Sunshine, Words and Pictures

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Yesterday, when I came home from work, I walked the little dog, moved some pine chips to the front walkway, pulled some weeds and removed dead stalks from the central flower bed. I took a few photographs.

Inside, I folded the towels that were waiting in the dryer, moved a small load of dark clothes from the washer to the dryer, and started a load of colors. I wiped down the kitchen counter.

I paid one bill, due on the 1st, by telephone, and stacked the other ones that need attention on the side of my desk. I took one phone call and sorted some notes.

I warmed four cups of chicken broth, added the juice of one very ripe lemon, one egg and two cups of cooked long-grain rice. I made a pot of coffee. I fed the dog.

Then I sat down at the computer and started typing. Other than the occasional trip to the stove to refresh my coffee or get a bowl of soup, I kept that seat until 2AM. I’m back at it today. I’m working on my news-magazine.

It’s amazing to me how much of journalism is not creative. I don’t know what in the world made me think it should be! Mostly, as I see it, it’s secretarial work. I type using two or three fingers of each hand, with my eyes on the keys. I’m pretty fast, considering, but certainly not secretarial fast! Whenever I’m handed a piece for publication that needs to be typed in to the computer, my heart sinks. That’s what I did last night: one obituary, one public service message and two up-coming events. Then I edited two stories, and downloaded some photos to go with them. Today, I’m on to converting my own notes into reports and articles.

The sun is shining. It is streaming through the window, and warms me here at the desk. The good news is that when I finish this, I’ll have my own life back, for maybe a week, before I have to start thinking of the next issue!

The 52 Lists Project #18

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List the things that motivate you:

  • Money. I’m thinking of tips, here. I like money as well as most people, but there are lots more important considerations. I have left well-paying jobs (two) for reasons of moral indignation. I have chosen jobs with low pay because I thought they would be fun, or rewarding in other ways. Tips, though, are a big motivator. Doled out bit by bit, accruing over the course of a day, counted in piles of coin and stacks of bills at the end of each shift…whatever the totals, tips are a bonus. I think any job could benefit just from money being handed out at random throughout the day.
  • Disappointment, humiliation, discouragement or heartbreak. Odd, but true. When I’m at my worst, I am motivated to create, to rise above the hurt and sadness and worldly judgement and reaffirm my essence.
  • Deadlines. Unfortunately, though, not until they are right on top of me. We “practiced” as children (with Mom, sometimes, as co-conspirator), when we delayed all of our end-of-week housework  until one hour before Dad was due to be home – at midnight – from his second shift job. We might have been playing board games or watching TV, but when the eleven o’clock news started, we were galvanized for action. Dishes, left to drain dry on the counter, were quickly put away. Counters were wiped down; sinks were polished. Clutter was gathered from the living room: magazines put back in the rack; stray articles of clothing to the laundry; toys to the back room. Someone would run the vacuum. Someone else was sent to the bathrooms, to gather the wet towels and polish the fixtures. Yet another was on sweeping detail. The ones too little to tackle major jobs were kept busy gathering and running. The kitchen and back room always needed to be mopped. Linoleum – and later Congoleum, with a built-in shine – made the kitchen pretty simple after all the chairs were tipped upside-down onto the tabletop. The back room, which had two doors to the outside and got all the traffic coming and going to the garden, always needed a good scrubbing. It was usually our last job, and the clock was ticking toward midnight. Sometimes, if time was short, we’d run a bucket of hot soapy water, and spill it out over the floor. Everybody would join in, then, to sop the water back up – with towels and sponges and mops – bringing all the dirt up with it. It was a slippery, soap-bubbly, giggly finish to our chores. I’ve never gotten beyond it! For almost any project, I torment myself by waiting until the last possible moment, or beyond. I still sometimes get that heady burst of energy that is, I suppose, an adrenaline-fueled panic. I always get the huge sense of relief and accomplishment when a job is done. What I miss out on, these days, is the fun in between: the group activity, the working together for a common cause…the giggles. These days, deadlines are just too serious.

The Erin Motel

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Before I gave up on the idea of braving the winter – with my daughters – in the unfinished house on Fox Lake Road, we had nearly run out of wood. I was scrambling for a source, and trying to figure out how I’d pay for it. The house was insulated, but still drafty. It was getting cold. I stapled black plastic to the exposed support beams to cover the insulation. I hung blankets over the windows.

