What I’m Doing…What I’m Not

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Yesterday was gorgeous, bright sunshine and blue sky.

Today, new snow and winds have changed the view.

A little under the weather, I cancelled classes and stayed home both days. I think exhaustion, rather than illness, is the problem. I don’t seem to be able to get enough sleep these days. One night of good but insufficient rest will be followed by a night of insomnia. A trip to the city to accompany my aunt to the hospital – strange beds, city lights and worry – compounded the problem. A couple days off would do me good.

I wrote a few letters, answered a couple Emails and enjoyed two long telephone conversations.

I waded through snow to my hips to empty the compost – a collection of coffee grounds, eggshells and vegetable parings – into the bin on the far side of the garden. The bin is almost full. I’m not the greatest at composting. My collections never get turned, and the ratio of green matter to food scraps must be off, too. Even in the heat of summer, the compost doesn’t seem to get hot enough to break down. It should, after a while, look dark and crumbly; it should smell like earth. In odor and appearance, my compost looks like exactly what it is: a collection of old coffee grounds, eggshells and vegetable parings. Still, I persist. It seems like a good idea, and it feels more hopeful than tossing all that organic matter into a plastic trash bag. Every few years, when the bin will hold no more, I tip out the smelly mess and use it to mulch around pumpkins and winter squash. Covered with a layer of straw, the unpleasant characteristics are masked, and it works to hold in moisture.

I gave the bathroom a good cleaning. One area at a time, I am setting up my house according to the precepts of Feng Shui. I did this long ago, when it seemed like I was the only one who had even heard of the concept. As I gained knowledge and added books to my collection on the subject, I found contradictions and big problems. Without being able to tear down my home and start over, some things seemed hopeless. I let it fall to the wayside. Recently, I picked up another book on the subject. Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Karen Rauch Carter is a clearly written, not-too-serious manual of using Feng Shui to “get love, money, respect and happiness.” As I’m in the process of a major winter “de-cluttering”, and clutter is the enemy in Feng Shui theory, it seemed like a good time to try again. The bathroom, in my home, is in the “Helpful People” section. I had barely finished my thorough cleaning (plus one red ribbon tied around the sink drain, all mirrors shining bright and a wind chime to dispel negative energy) when my sister Brenda called, with an idea to solve a big problem I’ve been worried about. Immediate results!

I’m making soup…an awful lot on these cold winter days. Yesterday I finished off a pot of spicy lentil soup; today I have turkey and wild rice simmering. Easy: one cup of diced turkey, sliced from the bird and frozen after Christmas; two quarts of turkey broth, made and stored in the freezer around the same time; three carrots, one onion, four stalks of celery and the leaves, stems and core from a head of cauliflower, all diced; a generous handful of wild rice. It will simmer all afternoon, and be ready to eat at suppertime, when the bread’s coming out of the oven, with plenty left over for lunches this week.

I am not putting in time in the studio. Winter is usually the time for art-making. The studio can be a cozy place to work when the cold winds are blowing. With a movie or the radio for company, I’ve spent many long hours in creative pursuits. Not so much, this winter.

I’m not shoveling snow…not much, anyway. If I can wade through snow to my hips to empty compost into the bin, I guess I can tramp through a foot of snow to get to the car. In other years, I’ve done more. Usually there is a clear path from the side door to the car, and also around to the front door. There is usually a path from the front door to the side yard, so that I can read the meter. There is walkway shoveled from the sliding door in back, just for the dogs, that leads over to the pine tree at the side of the house. Today, with another six inches of new snow, my chihuahua gave me a very intense look when she needed to go out. I suppose it’s time I get going on that.

I am not, it seems, coming to grips with my sister’s death. I was not there when she died; I was unable to attend the memorial. I forget that she is gone. Because I live away, and rarely saw Nita, it isn’t immediately apparent that she’s not still with us. I have moments of sadness. There are pangs of realization. I recognize symptoms of depression in my sleeplessness and neglect. I don’t feel depressed, though. Though I know it won’t last, most days I feel as if she is still here. That’s not a bad feeling!

Beginnings

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Originally posted on The Beacon:

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Here it is: the very first issue of the Beaver Beacon with my name attached.

