What’s Not to Be

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Tomorrow, it will be one year since my sister,  Nita, died.

I’ve been thinking  lately about what a great old lady she would’ve been. We sisters often noted how Nita seemed to have never grown up. In some ways, though, she was like a person who had been around for quite awhile. She brandished personality traits that many of us don’t take on until we have sixty or more years behind us.

Nita spoke her mind. Always. In our family of quiet, shy and meek individuals, Nita stood out. “No fair!” was her battle cry, whether spoken to brothers and sisters, friends, parents, teachers or employers. She argued for her rights from the time she learned to speak. She was never shy with her opinions. She was quick to call “B.S.” whenever she felt it was warranted. A couple years ago, as Brenda and I were preparing a snack,  she said, “You guys are constantly talking about losing weight, but all you ever do is eat!” We would have loved to defend ourselves, but we were filling our plates at the time, so we let it go.

Nita was stubborn, cantankerous and hard to handle, at times. Two years ago, on a sister’s vacation, all of us went to play Pub Trivia together. Nita could see there was cheating going on, with answers being shared from table to table, and researched over cell phones. As the evening progressed, she became louder and more vocal in her displeasure. We suggested letting it go, ignoring it and not making a scene…none of which went over very well with her. At the end of the night, going back to the hotel in a cab, Nita pulled out her E-cigarette to calm her nerves. The cabdriver thought it was a real cigarette, and threatened to fine us two hundred fifty dollars. Nita loudly asserted, “It’s not even real,”  then, under her breath, “you moron!” It took every bit of diplomacy the rest of us could muster to get Nita to put it away and quit talking, to convince the driver she didn’t mean any harm and didn’t know any better, and to manage to get back to the hotel without being kicked out of the cab, paying a fine, or worse.

I’ve heard folks say they love old people, just like people love unicorns or puppies or chocolate, as if old people are all the same. Nita was not like that, but she certainly was sympathetic and understanding toward the elderly. When she was a young mother, Nita took a job as a seamstress for the convalescent home my mother worked at. Mom would bring her a sackful of mending – pajamas and under-clothing that had never been worth much, now worn and tattered, but important to those it belonged to – and Nita would meticulously repair elastic, fix buttons, hooks and snaps, and stitch delicate fabrics back together. At one of her last jobs, Nita was working at a restaurant in Florida where old folks gathered for coffee and breakfast each morning. She told me how she enjoyed the interaction with each of the regulars. “I have to remember what they like for breakfast, though,” she said, “’cause they don’t.”

Finally, Nita always had one of those hugging, kissing, doting-on-the-babies personalities  that  is usually associated with gray-haired grandmothers. She was the aunt who would make the soft dolls or stuffed animals for her nieces and nephews. She could remember all their ages and birthdays, and managed to have photos for occasions that even the parents neglected to record. Nita could talk for hours about how handsome, how smart and how beautiful our children were. “Our family has the prettiest babies,” she’d exclaim. Every new baby was a treasure to her.

Yes, it’s too bad she didn’t get the chance. I think Nita would have made a great old lady.

 

Orange

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orangeThe color orange is probably my least favorite, of all the colors out there. I don’t really like most greens, either, though there are a few shades that are wonderful. Red is my favorite color, but not when it leans too far toward magenta. I like purples, but not when it has too much red. Going in the other direction on the color wheel, red can take some of orange’s influence before it goes bad. “Tomato” is a beautiful shade with just a hint of orange. “Barn red” has a bit more orange, plus some black or umber to deepen the hue. “Rust” is usually an acceptable orangey-red. The color that we used to call “Indian red” but that now has a much more politically correct name (that, alas, escapes me) is a nice, rich red-orange with brown undertones. That’s about as far as I like to lean, though, toward orange. It’s simply not a color I like.

