The More Things Change…

Standard

june2015 119

Summer, more than any other season, is a time of memories and reflection.

Waves of heat, warm sand under my feet and the smell of fresh-cut grass carry memories of other summers long years ago. Sunlight and cool shade, fireworks, burnt marshmallows, fish and vegetables served up in foil packets from the campfire, sandcastles, cold water and hot sun…the characters change, from my own brothers and sisters, to my young daughters and their friends, to my small grandchildren, but there is a comforting constancy  throughout.

When the sun goes down and the wind comes up, I am transported back to my teen-age years, riding in cars with windows down, music blaring, and that ever-present sense of danger, adventure and possibility.

The growing season was my Dad’s time, and he is most present when I’m tending the garden.

In my family, summer holds many anniversaries of births and weddings and deaths, each with their own poignant thoughts.

I made a quick trip down-state earlier this month, to Lapeer, Michigan, in the thumb area of the state, where I grew up.The trip was occasioned by a combination of events. My Uncle Al, who just turned ninety-years-old, has a granddaughter who was having a graduation open-house. My forty-fifth high school class reunion was also on the agenda.My daughter was driving up from South Carolina, to bring my granddaughter to me.

A visit to Lapeer is almost over-whelming with the memories attached to it. Driving down Lake Nepessing Road, on the way to visit my brother, who lives in the house where I was raised, I found myself marveling at the age and disrepair of some of the homes there. “That is a brand-new house,” I would think, before realizing that it was brand new when I was a child…fifty years ago. Road work caused extensive detours, bringing me to places I hadn’t seen in years…every one holding mementos of times long ago: the building where I met my future husband at a dance; the little brick schoolhouse where I went to kindergarten; the Catholic grade school, almost unrecognizable now, with additions up and out; the high school I attended, now closed; my first apartment…and my second; the townhouse we lived in when my daughters were tiny; the block where I opened a gallery…I found tears springing to my eyes repeatedly and unexpectedly. Too many memories; too many years gone by; too much to take in.

In anticipation of the class reunion, I had tried on almost every outfit I owned, amongst great sighs of angst and occasional sobs. I imagined my sister Brenda’s voice, as she might have sounded when we were children, saying, “that makes you look fat,” or “that looks stupid,” or “I wouldn’t be caught dead looking like that!” I packed every single possible choice, just to ensure that the trauma would continue right up until the last moment. Brenda – who had agreed to be my “date” for the reunion – and I have each grown kinder over the years. We greeted each other with hugs and compliments. She took me to her day spa that evening, where we indulged in facials, herbal body wraps and the sauna.

The open house was a good chance to catch up with cousins, sisters and friends that I otherwise would not get a chance to see on such a short trip. We stayed later than intended, then rushed to make our evening deadline. Brenda and I each considered, for the sake of time, just wearing the clothes we had on. It was a warm day, though, and we had indulged in food and drink. By the time we got back to her house, we decided fresh outfits were in order. I tried on three before deciding on the least offensive, and made a valiant effort at fixing hair and make-up. Again, compliments and encouragement all around, and we were off.

My forty-fifth class reunion was not a stellar success or – rather – I was not a stellar success. I cringe, and think to myself, “why did I say that?” or “why didn’t I say that?” or “did I really do that?” I did not lose the twenty pounds I hoped to lose before attending. I did not gain height or poise or wit. I did not come across as someone surprisingly different than myself, which is, I guess, what I’d hoped for. Socially awkward in high school…still socially awkward at sixty-two, attending the forty-fifth class reunion. However, it was wonderful to see Chuck, whose mother was a dear friend of my mother, thus giving me memories of him that go back to my infancy. Lola, who attended kindergarten with me, is another long memory.  Kate, Barb, Richard, Patrice, Rita and Walter attended Bishop Kelley School with me, some since the first grade. Minnie, who seemed shy and very quiet in high school, was there. Ellen impressed me with stories of teaching herself how to repair her own car based on what she could learn from the owner’s manual. Cerise, very pretty in high school, is still a stunner. Darlene, first cousin of my ex-husband, was as funny and dear as ever, and caught me up on her family news. There were many who were acquaintances in school, but who have become friends as we’ve gotten to know each other through social media: Lynne, Kate, Richard and others. There wasn’t enough time to catch up with everyone, even on a superficial level. Forty-five years is far too long to try to answer, “what have you been up to?” Still, I’m glad I was there. Brenda was a great dinner companion, always better at socializing and polite conversation than I am, always fun to spend time with. The list of classmates already passed away comprised a full ten percent of our high school class. That alone gives pause, and reason to be thankful for the chance to re-connect. The meal was lovely; the wine was good; the memories were sweet. I’m happy that I attended.