The line bringing water to our house from the neighbor’s well froze solid. Then I  begged a $500.00 cash advance from work, in order to hire Bud Martin to put a submersible pump in my own well and complete the hookups to the house. During that time, I hauled water each day in five gallon containers (4) from the public faucet at the township airport, for washing up, cleaning and flushing the toilet. I carried two single gallons home from town for cooking and drinking. Bud tried to hook up the pump, but said it would only draw sand, so he had to pull it back out. He said Mr. Goller must have cracked the screen when he set it.

That’s when I gave up.

Then, it was too late to move into McCafferty’s Hotel: it was already rented for the winter. I talked to my friend Roy, who owned the Erin Motel. He was one of my regular morning coffee drinkers, and also often used the Shamrock to conduct his real estate business. He was an avid hunter, which he knew I didn’t like. Our friendship was based on me serving him coffee, and him teasing me. I told him we needed to find a place to live, and that I’d like to move in to the Erin. I explained that it would take me most of the winter to pay back the cash advance from work, so I was working just for tips. If my [estranged] husband sent money, I’d be able to pay rent; if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to pay until spring.

“That will be fine,” he said.

I told him two adjoining motel rooms would be best, as they were small. That way we could use one for sleeping, one for meals and general living space.

“Okay,” he said, “that will be alright.”

I told him our beagle, Joe, would have to come with us.

“Sure, I accept dogs there.”

“…And the two cats,” I said.

Roy shook his head. His voice was firm.

“Nope, sorry, no cats. I don’t allow cats in the motel,”

I stomped my foot.

“Roy,” I said, “my girls have been through enough already! I’m not going to argue with you about this!”

“Alright,” he wavered,”I’ll make an exception for the cats.”

So it was that my dog, two cats, my two daughters and I all moved – with a few pots and pans, some dishes, one piece of art, a few books and three suitcases of clothing –  in to two adjoining rooms at the Erin Motel. The building is right on the harbor – though our rooms didn’t have a harbor view – so we could walk to wherever we needed to go. The school was two blocks up the hill; the Shamrock was right across the street.

Our rooms were standard motel rooms: square, large enough for a double bed, dresser and chair, with a bathroom and a small alcove for hanging coats. A door near the entry doors linked the two rooms. Roy had two twin beds and a double bed moved into one room. In the other, we had a roll-away bed that we used as a sofa, a couple chairs, a card table with folding chairs, and a make-shift kitchen that consisted of a dorm sized refrigerator and a two-burner range. Each room had a large window in front that looked out onto the main street.

In order to make ends meet, and keep working after the busy season, I was working six days a week: two morning (7AM to 2PM), two afternoon (2PM to 8PM) and two night shifts (8PM to closing time). Business was slow, so it was always okay for the girls to come over after school, once they had walked the dog and taken care of the cats. They could practice piano at the Shamrock, do their homework and watch television. On days when I was home in the evenings, I cooked on the little two-burner stove, and we’d play games or cards after dinner around the card table. Though it was a rough time for all three of us, I remember laughing ’til we nearly lost control, crowded into those small rooms.

The following spring, when I was finally able to pay Roy for our stay there, I also presented him with a framed drawing I had done for him, of an elderly woman fishing off a dock, her large cat dozing in the sunshine beside her. It hangs in his office to this day.

 

…And the Depths of Reality

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Before the summer was out, living in our little unfinished house on the Fox Lake Road, we got chickens. Though we didn’t have a chicken house, nor fencing or even the money for fencing, we had often talked about raising chickens for eggs. My husband called one day to tell me he was on his way home, after working down-state. He was bringing a truckload of building materials, and two dozen chickens. They were Black Minorcas, and they were beautiful. They lived in a rickety, crooked chicken house that we clabbered together, surrounded by a bit of chicken wire fencing that was barely supported and offered little in the way of containment.

We got a goat. We named her Solly, and loved her dearly. She lived in an over-sized dog house. When she wasn’t following the girls around, we tried to keep her tethered. She was awfully good at escape. Many times, the girls and I took off together in the front of the old rattle-trap pickup truck, to retrieve Solly from where she had wandered. She’d ride home in the cab with us, grinning at her adventure.