And yet…

When I was preparing for my first baby, we borrowed a bassinet from my mother. It was the same one she had used when all of her babies were tiny. It had a sturdy frame that could be folded up for transport. On top of it was a large woven basket with a handle that could be used to carry it, or be pushed down out of the way. There was a little oval mattress inside, and there were tiny drawstring sheets to fit the mattress. Wanting my new baby to have every advantage, I was eschewing pastels in favor of more stimulating colors. I had searched far and wide for baby yarns in bright colors, and had crocheted a baby blanket – one giant granny square, with a ruffled edge – using all the brightest shades of the primary and secondary colors. As a final statement, I bought three cans of spray enamel and painted the bassinet…bright orange.

Years later,  I was bothered by the severely neutral space of the new townhouse we’d moved in to. Every wall was white. The tiled floors were beige; the carpets were all gold. Harvest gold. I decided to throw caution – and our security deposit – to the wind. I chose to paint one wall. I picked the wall that ran from the front of the house to the back. It started in the kitchen, behind the sink and sandwiched between brown cupboards above and below, and a gold counter top. It continued over a short wall with a serving counter on it, through the dining room and into the living room. I painted the wall orange.

Many years after that, when I was gardening here on Beaver Island, I had one troublesome flower bed. On the east side of the house, it didn’t get enough sunshine for many of my usual flower selections. I had daffodils there in the spring. In the summer, there was a clump of feathery periwinkle blue flowers, and some fluffy pale pink blooms. To round it out and bring it to life, to that bed I added a good number of upright phlox. With their distinct, sharp leaves, sturdy stalks and bold blooms, they were the perfect accent to the other flowers. The color I chose? Orange!

Sometimes, no matter how much I dislike it, orange fits the bill.

Timeout for Art: Not Much

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Another week gone by with no time in the studio.

Another week with not much to show for it, in the way of art practice.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Though my participation in most rituals of the Catholic Church have fallen by the wayside, I like Lent. Just like the start of a new year, or the milestone of a birthday, the beginning of Lent offers another chance for improvement, renewal or a fresh start. It comes right about the time I have disappointed myself with most  of my New Year’s resolutions, so it gives me an opportunity to redeem myself in some small way.

I thought of giving up all sweets (oh, NO!), or just chocolate (but I just opened the second package of wonderful chocolate truffles that I received at Christmas), or bread (but I just bought that nice loaf of sourdough). I thought of giving up swearing or drinking, but I don’t really do enough of either to make it a true sacrifice. I thought of adding something that would do me good, like exercise or meditation. I thought of committing to doing something for others, like writing a thoughtful letter each day to people who would appreciate it, or some other form of good deed. Nothing really struck me as a winning commitment.

This morning, at my messy desk with a cup of coffee and a glass of water, as I rushed to sketch the scene in front of me so that I’d have something to publish here, I decided. I am going to make a sketch every day. I won’t say “drawing” because that implies a finished work, and a level of time and energy that I may not have. A sketch every day – for Lent – is a reasonable thing.

The Second (Downstairs) Court Street Apartment

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My husband, Terry, with Fritz, Dec. 1971

I don’t know how it happened that I still have a photograph of my husband, Terry. I no longer have the husband! In fact, I had two to choose from, both taken while he was sitting in this same chair (a beautiful, oak Craftsman style rocker with leather seat and back that his mother found at a sale and meticulously refinished for him), in the downstairs Court Street apartment. They were taken on two different days. I set aside the second one because his socks were dirty, there was visible debris on the floor and the dog wasn’t in the picture.

I used to have several photos from this apartment. Fritz was a very cute dog, and I took lots of snapshots. All gone now. There was one photo of me, in a floor length purple bathrobe that accentuated the fact that I was very pregnant, that was taken from one end of the apartment while I was standing at the other. It gave a much better idea of the architecture and layout. It has disappeared. There were photos of my new baby, Jennifer, as this is where we lived when she was born, and until she was about five months old. They have migrated, over the years, into the albums or collections of others. So this is it, one photo that shows very little of the downstairs apartment where it was taken.