My granddaughter Madeline, fifteen years old, is here on Beaver Island now, visiting for a month. We have many conversations about what is new, and what has changed. She notices the sofa (“really beautiful,” she tells me) and the flat-top stove (“my Mom thinks those are too dangerous”), the accumulated mess in my studio (“you should stop saving any more paper scraps until you use up everything you have!”) and the drawers I’ve rearranged. She is thrilled by the old, familiar sights, from the old park bench in the side yard to the suitcase full of art materials for kids upstairs. I note changes, too. Madeline has a job this year, working about twenty hours a week at the ice-cream shop in town. She has a make-up bag in the bathroom and a cell phone that she keeps close. I am comforted by the familiar: her ready smile, her love of all animals, her kindness. We talk about her friends and companions, summers gone by and pets that have passed on. We agree that it seems little Rosa Parks – a four-year-old chihuahua mix – shares the spirit of old Maggie – a malamute-lab mix that died just months before she was born.  We debate whether it would be wise to get a new companion for Rosa, now that her old friend, Clover, has died. The advantages and disadvantages all seem important until we look at images of available rescue dogs…then emotion takes over. We watch episodes of “The New Girl” on Netflix. I agreed to read The Fault in Our Stars; in exchange, Madeline will read Love Story. We cook and clean, pick berries and work puzzles together. She’s a joy to have around.

This summer, like every other, will add memories to hold close, to come to the surface when the days grow long and the warm breezes blow.

b

Moments of Absolute Clarity

Standard

june2015 108

I have long been fascinated by Edgar Cayce.

As a young man, it is said that he would go to sleep with a book under his pillow, and wake up with all the knowledge contained in that book. Mystic, psychic, seer and healer, some of his most profound insights came to him while he was in a trance or sleep state. He was known as “the Sleeping Prophet.”

I love the way sleep sometimes sorts things out. Go to bed with a problem; wake up with a solution. I have found lost objects by going to sleep with the intention in mind that the location would come to me…and it has. When conditions are right, and the mind is receptive, sleep can help to find solutions that are elusive in the daylight. I have struggled to remember a name or other detail, only to have it pop into my head at 2 o’clock in the morning!

The other morning, while dozing between the beeping of the alarm clock, it seemed that I was especially receptive to deeper knowledge. The first revelation had to do with the alarm itself, and I dozed back off wondering how in the world it had never occurred to me before. The second regarded a connection between two people that should have been obvious, but had eluded me. The third insight was that, sleep deprived and repeatedly hitting the “snooze” button, I was having moments of absolute clarity. Things were making sense that had never seemed sensible before. I should write these things down…

Later, while standing in the shower, I struggled to recall the “insights” that had so impressed me in my half-asleep state.

The first one, having to do with the alarm clock, was not correct. Though it seemed to make sense when it came to me, it – in fact  – had nothing to do with the actual workings of the alarm or the snooze button.

The second, though it also seemed like a stunning revelation at the time, was also incorrect. Jennifer Garner is not the daughter of the late Michael Landon, even though they both have those heart-breakingly wonderful dimples. I don’t think Jennifer Garner is even related to the late James Garner, though they share a name.

The third insight, that I should pay more attention to the revelations that come to me while dozing between alarms, well…

Staying Afloat

Standard

june2015 030

Lists.

Long, long lists of unfinished business.

They keep me awake at night, or rouse me from a sound sleep to toss and turn with worry. Daytime, they cause me, agitated, to skitter from one activity to another, foiling the chance of any true productivity, or paralyze me with the futility of the effort.

There are the simple tasks of daily home maintenance, that seem to pile up faster than I can address them. In addition to sweeping floors, wiping down surfaces and keeping the laundry moving through it’s cycles, I have a layer of dust on top of my refrigerator and food spoiling inside of it. I have windows that advertise this home is not friendly to flies and mosquitoes. The list goes on…

Home repair needs a list all alone. There are things that have never been finished, like woodwork at floor level and trim around closets. There is the major issue of a real floor, rather than the painted particle board I have now. There are things that need maintenance: kitchen cupboards need to be replaced or at least painted; shingles are sliding down from the roof; the particle board floor – if I must live with it – really needs another coat of paint. Screen doors…if summer brings the heat…would be a nice addition.

Yard and garden has a long list this time of year. Mow, trim, pull weeds and dead-head flowers, pick fruits and vegetables…and then repeat, over and over, until the snow flies.

