Feast

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It would be wonderful if – when amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities came around – there was always space…and time…and energy enough to say, whole-heartedly, “Welcome!”

There have certainly been big open chasms in my life, at times, when even a simply “good” opportunity would have been welcomed…but, no.

When the lovely chance to assume responsibility for the Beaver Beacon came along, it was not one of those times. My life was pretty full-to-the-rim already: Five jobs, two dogs, house, yard, garden, sisters, brother, children and grandchildren. No space, no time, no energy for a new project. No way!

And yet…

What an opportunity! What a challenge! What a stroke of good fortune based more on kindness, friendship and generosity than on my in any way deserving such a chance! Nothing like this would present itself again, in my life.I couldn’t say “No.”

Unfortunately, I also could not say, “Sure, great, but give me six months or so to get my life in order first…”

So, here we are.

Here I am.

I haven’t been writing here but, trust me, I’ve been writing! I get up some mornings at 4AM to write for a couple hours before I go to work. I write sometimes through dinnertime and bedtime.

I haven’t been very active here, but I’ve been busy. In addition to my hardware store job (which, due to an employee moving away, takes more time than I want to give it…and could take even more than I am giving it), I have several part-time obligations. I am logging in donations sent to help our treatment of invasive Phragmites this year. I am taking phone calls and responding to inquiries regarding other invasive treatment scheduled for Beaver Island. Tomorrow, I’m flying across with my aunt to get her to an appointment. I am attempting to learn the intricacies of my new computer, and the design software I downloaded onto it. I am attending events, going to meetings and doing interviews for inclusion in the Beaver Beacon.

One thing I’ve noticed about living on Beaver Island: There is no one to complain to about having too many obligations. Everyone is busy! I managed to get a little complaining in at a meeting the other day, then felt foolish when I realized the people I was whining to were even more over-burdened with duties and obligations than I am!

I remember times when I struggled to fill my time with something interesting or exciting…when I contemplated hobbies and re-read books. I remember feeling bored! Wouldn’t it be nice to just have a nice balance? It never seems to work out that way, though.

My Mom used to say, “It’s always feast or famine.”

I’m in the middle of “feast!”

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Breaking Patterns

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At the moment before the sun drops below the trees in the western sky, this view to the east is glorious. The trees seem lit from below; every branch, leaf and needle stands out. The colors are spectacular, at any time of year. I should pause every single day, to watch this. Wouldn’t that be a worthwhile habit?

I know I’m good at forming habits.

My life abounds with examples.

Unfortunately, the habits I most easily form are not the ones I want.

First there are the “bad” habits: addictive; unhealthy; wasters of time. Those habits are easy to form and hard to break.

As for addictions, fear of dependance makes me cautious. Though I quit smoking cigarettes many years ago, I know just one puff would have me right back in that downward spiral. I enjoy alcohol only occasionally, and almost never to excess. When I read about a drug that gives a feeling of euphoria, or makes all problems seem to disappear, I think, “WHY would anyone ever mess with that?” It’s not that I wouldn’t like my problems to disappear…it’s a fear of liking that feeling. At this time, caffeine is my biggest addiction, and the jury is still out on whether that’s unhealthy or not.

I have plenty of unhealthy habits, whether coffee is one of them or not. There is my love for chocolate, butter, pasta, bread and cheese, each of which I indulge in more than is good for me. There is my habit of skipping breakfast, and my habit of eating supper too close to bedtime. There is my habit of sitting too long in this computer chair, or hunched over the drawing table or bent over a bit of stitching or crochet. I’m sure there are others.

Time-wasting habits abound. Many revolve around the computer. Mornings, with coffee in hand, I check Email, then a social media site where I check updates then take my turns in a trivia game and a word game, then this site where I read and sometimes comment on several blogs. Evenings, I often repeat the process. When I have television (not right now), I rarely miss Jeopardy.

Then there are the “habits of neglect.”

These are amazingly easy to form. They say it takes about 21 days to form a habit. True, if applied to a “good” habit. Not, however, in the case of habits of neglect.

It’s a scientific principle: “There is a tendency toward disorder in the universe.”

Based on that, disorder is the default setting. Three weeks to form the habit, say, of making the bed every morning; two days of neglect and the habit is gone. File every paper as it comes into the house…to a stack of mail on the counter just inside the kitchen door. Drink eight glasses of water a day to, “I’m not much of a water-drinker.” For ten years I walked two miles almost every single day. Now, after one year of extremes: snow, ice, rain and mosquitoes, that habit has become, instead, the habit of neglecting my walk. For more than three years I have regularly posted blogs. Is my habit now becoming one of neglecting to write?

This has to change! I am disgusted with the stacks of paperwork and projects that have become “landscape” throughout my home. I am tired of the long list of things I need to do just to “get back on track.” I am terrified of losing myself in all the clutter and “busy”ness that surrounds me.

It’s time to change those patterns. It’s time to decide what’s important and eliminate what isn’t. It’s time to devote time and attention to what is meaningful in my life. The list is pretty basic: family, friends, art-making, writing, reading, walking, cooking and gardening. And remember to pause and appreciate glorious moments that are handed out free.

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…

View original 744 more words

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!