A Continuing Saga

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Outside, unseasonably warm weather is melting our winter away. Inside, in a series fits and starts as time allows, my house is getting rearranged, cleaned and organized.

The desk is now moved to the little nook under the stairs. I have put up a new light fixture, hung brackets for shelves and arranged my files around the corner. Already, I take issue with it. The desk is a little crooked, and a bit wobbly. I need shallow shelves on one side, to keep the clutter of necessary small objects up off the small desktop. I don’t have a spot for the portable scanner. All in all, though, this is something I can live with, and improve on.

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Moving the desk out of the dining room has opened that space up considerably. I spent a few hours on Tuesday knotting cord to make plant hangers. Now, most of my house plants are congregated together in the north window where the desk used to be. I think a few glass sun catchers hanging a bit higher than the plants will balance the arrangement. The big old table now sits smack dab in the middle of the room, with space all around. As soon as I clear the mound of papers to-be-filed from the top of it, I’ll take a picture.

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The living room has a nice new arrangement. All of my bookshelves are lighter, and more in tune with my life. My washing machine is repaired, and I’ve finally caught up on the laundry. The Beacon has, finally and very late, once again gone to press. Slowly, but steadily, I am working my way toward the studio. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the process. My dogs are enjoying the weather!

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Artifacts to Memories: Cabinet Hangers

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img_0036First, and for many years, my kitchen storage consisted of plywood shelves, hammered together and mounted to the walls. They were open to dust, cobwebs and any insects that might wander through. They showed off my penchant for hoarding reusable lidded plastic containers, my mis-matched pans, and my disorganization.

When I finally replaced them with actual kitchen cabinets, I spent an inordinate amount of time planning their size and arrangement. I bought bottom-of-the-line cabinets, because that’s all I could afford. Drawers have to be reassembled and glued back together every few months; there are gaps where the cabinets are pulling away from their backs. Still, I take them seriously.Though kitchen cabinets are fairly stationary features, I have – with the help of my always-game-for-another-crazy-undertaking friend, Chris  – rearranged them twice, and have another major readjustment planned. Alas, Chris has moved away.

The last time we moved the cabinets – two not-young women armed with more determination than either muscle or know-how – it was an all day adventure. We placed a kitchen chair on the counter top, to help “catch” the cabinet when the screws holding it to the wall were removed. Another chair on the floor nearby was what I stood on while I removed the screws. Then, with intermittent  giggling and terror, we lowered the cabinet to the chair and then down to the floor. Then on to the next one. We repeated the process to hang them back up. The lower cabinets were easier, except for the sink. Since then, I’ve added formica counter top, which complicates everything.

I miss Chris. It takes a special person to help with a project like that. First, a devil-may-care attitude about whether we have the proper tools, plan or ability. Second, the willingness to listen to my crazy ideas, and understand that – at that moment – I truly believe a rearrangement of kitchen cupboards will improve all aspects of my life. Third, and most important, one must be prepared for anything we might find in dark corners behind the fixtures. In the past, we have encountered massive spider webs, mouse nest, snake skin, and mushrooms growing from a damp spot of floor. A helper needs to be able to work through it, without showing too much shock or disgust, and without making it the talk of the town. Chris added to her value by keeping me entertained with family stories while we worked.

After several years of use, I painted the cabinets, and added knobs and drawer pulls. I went through quite a bit of angst about whether to get pulls that matched the chrome of faucet and refrigerator handle, or antique brass to match the cabinet hinges. My daughter, Kate, solved the problem. She haunted  flea markets, garage sales and junk shops; she brought me a collection of old knobs and pulls. All different sizes and shapes, some are metal; others are wood. Two filigree knobs are identical except for finish, and are placed side-by-side on a double cabinet: one is chrome; the other is antique brass. I love it!

As a finishing touch in my funky little kitchen, I have baubles and trinkets hanging from the knobs of each upper cabinet. Every item has a story. There is the copper bird, cut from heavy metal and painted by my friend, Sue. The metal came from the old roof of our Post Office. There is the blue and white woven paper ornament that my daughter, Jen, made, in a class taught by my friend, Larry. A short string of red glass beads, each in the shape of a heart, hangs from another knob.

