When You Have to Go

It seems ironic to me, all this furor over who can or cannot use a woman’s restroom. At any public event, there are long lines for the women’s, and nary a soul near the men’s. Even in not so crowded places, there is often a line for the women’s. When Jeff and I traveled together, he would stand watch as I used the empty men’s restroom while a line of women eyed me in appalled envy. Even now, in an emergency, I have sneeked into an empty men’s restroom. (If anyone saw me as I left, I’d glance back at the door on my way out, do a double take, and give him a sheepish smile.)

In recent months, during my (so far) 9,000 mile trek, I have used a variety of restrooms and non-rooms. Public restrooms, too many to count. Bathrooms in people’s houses. Campground facilities. Pit toilets. Port-a-potties. Bushes. The verge of a deserted desert road. Yogurt containers. (The best piece of tent camping advice I ever received was from another woman. She suggested I take a quart yogurt container into the tent for late night emergencies. The container easily contours to fit, and the cover made it spill proof.)

In all my travels, the only time I have ever seen a man stand in line to use a restroom was in a gas station convenience store that had only a single bathroom for all comers.

I have been in public restrooms so filthy, I couldn’t bear to touch any part of them or even take a single breath. (In one case, I wanted to go behind the building, figuring it would be a heck of a lot cleaner, but I didn’t want to give a peepshow to the grungy looking folk hanging around. In that particular instance, I was on my way to the strange folk in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I should have taken it as a sign, and kept going north.)

The weirdest restroom I was in had a toilet and a urinal, a condom machine with girly pictures and a tampon machine, atoiletss if it couldn’t quite decide what sort of bathroom it was. (I had to check the door on the way out, thinking I was in the wrong place, but no, it said “ladies” on the door. I was apparently in the world’s only transvestite bathroom.)

The absolute most luxurious public restroom I’ve used was in the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, Wisconsin. It truly was a restroom, complete with comfortable chairs in the ultra-artistic room. (Still, there is no way I would ever rest in a restroom. I can’t imagine what sort of effluvia has settled into that plush upholstery.)

Restrooms right now are a touchy subject, and I know I’m making light of an issue that is causing all sorts of ruckus (because although I feel bad for folks with problems, I can understand people’s worry that if it becomes legal for a man to use a ladies restroom, it becomes impossible to keep predators out. All they have to do is say they see themselves as a woman.)

But that is not my fight. I have no sympathies for young folk or even middle-aged folk of any gender without bladder issues. What we really need are age-segregated toilets. One especially for older women who can rush in, relieve themselves, wash their hands, and then go. No fuss. No muss.

I am temporarily in a place where I have many toilets at my disposal. Two very lovely bathrooms (well, one large bathroom and one vast shower room) for my private use and one semi-public room. But in a couple of weeks, I will be back on the road, and it’s anyone’s guess where I will go when I have to “go.”

Incidentally, the photo attached to this post is one I took at the Kohler Design Center. If you look closely, you will see that the sculpture, which took up an entire wall, was created from dozens of stacked toilets.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Pat Fell Down and Broke Her Crown

I get so tired of the endless catalogue of aches and pains, illness and death, interspersed between cat and dog pictures we are subjected to on Facebook, that I am hesitant to mention any of my own ills online, but if I don’t season my story with setbacks, the tale of my cross-country journey would be merely a travelogue.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned much besides legs covered with mosquito bites, bad allergies, and maybe a cold, but there have been other problems, most notably, a stiff hip. I wrenched it in ballet class about two months before I left (ironically, I was so concerned with not turning out at the knee because I didn’t want knee problems, that it never occurred to me the hip could be affected.) The problem was exacerbated by the extra driving I’d been doing (as you will recall, I didn’t have my car for at least six months before that, so I wasn’t used to driving). It wasn’t until I discovered the exercises to stretch the piriformis muscle that I started to heal, though long bouts of sitting or walking continue to cause problems. Still, I don’t let that slow me down. (Weather and being with people has done more to keep me from walking than my hip has done.)

There is something almost romantic (emphasis on almost) about a dance-related injury, even if one is more of a dilettante than a real dancer. But falling down stairs? . . . Oops, I am getting ahead of myself.