Late in October, my husband and I separated for good. We’d had a terrible fight; he was scheduled to leave the island the next day for a job down-state. He suggested not going, so we could work things out. I told him I’d rather he left on schedule. Usually that would be the end of it…we’d both cool off, and things would go back to “normal.” I was getting very sick of what we’d learned to think of as normal.

When my daughters were very young, and their father was drunk or otherwise behaving badly, I’d cover for him, just as my mother had covered for my dad. “Daddy’s very tired,” I’d say, or “Daddy’s cranky…give him some space.” As their own tempers became an issue, it seemed ridiculous and unfair to justify his tantrums. “Daddy is behaving badly,” I’d say, to holes punched in walls or chairs thrown across the room, “Daddy is not controlling his temper.”

My daughters were now nine and twelve years old. What was I teaching them by continuing to live with behavior that was admittedly bad, and undoubtedly getting worse? We’d been repeating the same argument now for over thirteen years. I had tried every tactic I knew to get him to quit drinking. It was time to walk away. When Terry called, later in the week, to ask, humbly, if his behavior had pushed me to the point of no return, I gathered up all my strength to answer, “Yes.”

He came to the island  to talk me out of it. He said, “Let’s get off of this island! I will quit drinking! I can’t do it here, but with a fresh start, I can do it.” I held my ground. Together, we told out daughters. They were devastated. This was going to be difficult for all of us.

There was a predator taking my chickens, one each day. I never saw it. I don’t know if it was raccoon, coyote or chicken hawk, but each day as they gathered around me for their feed, I counted them. A few minutes later, though I hadn’t left the yard, there would be one less chicken. At first I thought I was miscounting, but finally had to admit that I was unable to keep them safe.

One day, we pulled in the driveway to find Solly on her side, dead. Probably, I was told, she ate something that she shouldn’t have. The ground was too frozen to dig. I pulled a big canvas off its frame, and I wrapped her in the painted cloth, dragged her to the front of the property and put the bundle in a hollow left by an uprooted tree. We covered her, then, with rocks…”a cowboy burial,” I told the girls. Then, I got out the paints, and the girls covered the surrounding trees with their sorrow. “Here lies Solly, beloved goat,” and “Rest in Peace, you wanderer,” shared space with hearts and flowers and polka-dots to mark her resting place.

The weather was turning cold. The girls and I slept together in my one big bed, and dressed in front of the wood stove. Wood was in short supply. When the water – coming to us from a pipe on the ground from the neighbors house – froze, I had to cry “Uncle.” That’s when I gave my remaining chickens away, packed up what I could, and we moved into the Erin Motel.

Timeout for Art: Talking

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I spent some time yesterday talking with friends about art. Not my own work, and not theirs either, but art that we’ve admired or that we’d like to try. There aren’t very many opportunities for that in my life lately, and I miss it.

In college, there were a dozen chances a day to speak with others about art. After a while, it seemed like we’d all get too much “in our heads” about it, and it would be helpful to step back. Sometimes the best conversations are just between the artist and the materials.

I like the “conversations” that go on between art works. When created by the same person, there’s always an ongoing dialogue that adds intensity and interest to each individual piece when viewed among its “peers.” A good curator can create interactions between disparate works by different artists by careful juxtaposition.

Yesterday was simple: just the pleasure of a chat, with art as the subject.

 

Fox Lake Road: the Reality

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My house on Fox Lake Road, circa 1990

So then we come to reality.

We decided to build the garage first, and live in it while we were putting up our house. This building was 24′ x24′, with the south half of the house – shown in the photo – having the bathroom and laundry area toward the front, a kitchen at the back, and a stairway leading up to two small bedrooms just four feet in front of that red door. The north half of the house was an open space for living and dining. When we finished the real house, those two rooms would become a one car garage. The other half would be spare accommodations for guests.

This picture does not reflect the way the house looked when we first moved in to it in the mid 1980s. Then, the only windows were on the front and back walls, facing east and west. All of the windows and doors had been salvaged from my in-laws house down-state, when they put new ones in. We framed the house to fir them. The only exception was the front door, and the back window in the dining room. Those, I bought used from Catherine White, when she replaced them. Thus, all the windows and doors were old and drafty.