I always have a list of tasks to accomplish for the news magazine. At this moment, I have township news and  a couple of community events to write up. I have subscriptions to update, invoices to send out and banking to do. I have interviews to do for the next feature story, some editing…and my own writing.

Other jobs have lists of their own, varying in importance and worry-potential, depending on the activities going on at the time. I gave my aunt’s house a good going-over on Friday, so can write that off for a week or so. Phragmites treatment is coming up soon, so meetings and paperwork are demanding more time. The hardware store keeps me busy while I’m there, and I always have a running list of things I’d like to re-organize…when I have time.

Studio work, which should be a pleasure, holds its own list of “must-do”s and “should-do”s. Now, with all of the busy-ness of summer, I would usually be closing the studio door until fall…but I have deadlines, an art show, and work that needs to be finished.

There are lists of bills to be paid. I have my charge slip at the hardware store, that includes large veterinary bills and other things that I’ve purchased. Some of it is deducted from every paycheck. I feel like I might catch up, if I could just back off on the cheese crackers, pistachios and candy bars…but then I’ll do something insane – like get a lawnmower – and I’m right back in the weeds. I have my folder of bills, and I generally make enough money to pay them all regularly…except when something unforeseen happens. This month, two visits to the dentist, gravel for my driveway, a flat tire, an oil change and a wheel bearing for my car were enough, in combination, to throw my budget into a tailspin.

That leads to the list of resources. Do I have anything to sell? Do I have work I have not been paid for? A little savings account I could close? I keep a “hidden balance” in my checking account. I accumulate it by rounding up for every check I write, and rounding down every deposit. It’s just the cents, not the dollar amounts, and yet it adds up to about three hundred dollars a year. Some years, that has covered the cost of a small vacation or a special expenditure. This year, it contributed to getting me through a financial crisis.

There are other lists: letters I need to write; recipes I’d like to try; books I want to read; places I’d like to visit…and if these were the only lists running through my mind in the middle of the night, I think I could happily roll over and go back to sleep with a smile on my face.

An Assessment of My Day Off

Standard

june2015 008

I got up at 4AM to respond to two Emails that had been disturbing my sleep.

I did a bit of bookkeeping, wrote a couple checks and played a game of on-line Scrabble.

At 7:30 in the morning, I decided to go back to sleep. Three phone calls came in while I dozed, but I let the machine pick up.

At 8:30 I got up and made coffee. I checked the answering machine and made a few telephone calls. An hour of writing, a bit of tidying the house, then a shower.

I pulled up some grasses from the edge of the walkway, and pruned some dead branches from the spirea bush.

I drove to town, picked up my paycheck at the hardware store, and went to the bank. One short visit with Sue, who carries my work in her sweet gallery here, and a look around at her new offerings, then back to business. I checked on my car, which is in the repair shop. He was still working on it, and told me to keep the little Tracker he’d loaned me, for now. If he got my car finished, he’d drive it out to my house and pick up the “loaner.”

Home…first inside, to greet Rosa, and to make a sandwich for lunch.

Mowing the lawn was my big plan for the day.

I was away in May, when I should, first, have mowed. I returned home to an overgrown lawn, followed by rain that soaked the long grass and made it impossible to mow every time I had a day off to do it. Then my riding mower went on the fritz. It’s an old, old Craftsman, with tires that go flat overnight and a gas tank that leaks, but it keeps on running…until it doesn’t. My neighbor and I have been talking about it, had a guy come take a look at it, but so far no firm diagnosis, and no cure.

Last weekend, I bought a new mower. It’s a cheap push mower, with pathetic little wheels for this rough lawn, but better than nothing. The mosquitoes were about to carry us away! It was like a jungle out there for poor little Rosa Parks! Something had to be done! Every night after work, I’ve been mowing a little…except the evening when it rained…and the evening when I got invited to dinner…and the evening I had company. Today, with the entire afternoon to devote to it, I could get some mowing done!

I did, too!

Not the back yard, which has such huge clumps of quack grass that I’ll have to take the trimmer to it first. Not the south side of the driveway: that got roughed-up when the guys came to set my garden shed in place, and needs to be smoothed out with rake and shovel before the grass can be tackled. Not the trim work around the house, flower beds, fire pit or trees. No time for that.

The yard on the north side of the driveway is about seventy feet wide. From the house to the stand of trees at the front, where I stop mowing, is 150 to 200 feet. That’s the area I mowed today.