This apartment was not the apartment directly below us when we lived in the upstairs apartment. It was the ground floor of the other duplex apartment, when the building had been a duplex. Now, divided into four apartments, the upstairs units each resembled bedrooms off a hallway; the downstairs units looked like the public living spaces. Our address was 205A Court Street. The apartment was on the corner of Court and Horton Streets, so – unlike any of the other units in the same building – we had a back door that led to our own driveway off Horton Street.

Wooden steps with a rickety rail led from the driveway up to the back door. Entering that way (which we always did, for reasons that will soon be clear), the kitchen presented itself. It was a big room, with cabinets and appliances lining the side walls. There was room for my little table and chairs in the center of the room. Straight ahead, in line with the back door, was a doorway leading to our living room. My husband kept a chin-up bar, a sturdy tension rod, in that doorway for exercise.

When this building was new, the center room would have been a formal dining room. Large windows lined the wall on the right. On the left, a door at the rear revealed a deep closet  in the space under the stairs. Another door, toward the front, was now sealed. That would have led to the upstairs bedrooms.

An eight-foot-wide archway led from that room into what had once been the living room, and that we used as the bedroom. A door on the left led to the large porch that all of the apartments shared. In the front corner, a small bathroom had been installed. A huge picture window looked out onto Court Street. A transom window above it featured a large, etched floral design.

Once we moved in, the only ones that came to the front door were strangers, Jehovah’s Witnesses or people who had never visited before. Everyone else knew to go to the back.

We painted the living room a sunny yellow and hung gold curtains to offer some privacy for the bedroom. We set up crib and bassinet for the baby we were expecting, and tried our best to fill the large rooms with our meager furnishings. We celebrated our first Christmas there. We first brought our baby girl home there. I started reading through recipes and having kitchen successes there, including the best blueberry pie ever, and some memorable pots of soup.

My friend Linda and her husband, Darrell, visited us often. Now that we were both married, and both either expecting a baby or a new mother, we had more in common than we’d had in years. We had meals together and played a lot of games. Darrell was a sore loser, so the challenge was often to find a game he could win at. One day, we were visiting while waiting for my husband to come home from work. Terry walked in the back door, put down his lunch bucket, grabbed onto the chin-up bar and (the show off!) swung himself up so that his body was in a straight line, parallel to, but about six feet off the floor. Suddenly, the woodwork gave away, the tension bar let go and my husband dropped six feet onto the floor. Of course, we burst out laughing. Of course, he writhed in pain and cursed us all, which only drove us to more fits of uncontrollable laughter. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, because we laughed first, and asked that question later.

Terry’s uncle moved with us, from the upstairs to the downstairs apartment, but I was cranky about it, and he soon moved on. My father-in-law, Jack,  would often stop in the mornings for coffee, to visit with me while I bathed and dressed the baby. My sister Sheila stopped in one day with her friend Debbie. They were thinking they could hang out and skip school at my house. I gave them a lecture, my husband dropped them off at school, and that was the end of my little sister thinking I was going to be her accomplice. I was a grown-up, after all, with my own apartment, a husband, a baby and a dog…all at not quite twenty years old.

Before my baby was six months old, we moved from this apartment into our first house.

Who Knows Me?

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I have a piece of foil that I’ve been re-using for about three years. It wasn’t new to start with. It was a scrap that had been used to wrap something or cover a dish. It was torn, too small for most jobs, but too good to throw away. Not that I would have just thrown it away; here on Beaver Island, we recycle just about everything. Aluminum foil is one of those items that has its own bin at the Transfer Station. In my mind, this piece of foil wasn’t ready for the recycle bin, either. I use it to cover the can of dog food each day. I have one of those snap-on plastic lids designed for covering a can of dog food. I may dig it out and put it to use, too, when I have to. For now, this piece of foil is doing a fine job.

