about.

The truth is, I’ve always enjoyed being clever when it comes to small things. I’d prefer, of course, to be brilliant, but cleverness will do. It’s also nice to have a reason to be clever. Considering all the activities I am involved with, such as supplying treats for programs or creating something interesting for potlucks, I have ample opportunities to be clever. Like this little giveaway I thought of:

A Christmas Eve teabag on one side, a Christmas morning teabag on the other.

See? Clever.

But not at all grande dame-ish.

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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.

Such a Great Adventure

Periodically, I write about the frustrations of being a homeowner, but those frustrations are minor, and generally have to do with workers not showing up when they say they are going to. But even that, now, isn’t much of an issue. I’ve simply adjusted my thinking to accepting the vagaries of the repair business. If they come, they come. Either way, being a houseowner is such a great adventure!

For the past few years, I’ve rented rooms in houses in various stages of cleanliness, though I should say in various stages of filth, since most of the places were not at all clean. (My room was always as clean as I could get it, but the ground-in dust made it difficult to get it truly clean.)

The owner of the last place I lived had a maid who came once a week to clean the common areas, such as the kitchen, but an hour after she left, the place reverted to a state of unpleasantness. I could never understand the stickiness of the kitchen floor, the mess in the microwave, the absolutely disgusting sponge scrubber. I couldn’t believe it was that difficult to keep things clean; I even wondered at times if the problem was me, since obviously, I was the common factor in all those places.

But no.

Now that I have a kitchen of my own, I realize the problem wasn’t me. I continue to clean up after myself as I’d done these past years living in other people’s houses, but now the kitchen stays clean. And oh! I find such joy in the spotless microwave, non-sticky floor, pristine scrubber.

I wasn’t always this way, of course. When I was younger, I could barely make it through a day of work, let alone take care of my apartment too, so dishes piled up, clutter seemed to rule the day, and the carpet didn’t get vacuumed nearly enough. (I’ve always disliked vacuuming. Don’t know why, but it just seems too much of an effort to get out the machine, unwind the cord, and push it around. Now, with wooden floors, I don’t have to vacuum. Yay!!)

Somehow, over the years, I’ve developed a sense of order. (Just don’t look at my desk! That is still one place that my natural disorderliness holds sway.) Which makes things so nice in this lovely little house of mine. And makes the adventure of owning a house such a joy.

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.

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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.

Upsizing

I’m sitting here at an open window — my window — enjoying the pleasant breeze. Later, I’m sure, it will be hot, but for now, it’s perfect weather. (Meaning I am neither huddled in layers of clothes nor dripping with sweat.)

It’s odd to think that I own a window. Actually, seventeen windows. (Eighteen if you count the board on the garage I painted to look like a window.)

It’s odd, too, to think I own a floor.

I haven’t become entirely used to thought of owning a whole house, but the idea is growing on me. Still, when I was admiring my freshly mopped floor the other day, it struck me that the floor belonged to me. I’ve always rented or lived with someone else, and I assumed I’d always live in a house or room someone else owned. I’ve also always been a minimalist since possessions tend to weigh me down, but here I am, upsizing when so many others are downsizing.

So now I own windows, floors, ceilings, walls, roof. And furniture!!

I also own a town. Well, I don’t own it in that I don’t have a deed to the town, but I own it by dint of walking the streets, buying at the stores, volunteering for various events, talking to people I meet.

All this ownership has masked one lack — there is nowhere close by to hike. I could drive long distances to go to the mountains, and someday I might, but for now, I stay close to home.

I did find a nice loop walk, though. It takes me along the edge of town and out to the country. The views are simple — I live too far east of the mountains to catch even a glimpse of a peak.

I’ve almost always lived within view of the mountains, so this viewlessness is rather a change, but (juggling hands, here) my own house . . . or . . . mountain view. Not a hard choice!

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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.

Happy Decimal Birthday to Me

A decimal birthday is any birthday that can be evenly divisible by ten, and though it can refer to yearly birthdays, a decimal birthday is most often counted in days. The more zeros, the more significant the decimal birthday, such as 10,000, 15,000, 25,000.

When I discovered my father was going to reach his 35,000th day, it seemed so significant, I created a party for him.

Today is my decimal birthday, one of the significant ones (though many thousands of days away from 35,000). I’ve been trying to think of something special to do to celebrate, then I realized I don’t need to celebrate the day. The day itself is a celebration, as is any day I am alive.

I’ve always tried to make each day special, particularly after Jeff died. (Before that, every day was a celebration because of his presence. Even the days that weren’t particularly pleasant were worth celebrating because we were together.)

The worst of my grief was a sort of celebration — a celebration of life, both his and mine. The grief was proof that he once lived, that I once loved greatly. Every day I lived through the agony and angst was a day of triumph because I did live through it. Those days were of such heightened pain and sorrow that ironically, I felt more alive than any time since. And that, in itself, was a celebration of sorts.

My celebrations (and triumphs) are much less cosmic today than they were during my time of grief, but still, each day is a celebration — a day that is mine to do with as I can. (I was going to say to do with as I wish, but so often, life does not grant us such wishes, but it does grant us the ability to do something.)

I’ve been spending my most recent days alone. Not lonely, just alone. And that is a celebration in itself, a boon, since the non-loneliness was a long time coming.

During all the years of grief, I had a hard time reading — I couldn’t handle books that feted death such as thrillers because I’d had enough of death, couldn’t handle books where two people got together in the end because I didn’t have that, couldn’t handle two people not getting together because I did have that and knew how it felt. But I’m finally past that time, and have reverted back to my youth when reading was like breathing. Something I did without thinking. In fact, the local library had a summer reading program for adults, and I was the big winner.

I haven’t just been reading, of course, because now I have the house, and the house needs attention. Each little project has definitely been a celebration. I never expected to own a house, never even wanted to, but here it is. And here I am.

Some of the projects were simple and fun, such as painting a boarded-up garage window to look like a window.

Some of the projects have been simply fun, such as ordering bulbs to plant in my front yard this fall. I’m not sure how much fun it will be to plant all 200+ bulbs but, as I have learned, a lot can be accomplished little by little. Besides, there is no better way to celebrate life and hope than to plant flowers.

Until then, there is today — a special day because it is a day that has been granted to me. To all of us.

I hope you will take a moment to celebrate this day.

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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.