I am back at the Blue Belle Inn in St. Ansgar. Sherrie Hansen, the owner, is on a much needed vacation to Scotland (though it’s not all vacation because she is probably gathering background information for another of her Wildflowers of Scotland Romance Series) and I am running the B&B in her absence. On my very first day of being in charge, I helped the staff straighten a quilt hung at a stair landing. Foolishly, I stood on a small bench, and when I stepped off, I misjudged the distance to the floor, lost my balance, and fell down the stairs backward.

I hit the crown of my head on the edge of a windowsill and . . . if you don’t want the gory details, you can leave. I don’t mind, but I promise, I won’t show you a picture of the wound, though I have one. The doctor took the picture with my phone to show me what my head looked like.

I hit my head so hard, I thought I’d cracked it, and when I put my hand on the crown of my head, I could feel bone through the hole in my scalp. Oh, my. And blood? It’s true, scalp wounds bleed. A lot!

20160522_141851As it turns out, I only ripped open a few inches of scalp, which were stapled together at the emergency room. (If ever I get sick and need a lot of medical attention, I’m moving to Osage, Iowa. The ER medical folk — all women! — were kind, efficient, and thorough. Better yet, they all spoke English without an accent. My dad’s doctors had such thick Hindu accents that I could barely understand a word they said.)

The CAT scan showed no breakage or bleeding. The blood tests showed no organic problems. (They took all those tests to find out if there was a reason I fell. I guess they didn’t believe it was simply a momentary lack of attention.)

The fall terrified me, and the adrenaline coursing through my body kept me shaking long after I was repaired. I’m still stunned by the whole thing. Still uneasy about climbing stairs or doing anything that might cause me to lose my balance. Beyond that, I find it amazing to think we can be put together again. Supposedly, the only problem I will be left with is that the hair at my crown will grow in funny, but I’m at that age where hair grows funny anyway.

I keep thinking about this — how fragile we really are. I have been very careful on this trip because a person is always more vulnerable when she is not snug in her own little nest. And then, just like that . . . bam!

Oddly, despite the trauma of the moment, nothing really happened. I fell, I was given a tetanus shot and stapled back together, and that was it. No pain pills. Not much of a headache. No downtime. (But oh, such pretty bruises are blooming all over my body!) The real trauma will be when the bills start coming, but I don’t want to think about that. I just want to savor being alive.

I felt sort of wimpy at times on this trip. I’d envisioned myself facing up to life and whatever it threw at me, seeing what I was made of, but I’ve encountered nothing of a serious nature until now. So what am I made of? Not much. I kind of gasped as I fell, but then I laughed in disbelief at the situation even before I found out I hadn’t cracked my skull. The whole thing was so ridiculous. The fear and uneasiness came more from my body’s reaction to the fall. I just chalked it up to more firsts: First staples, first CAT scan, first check-up in over 40 years.

I try not to think of the potential damage such a heavy fall could have caused — I can’t let thoughts of what might have been or what might be in the future affect me. I know how easy it is simply to stay at home to protect oneself when alone, and yet, that is the quickest way I know to stagnate. A long slow lonely decline into a long slow lonely death. Not for me, thank you.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I don’t even know what the question is. All I know is that I will be here at the Blue Belle Inn for a couple of weeks, which will give my scalp time to heal and the staples taken out before I set off down the road again.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Serendipitous Day of Shrines

On my way to Door County in Wisconsin, I saw a highway sign listing attractions, one of which was “the only approved Marian apparition site in the US.” I mused on that a bit because I didn’t know there had been any Mary sightings in the United States. Apparently, those musings went deep, because a few days later as I was passing the exit to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on the way back west after my Door County visit, I jerked the steering wheel at the last minute and went off to see what I could see. And feel.

It was an incongruous sight, that chapel with it’s various shrines in the midst of miles of farmland, but despite the sound of nearby tractors, it seemed a peaceful place.

I don’t have any deep religious convictions, so I didn’t necessarily believe Mary had appeared to the young Belgian woman in 1859, but I was curious to see if I could pick up some spiritual or other-worldly vibe. Even though I knelt at the prie-dieu and emptied my mind, I felt nothing but quiet in that candle-lit grotto. (It was called a chapel, that small space beneath the church, but it felt more grotto-ish than chapel-like.)

I wandered around the grounds for a little while. I needed to stretch my legs and figured I could soak up some religiosity while I was at it. I took a few photos, and when the place got too crowded, I left.