From 2PM until 4:30, when I mercifully ran out of gas (which signaled time for a break), then back at it from 5PM until almost seven-thirty. The tall, tough stalks topped with yellow flowers have to be mowed over several times, and sometimes pulled by hand. Areas where the grass was especially thick…or wet…or both…had to be approached slowly, one small bite at a time, or it would cause the lawn-mower to stall out. Wild blackberry bushes had gotten a good start in the front near the wood, and crackled as the blades broke them up. As dusk came on, the insects came out in force. Several applications of insect repellent hardly slowed them down. A dampness in the air suggested impending rain; I was determined to finish that section.

I did it, then stowed the lawn mower back in the shed and came in for the night.

I count three black fly bites, and about a dozen mosquito bites. Two new bruises, with no explanation for them.

Leftovers for dinner: poached tilapia, and some vegetables and grains in a light sauce. It all seemed a bit healthy, so I re-heated it with a pat of butter. Perfect! Chocolate almond ice cream with a sliced banana for dessert.

One long, hot bath.

One large glass of plum wine.

Thunder…a storm is rolling in.

Bedtime.

Advice to Myself (if I could begin again…)

Standard

june2015 011

No doubt about it, I love a good “do-over.”

My battle cry, as a child, when a game of pretend went off in a crazy direction that I didn’t like was, “Starting over…” Calling it out was like crying “dibs” or being first to claim the window seat:  to maintain order, it had to be respected. Sometimes we’d “start over” a dozen times before it seemed right.

I wish I had that option in real life. Too often, I’ve taken an extreme position, let an opportunity go by or did something really stupid…out of a temporary sense of daring, a moment of “throwing caution to the wind,” foolishness, anger, sadness, or just not thinking things through.

I don’t want to start all the way over in life, but there are certainly things I wish I could re-do. If I could, and if I could offer a few suggestions beforehand (this is assuming I would listen…), some of these pointers might come in handy.

  • Don’t be so stubborn. It’s okay to change your mind, to change your pattern of behavior, to change your entire life direction if you want to. You do not have to follow every decision to it’s end; you do not have to uphold every rule. It is okay to just relax and let it go sometimes.
  • Perennial flower beds are not always the best way to go. Perennials sound like a good way to have a permanent, established and carefree garden. You don’t have to buy plants and put them in the ground each spring. However…when weeds move in, which they undoubtedly will, perennial beds are extremely hard to manage. If birds drop seeds, if neighboring trees drop seeds…or if your neighbor gets tired of looking at your lawn with grasses so tall they have gone to seed, and comes over with his own lawn mower to do the job you have neglected, but doesn’t think to aim the discharge away from the flower beds and fills them all with millions of grass and weed seeds, perennial beds present problems. The roots of weeds can get tangled around day lily corms or iris tubers, and hold on tight. Grasses growing among the foliage of poppies are almost impossible to ferret out. Maybe, just maybe, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to churn up the soil in those beds each spring, get rid of every single weed, fertilize, and plant annuals, fresh and bright?
  • Avoid situations where your voice is recorded. Stay out of photographs. When you cannot avoid having your picture taken, avoid at all costs that wide, open-mouth laughing face that makes your mouth look like a big, gaping hole. Do not lift your chin for pictures, like a child trying to be taller. Do not lower your chin to the point that you show a double-chin. Keep your arms close to your sides! When you allow your arms to go akimbo, elbows out, you emphasize everything that is already too obviously wrong with your stature and your posture. If possible, just take a cue from your father, and avoid photographs altogether. Finally, avoid any situation where you might be caught on videotape. If you find yourself in a situation…like a township meeting, for instance…where filming is going on, do not, for heaven’s sake, sit anywhere near the person wielding the camera!
  • Whenever you get the urge to employ a stern directive, wittily handled, know that you are the only one that will think it is cute. Others will see it as bossy, condescending, rude or worse. You will hurt feelings, or offend. Long after words have been exchanged and apologies have been spoken, you’ll still be waking up in the middle of the night, cringing at things that cannot be taken back. You know that your biggest regrets in this life involve things that you said, out loud or in letters, responding to anger or frustration or rallying for a cause, without thinking it through. It might be wise, as a good rule-of-thumb, to just keep your mouth shut!
  • Never, never, never move into a house that is not completely finished…because once you’ve moved in, chances are it never will be.
  • If you ever again find yourself at one hundred pounds, with a full, thick head of hair and long, black eyelashes, don’t you dare be critical!
  • You could probably get by with a lot less books.
  • Say “I love you,” often, and with feeling, whenever you feel it. Do not hold back  Opportunities go by, never to come again. Let people know that they matter.

There’s probably more…but this is a good start. If I’d only had this advice…and followed it…always, in my life so far, how much better I would feel today! If only there were do-overs!

My Week Away…and Other Distractions

Standard

garden, woods, dogs 022

The sun was shining yesterday, when I made my way home down the Fox Lake Road after a week away.