I had a great deal of help – and many other offers of help – from friends and family and supporters. There were those who  helped for my sake, and others for the sake of this island magazine that has become such a welcome institution over the years. Because I don’t yet have the software that will allow me to do the layouts, Jeff Cashman kindly took the time to put this issue together. Some folks allowed me to write about them; others contributed their own stories. Others offered photographs, creative writing and research. Without their help, this issue would not have been possible. A huge thank you to all of you!

My introduction is here:

Hello…
I am Cindy Ricksgers.
You probably already know me.
You may have seen me at the Shamrock, where…

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Nita

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She walked with us but yesterday.

But yesterday – or so it seems -

We shared each others dreams, our woes,

We shared our wild and foolish dreams.

Now there is silence where she spoke,

Nor can she hear what we would say,

But all she was is with us still,

And we are glad for yesterday.

-Phillip Larkin (from the poem “Church Going”)

Last year at this time, I wrote “A Valentine for Nita,” telling about some of my sister’s struggles throughout her life, and now, with cancer.

She said, “It’s like you did my eulogy while I’m still alive!”

I denied it, but was careful, after that, to respect her privacy. All of us that love her dealt in our own way with her illness, but her struggle was hers alone.

I was down-state last month when Nita took a turn for the worse. I was able to see her, and let her know I care. Before I came home, I was able to see that her pain was being managed, and that hospice was there to help. The day that I left, I gave her a big hug and told her, “I love you.”

Then I drove home.

My brother and sisters arranged their time around Nita’s care. We’re becoming old hands at this. Nita’s children were there, along with nieces, nephews and friends, each as they could be, and as needed to help. Hospice was wonderful.

Here on Beaver Island, back at my own work, I was away from the fray. I was with them in spirit only. I wasn’t there for the changes and the frights and the occasional “melt-down,” but my heart went out to them all, every day. I could hardly think of anything else. I didn’t want to write about it, but everything else seemed unimportant in comparison.

Nita was dying, but every one that knew her and loved her had their own challenges.

Nita’s struggle ended today, in the early hours of the morning.

As for the rest of us, we struggle on without her.

Pushing Through

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My little dog doesn’t let much of anything stop her.

The other day, after a particularly dense, heavy snow, we walked through the woods on the tracks left by a snow machine. It was a solid path that supported the weight of my little dog (25 pounds), my big dog (50 pounds) and even me (never mind!). The big dog doesn’t like snow, and stayed right on the course. The little dog, to the best that I can figure, saw a particular tree that she wanted to pee on, and set off for it.

Despite the deep snow.

No matter the distance from the path.

So…I waited.

She forged her way out through snow past her chest, sniffed out her spot, did what she had gone to do and, with a little tail wag of satisfaction, headed back toward me.

And the walk continued.

As if she hadn’t just managed a near Olympian feat.

Now, I tackle some pretty large tasks. Sometimes several at once.

I manage to work through almost overwhelming challenges.

The last couple weeks have been like that.

I’ve taught two afternoon art classes at the Community Center. When teaching on a regular basis, I have methods in mind and materials at hand. Since I haven’t taught art since our after-school art program ended last June, it took some scrambling to get everything ready. The night before my first class, I was up until three o’clock in the morning blending paper into pulp!

That class generates a lot of laundry: towels, blotters, felts and couching clothes. It involves a great deal of stuff, loaded, then unloaded from the car. Yesterday, when I went up to the studio to get materials ready for today’s class, I was weaving around and stumbling over things from the first class that had not yet been put away properly.

I traveled to East Lansing to attend a seminar and do a presentation.

While there, I met my daughter for dinner on her birthday, then went to Lapeer to see my brother and sisters. Then back north, to catch a plane ride home.

Driving on the mainland is no longer easy for me. I’m not used to the traffic or the speed. Winter travel terrifies me. I worry about the weather, the road conditions, the other drivers and car trouble. Two weeks ago, a one hundred and ninety car pile-up near Kalamazoo, Michigan was in the news. I’d been having nightmares about my trip ever since. When traveling alone, any problems are larger problems. It was a big, fearful challenge and a tiring trip (the praying, alone, was exhausting) but I did it.