I planned to head back up to highway 57, but since I didn’t know where the ramp onto the highway was, I checked Google Maps on my phone to see how to get to Kohler. (A friend told me about a plumbing museum there, and it seemed the sort of offbeat place to while away a few minutes.) I kept heading north to the highway, but Google kept me going in circles until I finally gave up and followed its directions south through more farmland.

About twenty miles into the country drive, I noticed what looked like a pristine walking path meandering among the fields and snaking up a hill. Then, for just a second, I caught a glimpse of a fantastic castle perched on the hilltop. I craned my neck to get a better look, but trees obscured my view. I took the next right (much to the dismay of Google, which kept directing me to make a u-turn and go left) and got a side view of the place. It was huge. Rectangular. Like a vast hotel or resort. But there were no vehicles in sight. No people. Nothing but that immense building sitting in the middle of . . . somewhere.

I went back to the road where I’d seen the front of the building, took a couple of pictures, then continued to the plumbing museum.

I must have had shrines on my mind because many of the bathrooms and other exhibits at the Kohler Design Center resembled shrines more than places to deal with body functions.
(The candles were in a niche in one of the bathrooms, not at the Marian shrine.)

I ended the day at the bicycle capitol of America. (A shrine to bicycling. See a pattern here?) The first thing after I checked into the hotel was to Google “castle in Wisconsin near Denmark.”

Apparently the place was built in 2002 as a monastery for discalced (meaning unshod) Carmelite nuns, a strict cloistered order. It was built to last 300 years. Since the nuns have almost no contact with the outside world, the place has to be as perfect as possible to keep repairs at a minimum. What I thought was a walking path was actually the gravel road leading up to the monastery. If you are interested, you can find out more about the place here: http://www.holynamecarmel.org.

I found it particularly interesting that before the nuns moved to the castle near Denmark, they lived next to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

After such a day of serendipity and visiting shrines of one sort or another, wouldn’t you think I would have continued my journey more spritual, or at least changed a bit?

But no. I’m still just me — an undiscalced (calced?) wanderer trying not to live a cloistered life.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


(Note: the little house is a restored roadside chapel. Such chapels had once been prevalent in the Belgian community.)

Greatness in Door County

My sojourn to Door County was filled with wonders. Seeing a great lake for the first time was awesome, but other aspects affected me just as much — the phenomenal beauty of the place, the frequent artistic touches, the prevalence of water.

Then there were the more personal wonders that added to my overall enjoyment of the peninsula — a hike along my host’s own trails around his wooded property (accompanied by his canine friend Rudy), driving his tractor (a first for me!), and meeting his lovely wife.

The best part of the journey, though, was my host himself.

I met John Beck at a now defunct social networking site called Gather, and though we’d been online friends for many years, this was the first time I met him in person. He has such a lively intelligence and wide-ranging interests that talking to him is a real joy. Learning, especially astronomy, seems to be a passion of his. He set up his telescope for me and introduced me to Jupiter. What a thrill to see Jupiter’s bands and four moons! He is also very knowledgeable about earthly places, especially Door County, which, along with his boundless patience, made him a perfect tour guide.

A second-generation doctor in Door County, John is now retired, but he was the Norman Rockwell sort of doctor we all yearn for but no longer can find. For example, when a woman went into labor after a major snowstorm, John not only went to her house and plowed their driveway, but plowed the road all the way to the hospital with the woman and her husband following in his wake. Such dedication!

He’s generous, donating his time to local environmental causes, teaching classes at the Learning in Retirement Center, and even carving a right-of-way through his property when a neighbor lost his previous way into the nearby property.

In a political season where prominent folks are going to grotesque and voluble lengths to try to convince us of their worth, it was my privilege to meet this quietly remarkable man.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


Note: The whimsical photos of the fish and the man climbing into a cave were taken at the Learning in Retirement Center.

The Beauty of Our Watery World

I was thrilled by my first sight of a great lake in Door County, Wisconsin, but Lake Michigan wasn’t the only body of water we visited. My host took me to various lakes that would normally have seemed like big lakes to me, but in comparison to the immensity of Lake Michigan, seemed like mere puddles.