Inside, we had managed to get enough sheet rock put up to give walls to the bathroom and the stairway. In the rest of the house, we were looking at the studs, with un-faced insulation tucked in between. Porcelain fixtures with bare bulbs provided light. The floor was  cement. There was less than a cord of wood stacked outside, with wood our only heat source. We were still negotiating with the man that held our land contract, for him to finish our well. He was off the island more than on, it seemed. To satisfy our water needs, he ran a flexible water pipe over the ground from his house to ours.

By the time this photo was taken, I had (with the help of my sister, Cheryl) painted the OSB sheeting on the outside of the house, in an effort to save it from the weather. I had used many cans of foam insulation in the corners, to try to seal the exterior. I had managed to find another source for used windows, and added one on the south wall of the kitchen.

When we moved in, in the summer of 1984, there were no flower beds. I ordered dozens of bulbs: Red Riding Hood tulips and Siberian Scillia. I planted them in the fall, with high hopes for greeting spring in a blaze of color, and we watched the colors change from our little house on the Fox Lake Road.

 

Fox Lake Road: the Dream

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First of all, dreams are easy.

They can ignore reality in ways so extreme, it is only in hindsight – when wide awake – that their unreasonableness comes clear.

My plans and schemes and dreams for our home on Fox Lake Road were based on other buildings I’d admired: my grandparent’s house in Lapeer, Michigan, and the granary at the farmhouse on Beaver Island. Ideas were gleaned from books, magazines and diagrams of house plans. I filled notebooks with clippings; I drew diagrams on graph paper.

I did not consider available time…or money. I had no idea about the sequence of events that had to be incorporated into the building process, when they had to happen or how much they would cost. I didn’t know building codes or practices. I complained loudly when trying to redraw my perfect plans to show 4″ interior walls and 6″ exterior walls. Graph paper does not easily accommodate the fracturing of the square foot. Everything was skewed!

My plans were of a more ethereal, artistic nature. An imaginary grid would overlay our property on a north-south axis. All buildings would line up with the grid, presenting the roof pitch on the north and south sides. Passive solar features were considered in the house’s design, and we wanted to be open to other solar options as they became more affordable.

The house (28′ x28′, with a basement) and the garage (24′ x24′, on a cement slab) would each be one and a half story buildings. All others structures (garden shed, chicken coop, tree-house, barn) would mimic that shape in smaller versions. All  buildings were going to be square, each roof would have a 12/12 pitch, and each finished shape (adding the overhang of the eaves) would be divisible by five (I KNOW!!). Windows and doors would be placed symmetrically in each structure. All siding would be dark gray, board and batten; all roofs would be shingled in a lighter gray, to give the appearance of being bleached by the sun.

The basement would have winter play space for the girls. It would also have room for my art studio. Beyond that, there would be laundry facilities, a large chest-type freezer and storage shelves. There would be a door leading to a second stairway up to the outside; in the winter that area could be used as a root cellar. We imagined growing most of our own food, buying in bulk and keeping a well-stocked pantry and freezer.

On the ground floor, skylights would brighten the spaces. Wood floors would be of maple we’d milled ourselves. A centrally placed wood stove would provide heat. There would be a view from every window. Upstairs, a bathroom and three bedrooms.

Paving stones laid out in straight paths would lead from one area to another.  Fence lines would honor the grid that dictated placement of all man-made features. Wild bursts of flowers and other plantings would provide contrast to the strict layout. From the sky (at that stage in our lives, my husband was still talking about learning to fly an airplane), it would look like a series of Monopoly houses scattered across the landscape.

These were the plans we made, with papers spread out over the dining table at Charbridge Arbor and the big kitchen table of the farmhouse. They were discussed at length, fine-tuned and improved upon while we lived at Corner #16 and the house on Johnson Mill Road. Plans for our island life could lead us away from almost every argument, and bring us back to a place filled with big dreams for the future.

‘Course, like I said, dreams are easy. Real life, on the other hand, is…real. That’s what we came face-to-face with when we started building on the Fox Lake Road.