In between trips and classes, I’ve still had all the normal stuff to do: my cleaning job; my job at the hardware store; my mostly-paperwork administrative position. And, oh yeah, my news magazine to put out.

I plod through, just like my little dog pushing through the snow.

Unlike her, when I’m done, I don’t just continue on.

No, when I finish a big challenging couple of weeks…I like to schedule time for an equally impressive collapse!

Crunch Time

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I guess it was maybe ten years or more ago that my grandsons and I placed a brick in the crotch of this tree.

I don’t remember the reason why.

I noticed it the other day, on my way down the driveway. The tree has grown around the brick, securing it in place.

It seems like the perfect illustration today.

Today is the day I’ve put everything off until. There is no more time for delay.

I leave first thing tomorrow morning for a two-day seminar down-state.To round out the trip, I’ve arranged a birthday dinner with my daughter, and a breakfast meeting with the son of an old friend.

As I’ll be giving a presentation at the seminar, I have notes to review and materials to gather.

I have to pack. That involves pulling presentable “mainland” clothing out of the depths of my closet, plotting four days of wardrobe choices, making sure everything fits, and eliminating any accumulated dust, lint or wrinkles.

This is my last chance to get the house in order. Whatever is left today, will be what I come home to. Because I taught a paper-making class yesterday, I have six bus tubs full of paper-making supplies, unloaded last evening from my car and now taking up space in the kitchen and hallway. Some need only to be brought back upstairs and stored in the studio. Others need to be emptied of their (wet)contents: papers need to be pressed for drying; felts, clothes and towels need to be put through the dryer cycle, then folded. My dining room table is spread with research materials for my presentation. My bed is covered with possible clothing options. This, on top of my normal disorganization and clutter.

This is my last day to spend quality time with the dogs, before they go to the boarder tomorrow. At least one good walk is in order.

I have a meeting at four, of the Natural Resources Eco-Tourism Steering Committee.

I have to stop at my aunt’s house, to pick up the key to her mainland vehicle.

I have a dinner obligation.

Then there is my new endeavor: I am taking over the reins of the Beaver Beacon, our island news-magazine. The position involves writing, editing, and design work, gathering information, covering events…and probably a world of other things I can’t even think of. Today, before I leave the island for several days, was my personal deadline to get everything written, edited and sent off to the dear young man who is putting it all together…since I don’t yet have the computer or software needed to do it.

Then there’s my blog, which I hate to abandon every time life gets crazy.

So, I’ve been busy since I got up this morning…which was late, because I was up into the night working on the things that were worrying my sleep.

This is it…crunch time!

Goats

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Originally posted on Beaver Island Phragmites Control:

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After two days of tri-folding letters and stuffing envelopes, answering Emails, writing letters and writing and editing about a million words for twenty different articles, I was all ready to call it a night.

I had eaten my little bowl of buttered noodles and poured a big glass of red wine. I was headed for the couch. I wasn’t going to write another word tonight.

One last check of my Email…one unopened letter. The title: Goats. I knew what this was about.

“Don’t open it!” my tired self advised…but I opened it anyway.

So, here I am, in the middle of the night, at the desk.

I know.

Goats are an outstanding biological weapon against invasive plants.

No chemicals needed.

They eat Oriental Bittersweet. They eat Poison Ivy. They eat Phragmites. They eat Kudzu, for heaven’s sake!

We can’t use goats here.

Though they are a valuable, non-chemical helper in…

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My Sweet Girl

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Today, my granddaughter, Madeline, is fifteen years old!

I don’t know where the years have gone.

I remember, clearly, her mother at fifteen.

Hey, I remember being fifteen myself!

They say we are always the same age, inside.

I think that holds true for the ones we love, too.

I am always about thirty-five years old.

Oddly, so is my mother!

My daughters, in my deepest heart-held memories, are in the three-year-old to ten-year-old range…though they surprise me constantly with their capable maturity.

My grandsons are suspended in my memory, too, in that time when mischievous smiles and silly giggles could give way at any moment to big hugs and snuggles.

Madeline, sweet girl, is always exuberant, chatty, and wildly in love with life…and animals.

Happy Birthday, Madeline!

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