I don’t have a great sense of balance at the best of times, but as we walked out on the boat ramp at Lake Europe, I had to stop and close my eyes to find my balance. The waves gave the illusion of the ramp floating quite speedily across the water. (Oddly, I could still feel the movement when my eyes were closed, just not as strongly.) Once I found my sea legs, I enjoyed the sensation of sailing, but I was still feeling unbalanced enough that I couldn’t force myself to step to the edge of the ramp. The mystery of the illusion did not keep me from enjoying the beauty of the mostly unspoiled lake, in fact, the illusion helped make the experience memorable.

Lakes aren’t the only great bodies of water near Door County. There are also two bays: Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay. We climbed the 75-foot tower at Potowatami State Park to get a fantastic view of Green Bay. Apparently, if there are no mountains to climb to see the world below, humans build them. And no wonder — seeing a panoramic view of the world helps us grasp the vastness of our nature and may give us a glimpse of our place in the scheme of things.

And my place, for the moment, is enjoying the beauty of our watery world.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

The photo of lighted trees is the night view beside my hotel balcony. The photo of the patio with a bridge in the background is the daytime view from my balcony.

A Great Lake

When is an ocean not an ocean? When it is a lake. A great lake.

Standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, watching the small waves foaming onto shore, I could see nothing in the distance but more water. Like with an ocean, the land other side of the water was too far away to see, but even I could sense the differences between the ocean and the great lake. Smell, for one. Oceans are salty and the odor of fish-scented brine is one of the defining elements of an ocean. Lake Michigan smelled fresh, which of course, it is. Another major difference was the feel of power as immense ocean waves come crashing to shore pulled by cosmic tidal action compared to the serenity of gentle waves lapping at the land edging the lake. (Oddly, some of the worst shipwrecks have occurred on Michigan Lake, making it not quite as placid as it appears.)

Still, as I stood by the water’s edge, I didn’t care if the lake were an ocean or merely an inland body of water. The wonder of seeing all that water and the way the sight made me wonder about nature and the nature of our lives, was all that mattered.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


Picaresque Peninsula

Door County in Wisconsin seems a world apart. The scenery is stunning, as if the world’s best landscape, seascape, and country artists were each given a piece of the peninsula to paint. Anywhere your gaze rests is a pristine and perfect scene.

What seems anathema to the rest of the world is welcome, including dandelions. Whole fields of the luscious yellow blooms! I have always liked the tenacious flower, and have never understood why they are so despised. (Somehow I managed not to get a photo of the yellow fields. Don’t know how that happened.)

Making the place seem even more of a world apart is the absence of franchises in any of the villages. (The ubiquitous big name stores and fast food joints are all strung along a single portion of a highway in Sturgeon Bay.) Each restaurant we patronized was different, though all had delicious specialties, made-from-scratch baked goods, and friendly employees. In many cases, the owners worked alongside their staff, and the absence of any dissension between them made the meal even more pleasant. Each building that housed the restsurants were also unique, the most notable being the Swedish restaurant. It had been built in Norway, disassembled, and brought to Wisconsin and reassembled. It was too early in the season for the goats to be out, but in the summer, goats grazed on the traditional grass roof.

(Other Norwegian buildings found a place on the peninsula, such as the hand-made and hand-carved chapel.)

Putting the final touches on the picaresque peninsula, bits of art and daphodils peeped out wherever you look. (Apparently once there had been a fundraiser to sell naturalizing daffodil bulbs, and people planted them in usual and unusual places.)

I didn’t mean to make this sound like a travelogue, just wanted to explain some of photos attached to this blog, but it’s hard not to sound like a travelogue when trying to describe such the perfect visit (and perfect weather!) I experienced in Door County.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


Wowed in Wisconsin

Sometimes on this great adventure of mine, I think I’ve seen it all. Well, not truly “all”. No one can. But so many places seem like other places, especially when it comes to shopping centers or suburban neighborhoods. Often one tree-lined road looks like another, or a body of water seems like . . . oh, let me think . . . like a body of water. I worry that I am becoming jaded, and then one day I turn a corner and fall into a perpetual state of awe.

In this particular case, I crossed the iron bridge at Sturgeon Bay and entered what seemed a fairy tale setting. A wonderland. It’s as if the entire peninsula of Door County, the thumb of Wisconsin, knew I was coming and polished everything to a brilliant gleam. Colors seem sharper here, as if every scene has been photo-enhanced to an unreal gloss. I passed a flower box of blooming tulips and narcissus, and had to touch the flowers to make sure they were real. The green of the trees, the grass, the fields look newly air-brushed. The waters of the bays and lakes are an astonishing mix of vibrant blue and teal.