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I have another piece of foil that I save in a plastic bag in the freezer. I take it out, unfold it, and use it when I make chocolate no-bake cookies or  chocolate butterscotch haystacks. When the cookies have set, and can be moved to a plate or packed into bags for sharing, I re-fold the foil and save it until I need it again.

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Another plastic bag keeps butter wrappers at the ready, in case I should ever need to butter a pan before putting batter or bread dough in it.

At my sink, I have an ancient “scrubby” that is almost – but not quite – ready for retirement, having lost almost all its grit and scrubbing power over the last several years of use.

I have about fifty corks, saved from wine bottles over the years. There are things to make by re-purposing them, when I have enough. I drink wine, but not daily. At this point I wonder if there’s time in my life  to collect enough corks to make a decorative wall treatment or a backdrop for a dartboard. Still, I can’t bring myself to throw them away. Maybe I should just make a trivet and be done with it.

My studio is filled bit bits and pieces that – someday – might be exactly what I need. Some are sorted by material: metal, wood, paper; others by shape. One large tote of paper scraps has devolved into such a dense mound of paper, finding a particular piece would be almost impossible. Still, when I try to sort, it all seems precious.

My sister and I got together last week, for a little visit. I had to attend a seminar in Clare; I went down a day early, and Brenda drove up to meet me. As usual, she brought presents.

First, a cordless phone, so that I can once again walk through the house while having a conversation. I’m no longer tethered to the cold corner of the office by the telephone cord! Second, a computer, to replace the one that crashed at Thanksgiving-time, just out of pure generosity and kindness on the part of Brenda and her husband, Keith. A bag of hand-me-down clothes, every one thoughtfully chosen based on my size and preferences. That led to a fun hour of trying everything on! There was another bag of bath salts, crossword puzzles, and books because Brenda never forgets that I love them all.

Finally, a bag of letters. Laminated ABCs, with the capital on one side, the small letter on the other. Hundreds of them! “Keith bought a small chest…these were inside…if you don’t want them, we’ll just throw them away…” Are you kidding?! Throw them away!?! I LOVE them!

It’s nice to know that no matter how quirky and odd my habits may seem, Brenda knows and understands me!

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Forty!

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Today is the fortieth day in my year-long writing commitment. Forty days in a row that I have posted a blog. Forty days without missing a day. In my life, this is big! Major! Maybe even unprecedented!

So, that’s what I’m going to focus on today.

The success.

Not the forty things I have let slide in order to keep up with this challenge.

Not the forty things I am behind on.

Not the “Creative Fire thirty-day journal challenge” that I dumped after less than one week.

Not the forty (more like four hundred!) other attempts to form good, productive habits over the years that have been abandoned. Like walking every day. Drawing every day. Starting every day with yoga. Meditating daily. Making the bed every day. I could go on and on. You get the idea.

And definitely not the three hundred and twenty-seven days yet to go, before this commitment is finished. Let’s not think about that.

Today, I have written a blog for every day of the year, so far. I have managed to find subject matter that has inspired me and – I hope – entertained those who stopped in to read. I have only rarely devolved into navel-gazing journal entries. I have averaged about four hundred words a day. For me, that’s a huge accomplishment.

For today, that’s what I’m going to celebrate.

The 52 Lists Project #6

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Week 6: List the ways you love to have fun:

I love to

  • Read
  • Write
  • Work puzzles
  • Play word games
  • Play trivia
  • Plan
  • Arrange things
  • Rearrange things
  • Paint
  • Draw
  • Take pictures
  • Garden
  • Walk

Most activities are solitary, true.

My mother once said, “Of anyone, Cindy could live on Beaver Island just fine. She always was the most anti-social of all my children.”

My sisters and brothers once jokingly decided I was the most likely to be able to survive in prison, for many reasons including my enjoyment of being alone, my ability to entertain myself with just a book or a deck of cards, and my appreciation for cafeteria food.

I do reach out, though, through my art and my writing. Sometimes, though rarely, I even enjoy hanging out, having conversations and laughing.