Today, it’s raining.

That’s fine with me, as I have work inside. I’m finding plenty of things to lead me away from the writing and other desk work I have to do; I can live without the further distractions of yard and garden.

After a day’s delay in leaving the island, several hours of waiting for the fog to clear for the flight to the mainland and a great deal of traffic and road work to make the drive a nerve-wracking one, I had a good time down-state. My sister,  Brenda, included me in her twice-a-week water aerobics class. Another sister, Cheryl, arranged for all of the sisters  – along with our friend, Joel – to play Pub Trivia one night. Another evening, we played Scrabble. I had good visits with each of my daughters. I received a beautiful hand-forged gift from Kate’s husband, my son-in-law, Jeremy. I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with Jennifer’s friend, Jamey. I met my two little great-granddaughters for the first time, and managed to get hugs and smiles from each of them. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Madeline and Tommy, wandering in and out of the galleries, bookstores and specialty shops that – along with a few good restaurants – have come to define downtown Lapeer, Michigan. I met the newest member of our family, my grand-niece Hannah, just ten days old. I had a nice visit with my brother, Ted. My brother-in-law, Keith, presented me with a pair of cowboy boots that he found for a price he couldn’t pass up. They fit me perfectly! The week was filled with walking and shopping, and lots of catching-up. There were meals out and meals in, all wonderful, and even better for the companionship and lively conversation. .It was a good week!

Now, it’s time to get back to work.

I made a pot of coffee and turned the computer on first thing, ready to get at it.

And yet…

The little dog reminds me frequently that – after a week alone in the kennel – she needs attention. Rosa Parks is a very social animal, and this was her first trip to the boarders without Clover to share her space. Dropping her off alone was traumatic for me (I saw none of the usual tail-wagging when we got there) and I’m thinking it seemed like a long, lonely week for her. When she wants attention, I indulge her; I was lonesome for her, too.

I have made several trips to the laundry room, to keep things moving there.

I’ve paused more than once to page through new reading material – books and magazines – that came home with me.

I called to check balances on each of my credit cards, to assess my spending habits while away.

I threw out a bouquet of long-dead tulips and watered my houseplants.

I went through a stack of mail, made a grocery list, answered a few Emails and returned a couple telephone calls.

I balanced my checkbook.

Then, it seemed of absolute necessity to report here, on my trip.

That’s it…I’m done! It’s time to get down to work…just as soon as I put those clothes in the dryer.

When Things Fall Apart

Standard

june 2, 2013 002

April 9th was my sister Nita’s birthday. This year, the first that she is not with us, I planned to write a little tribute to her. Instead, on that day, I wrote about dealing with my old, ailing dog.

I usually write a happy birthday message to my grandchildren – at least the younger ones – on their birthdays. Before the day arrives, I have generally sent a card with a note, and money for them to choose their own gift. This year, Tommy’s birthday was here before I realized it. I had put my back out while working in the garden. Finding that I did not have my usual prescription for muscle relaxers, I called my daughter to see if I could take the pain medicine prescribed for my old dog Clover. She got out her book to look it up, while noisy chatter reigned in the background. “Excuse the chaos,” she said, “we have all the kids here for Tommy’s party.”

Oh, no!

“Oh, no!” I said, “I forgot! I’m so sorry…”

At that moment, I heard Tommy’s voice urging his mother to hurry, and she (my sweet daughter!) said, “Just a minute, Tommy, Grandma Cindy just called to wish you Happy Birthday…” I had a nice chat with him. Later, I took one-half of one of the dog’s pills. That, combined with ice packs and ibuprofen, relieved the spasm and got me back on my feet.

Last Sunday, Clover died. As I sat with her outside, three trucks drove past filled with revelers on a jaunt around the island. One friend noticed me, and shouted “Happy Mother’s Day!” The others followed suit. As I sat in the grass, tears running down my face, with my hands in Clover’s fur as she breathed her last breaths, two dozen voices shouted good wishes to me from the road.

Later that day, I received the good news that my niece and her husband had just welcomed a new baby girl.

I had planned to be on the road today, on the way down-state for a visit with my family. After a long stretch of working without a day off – while juggling many other jobs and obligations – I was ready to get away. A call this morning changed my plans. I suddenly had to make other arrangements for my little dog while I’m away, rearrange my flight, delay my travel and shorten my trip.

Things fall apart.

Habits; routines; expectations.

The best laid plans.

Once I resigned myself to the unexpected changes, I decided to enjoy this bonus day at home.

When things fall apart, it’s best to just roll with it.