My host has very graciously driven me around the peninsula to show me the sights — and oh, what sights there are! Fabulous jewel-like waters. Forest floors painted white with trillium. Marsh marigolds brightening broody marshes. Farms that look as if they belong in a children’s story book.

Even the shipbuilding plant on the bay looks more mythic than monstrous.

Adding to this sense of having entered a wonderland, we had beef wellington at an English inn that looked like something out of a fairy tale.

As a writer and lover of words, I should be able to come up with a better exclamation than “wow,” if for no other reason than to keep from boring my host, but the truth is, this place has wowed me.

Just . . .wow.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


Lazy Days

I am taking a hiatus from travel for a week. I was offered a place to stay in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, while a friend went out of town, and I jumped at the offer. I’ve been moving around for so long, driving vast miles (9,000 miles seems vast to me, anyway), that I’ve sort of lost trrainbowack of myself — I could be anywhere. At times, it’s disconcerting to realize I am so very far from where I’ve lived the past few years, so far from anything familiar, and yet, in a way it’s all familiar.

A gray, rainy day in a room in an apartment in Wisconsin is not a whole lot different from a gray, rainy day in a room in house in the desert.

Lazy days.

I had planned to get recentered while I was here. Stretching every day (which I actually have been doing). Walking every day (which I have only done a couple of times because of the rain). Eating better (which I hava bit better, anyway — more vegetables, more protein, no wheat, only trace amounts of sugar).

I sit here staring out the window, thinking of all the things I could be doing if I weren’t so lazy — working on my dance class novel. Shopping to replenish my stores for the last few weeks of my journey. Repacking my car.

That’s what I really need to be doing. Repacking.

I unloaded all my gear before I took the bug to a mechanic because it was going to be at his shop for a few days, and it didn’t seem prudent to leave everything in the car. If it were just a matter of stuffing it all back in, I could do that before I leave on Sunday, but I need to reorganize. During my more than three months on the road, and despite my best efforts at being disciplined, things have become a bit discombobulated. Maps unfolded, used bottles stuffed in any which way, scraps of trash, accumulations to be organized.

And yet here I sit, staring out the window. Occasionally I drag my attention back to this page, but then, I lose focus again.

Lazy days.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

My Ongoing Cultural Festival

Stevens Point in Wisconsin has a cultural festival every year, and it just so happened to fall on a weekend I was there, so I decided to attend. I wasn’t particularly interested in going to the festival — I never quite know what to do once I get to such events — but I figured it would give me something to blog about. (Would you be surprised and appalled to know that I often do things simply for the sake of a blog post? But hey . . . it gets me there, doesn’t it?)

I wandered about for a bit, not really getting into the spirit of the thing. It was hard being among all those people by myself. I don’t enjoy shopping, and I wasn’t hungry, and with no one to exclaim over the offerings with me, there was no way to ramp up my excitement.

But then I realized another reason why the various booths didn’t seem out of the ordinary — this whole trip for me has been a cultural festival. I’ve been to a Greek restaurant in a Greek village in Florida. I was welcomed into a Jewish home for Passover. A friend of a friend cooked a Russian feast for me in Texas. I’ve been to Chinese buffets, French bistros, Italian trattorias, German restaurants, Mexican and Cuban restaurants, southern barbecue houses. I’ve eaten Polish food and Welsh dishes and sampled all sorts of regional goodies as I’ve zigzagged across the United States. I’ve also been to vast grocery stores that mimic European markets.

Still, I squelched the urge to leave the festival. I figured I needed to walk an hour anyway, so why not walk around the festival? And so I listened to a guy playing the mournful bagpipes, and a mournful fellow playing the accordion. I watched practiced dance performances and unpracticed dancers having fun. Despite the people crowded around the booths, I managed to see a lot of the products for sale. In particular, a green glass bird Christmas ornament that caught my eye, but I am so out of the habit of purchasing knickknacks that I never even considered buying it.

And so, as it turned out, the hour I spent walking around the festival was a good one.

And besides, as you can see, I got a blog post out of the experience.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,189 other followers