The fat, beaded star ornament that hangs from a red wooden knob over the stove was sewn by my friend, Mary. She is genius in combining striped fabrics to form patterns! On the back, in her own handwriting, “Beaver Island ’96” is written in puff paint. Twenty years ago it was, when Mary had her little bookstore here…when we shared coffee and conversation on an almost daily basis. When we walked together on the beach, sharing secrets, sobbing through heartache and shoring each other up through our struggles. When we shared meals, and talked about writing and art and men.  Though I have to take this fabric ornament down on occasion, and give it a gentle bath in warm water laced with strong de-greaser, I always return it to its place, for all the good memories it brings to me, of a good friend, far away.

What’s Going On

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We are experiencing a mid-winter thaw, here on Beaver Island, with temperatures in the fifties, I’ll bet, and snow melting at a record pace. I took several photos of the Fox Lake Road (now turned to mud), my driveway and ever-expanding yard (also mud) and my two dogs relishing the fresh air, bare earth and spring-time smells. I can’t get the photos to load, so I have no proof to show, but it is a rare spring day today, right in the middle of February.

I slept in this morning until the bright sky told me it was time to get out of bed. This is the weekend of the winter fishing tournament at Lake Genasereth, which one of my co-workers organizes and oversees, so I was scheduled to work at the hardware store today. Even with sleeping in and having to be out of the house at a set time, I had time to write this morning. I didn’t though.

A series of events over the last couple of days has left me emotionally exhausted. First, understand that – on Beaver Island, in the middle of the winter – nothing happens. A change in the weather is big news. When something really substantial happens, we don’t know how to behave.

Two deaths occurred, in two days, at the lakefront motel across the street from the hardware store. A terrible coincidence. The first, on Friday, was a young adult, the son of one of the residents there. The second, on Saturday, was my good friend, Roy, the owner of the motel.

I don’t have any details, though it was widely assumed that – being right across the road – we would be able to glean the facts as the events played out. As emergency vehicles arrived on the scene, we fielded phone calls from islanders, worried and hungry for news. Information and mis-information quickly found its way to social media sites. Speculation ran rampant. It made for long, sad, and emotionally trying days. I spent plenty of time praying that someone in an official capacity would notify off-island family members of the deceased, before they read the news on Facebook!

I needed this morning to work through the events, deal with my own grief, and decide whether – and how – to talk about it. I felt, somehow, I needed to talk about it. Soon after arriving at the hardware today, I learned that another friend was taken to the airport by ambulance, to be flown over to the hospital. Again, I have no details. Let me say this:

To Jan, who lost his son: my deepest sympathies. I didn’t know him. I know you only through the hardware store and your devotion to keeping the birds well fed. Still, I can imagine the agony of losing a child, and my heart goes out to you.

To Shari, Roger and Duane, who lost their father: my heart is breaking for you, in this loss. I know what a good man your father was, and how devoted he was to each of you. I know what it feels like to lose a parent, and what a hole it leaves. I hope you are comforted, a little, by the sharing of grief by all of those who loved your Dad. Just in the few hours I was at the hardware store today, I heard one story after another of what a great guy he was, and how much he meant to this island and the people here. I have a few stories of my own, that I’ll share at another time. For now, my heartfelt sympathy.

To Paul, who regularly reads my blog and often stops to comment on what I’ve written: GET WELL! Your wit and intelligent observations enrich this island. Your kind words and smiling face are blessings to all of us. My best wishes for a quick recovery and your continued good health!

As for me, I pray that  – when I die – it will be with my privacy and dignity intact, and in time and place just as far as possible from downtown Main Street…Beaver Island…in the middle of February!

When I’m Not Making Art

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When I’m not making art…

Well, yes, sometimes I am trolling the news channels, to see what next is going on in this country at the federal government level. Just to  keep myself always frightened and angry. To keep my nerves on edge, and my blood pressure slightly elevated. Because I feel that being aware – here on this little island in the middle of Lake Michigan – might somehow make a difference in how things play out.

Not since the Watergate era, when the war in Viet Nam was sending classmates home in boxes, and everyone in power seemed to be disregarding the people they served, has my attendance seemed so necessary. Then, I sat for hours with my baby on my lap, with my eyes glued to the television set as unfamiliar names became ordinary, and the characters took on roles of scapegoat, criminal, watchdog and hero. Now, I check the news a  dozen or more times each day. Obsessively.

Sometimes, fed up with the spin on every single bit of information, I retreat to the realm of time-wasters. There is the book of crossword puzzles that my sister gave me; there is always a book or magazine to page through. There is on-line Scrabble, and that other word game that, I think, was designed for children but that I’m amazingly good at, and a matching  game.

Often, when I’m not making art, I am working at one of my three jobs. And when I’m not doing that, I am often embroiled in the dozens of menial tasks that keep this household running along. Normal cooking and cleaning and laundry can easily take over any bits and pieces of spare time.

This week, though, I have a project! It actually started as one small thing. My desk, which is two 5-foot-long planks of wood stretched between two file cabinets, takes up too much space in my small dining room. I have to squeeze past the table in one direction to sit at the desk; I have to ease around it from the other side to let the dogs out. On top of that, the only thing I use the desk for is working on the computer. Room for a glass of water or a cup of coffee, and for the small laptop is all that I need. The rest of the long stretch of  horizontal surface holds two small succulents and one begonia plant, three fat jars filled with pencils and pens, two scented candles, a decorative paper holder, and three medicine bottles. It has become a repository for papers to be dealt with, projects-in-progress, and other nonsense.

I decided to create a – much smaller – desk space on the other side of the room, in the little cubby under the stairs. One small project. Except for telephone and computer lines that have to be untangled and twined across the room. Except that the corner cabinet that was hiding in that cubby had to be moved out, along with all of the stuff I had piled on top of it. Which meant the living room had to be rearranged to make room for the corner cabinet, bookshelves had to be altered to free-up the deep brackets I need to support the desk top, and the kitchen shelves had to be edited to make room for the file cavbinets underneath.

I am embroiled in a massive overhaul. The table is mounded with stuff that is in transit. The little under-the-stairs desk space is, right now, filled with stacks of papers and books. The desk has not yet budged from its original location. However…I have hauled away several boxes of books for donation. My kitchen shelves are now in good order. I kept only the cookbooks and garden books that I truly read, use and enjoy. Everything is bright and clean. In the living room, the shallower shelves seem to open up the space. I like the new furniture arrangement. I have a master plan in place, and am working steadily through the rest of the project. There is progress! And, though it’s not art, it’s the most creative undertaking I’ve been involved in, at home, in quite some time.

Sometimes there’s time for art…and sometimes life is art.

Artifacts to Memories: Red Chair

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I don’t know quite how I ended up with this red lawn chair.

Oh, I know where it came from, alright. I had a seven-year relationship with a man who got around, in his job, to  many estate and moving sales. He was not a collector of junk, but of novel and interesting items that caught his eye. I have a row of squat triangles made of limestone, that were once possibly a part of a polishing tool, that he brought to me as a gift. He and I tried for years to revitalize an old, manual printing press that he had picked up for a song. His home was filled with unusual pieces of furniture and accessories. This lawn chair was one of his found treasures.

I remember when he brought it home. I know he made some minor repairs on the folding mechanism. I recall his decision-making process before he decided on red paint. I just don’t remember how it came to be at my house, in my yard.

Unlike my husband, who asked for nothing when we separated except for his “Rock Shaped Like a Foot” collection (Not the good couch that I bought him for his birthday! Not the afghan his mother had crocheted! Not the old army trunk he had gotten in a trade! Not even  the little unfinished house he had built with his own hands!), this man had a clear sense of what was his. Years ago, I might have added, “to the point of selfishness,” but I’m beyond that now. Still, when we broke up, there was little that we had accumulated during our years together that stayed with me. I transplanted two grape vines and three peonies that I had planted at his house before he sold it. And, somehow, I ended up with the red metal folding lawn chair.

Years ago when I had a yard sale, people skirted the long tables of knick-knacks, books, clothes and old toys, and honed in on my red chair. “How much for this?” I heard throughout the day. Disappointment followed, when I said, “That’s not for sale.” Though I have others, this lawn chair is my favorite. It is easy to bring along when I go to a summer concert, or for the long day at “Meet the Artists.”  In the summer, it sits in a prominent position in the garden, ready to give me rest between bouts of weeding, or support when I need to sit and think. In the winter, clearly, it braves the snow.

Morning Snowfall

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I woke this morning to a telephone call, and was greeted, when I looked outside, to a gentle snowfall. The dogs came in from their early wanderings with sparkling wet fur. It has changed, over the last hour, to something more serious. The snowflakes are larger, and holding tight to everything. My view is transformed! It is beautiful!

This would be a good day for a pot of soup simmering on the stove, a loaf of bread rising. It would be a good day for sitting with a good book, as the snow sifts down outside. It would be a good day for lighting scented candles and listening to soft jazz. It would be a good day for special activities and projects, and I have a long list.

Sunday is one of my days for writing this blog. After apologizing and explaining about no “Timeout for Art” on Thursday, I was planning a long essay. Then, I was going to dress for the weather, and get myself and my big dog out of the house for a long walk. I am partway through a purging, cleaning  and  rearranging project that (according to my sister, Brenda, who read an interpretation based on the alignment of the stars) should be finished within the next two weeks, or the chaos in my life will still be around in August. I can’t have that! I also planned to be here if my daughter should call, as we are in the final stages of putting our next issue of the Beacon together.

Well, none of that is going to happen this morning. The phone call that woke me up was a request that I go in to work today; the person who was scheduled put her back out. Of course, I can do that. So, it’s up and away, this morning, with four inches of heavy snow to scrape from my car before my trek to town on roads not yet plowed, to work at the hardware store.

Sigh.

Artifacts to Memories: Bunny Rabbit

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This bunny rabbit is not a personal artifact, but it’s been in my home for quite a few years now. Memories attach themselves to objects, and this little raggedy soft toy is no exception.

I brought two of these little bunnies home, when my dog family consisted of Maggie and Clover. Clover was a joy to watch with a new toy. She tossed it in the air and caught it in her teeth; she gave the toy a good shake before tossing it up again; she’d bring it to me coyly, inviting me to play, too. Maybe tug-of-war? What about fetch?

Maggie, on the other hand, was just a hoarder. She’d impatiently watch Clover play, until she could grab the toy away from her. Then she’d stand, chest out, on her bed, daring anyone to try to take anything away. She was the oldest, and largest, of the dogs, so she always got away with it. While I was away, she’d settle in and chew the stuffing out of any soft toy, but she didn’t otherwise engage with them. She just wanted them. All of the toys. On her doggie bed. All the time.

By the time Maggie passed on, Clover had lost interest, mostly, in toys. I’d try to engage her in games; she try to comply, for my sake, but the joy was gone. She preferred just a good walk. The collection of beat up chew toys and stuffed animals sat neglected in a corner.

Then, little Rosa Parks came in to our household. She was young, curious and ready for adventure. What were all these toys, gathering dust? Could she, with her keen young nose, detect a whiff of another dog…one that she had never met? As the toys were dragged out, one by one, Clover engaged with them as well, just to let the little dog know she knew what they were for. Mostly, they just got them all out, and strewed them around the living room.

As the years went by, though, both dogs lost interest. By the time Clover died, the toys – with a few additions – were occupying the neglected basket again. Rosa Parks, who had engaged in all kinds of games and play with Clover, was a hard dog to entertain, on her own. Often, I’d drive her down to Fox Lake, just to see her tail wag. There the water, and the memories of squirrel-chasing play, always put a spring in her step.

It seemed like Rosa Parks needed a companion, besides me. So, mainly as a gift to my little dog, I adopted Darla. Turns out, both Darla and Rosa Parks would have preferred to be the only dog in my house. Or so they thought. For my sake, they put up with each other. It took a few months for them to learn to enjoy each other’s company.

The toy basket, though, was an immediate success! Darla loves a toy. Her tail wags just snuffling through the basket, trying to pick just the right one. If she has gotten into the trash while I was at work, and she hears displeasure in my tone, she’ll bring me a toy. If that doesn’t do the trick, she’ll go get another. Once, having exhausted the toy basket while I was still picking up scraps of paper from the floor, she brought me a throw pillow!

Darla always likes to carry a toy outside with her. When she goes tearing out of the house, growling, to chase wild turkeys out of the yard, she often has a cute toy dangling from her jaws. Stuffed animals come on our walks with us. Until a chipmunk or a smelly piles of leaves distracts her, Darla will carry a soft toy in her mouth for a mile or more. I try to pay attention to where she drops it, so that I can tuck it in my pocket for the walk back home.

This stuffing-less bunny rabbit and all of his soft companions have a new lease on life, and  are getting out more, now, than they ever did before!

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