Off-Track

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Clearly, my writing practice has gotten off track. Sometimes that happens when I’m focused on getting other areas of my life in order. Sometimes it’s just one more thing in my life that has fallen into disarray. That’s how it is right now. Chaos.

Summer is a busy time here on Beaver Island. Things are going on all the time. It starts with Memorial Day, and special events for the Beaver Island Birding Trail. There’s a Bike Festival. When we get through the Fourth of July parade and festivities, we are faced with, in quick succession and sometimes simultaneously, Baroque on Beaver, Museum Week, the Beaver Island Music Festival, the Beaver Island Jazz Festival, several art events, Home-Coming, and the August Dinner. There are art classes, movies, yoga classes, and special events at the library.

Work is exhausting, with longer days filled with heightened business. “How is business,” people often ask. “Really busy!” is my reply. Invariably, the response to that is something like, “Well, that’s good!” Yes. It is good. We need the busy summers to sustain us through the slower seasons. Still, I bite my tongue to prevent saying how tired I am, and how much my feet hurt. “Good, my ass,” I think to myself.

Yesterday, I painted and framed, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show. I worked several hours on the next issue of the Beacon. I pulled some weeds from the flower beds. I did some very necessary cleaning. I spent, I admit, at least a couple hours in lazy self-indulgent relaxation, recuperating from the past week.

Today, I made two trips to town to deliver nine pieces to the Gregg Fellowship Hall for inclusion in the art show. I stopped at the marina to make the final payment on my car repair. Post Office, gas station and grocery store completed my list of errands. I stopped at Aunt Katie’s to tidy up. She is still convalescing on the mainland, but I like to keep an eye on things.

My cousin, who was cutting and bailing hay across the road from Aunt Katie’s, told me there was a broken bail I could have, if I’d get it out of his way. So, I drove onto the field and, armful-by-armful, loaded the bail of hay into the back seat and onto the front passenger seat of my car.

Home, I unloaded the hay onto the pallet near the garden shed, on top of the few remaining bails of straw. Unloaded the twenty-pound bag of dog food. Went back for the toothpaste, bottle of wine and “Iron Out” rust remover, and the stack of papers that came in the mail.  Laundry next. I put in a load of towels with the rust remover, then gave the toilet, tub and sink a shot of it, too. I tossed all of the rugs outside for shaking, and swept through the whole house. Shook the rugs and brought them back in. When the washer was done, I put the wet things in the laundry basket, and started a load of dark clothes. I took the towels out to the clothesline. I fed the dogs.

Finally, I sit down to write. It is after eight o’clock in the evening. It has just started to rain (of course…with laundry on the line!). I haven’t started dinner yet. Tomorrow, it’s back to work. I think it’s time to open that bottle of wine.

 

 

Friendly Visitation

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Last night, my father visited. He’s been gone from this world for almost twenty years. He lives happily, though, in my thoughts and memories, and those of others who knew him well.

Dad’s work ethic is a constant influence in my life. I’ve told these stories before. No one could keep up. Beyond the long hours at General Motors where he worked as an electrician, Dad always had a dozen projects going. He was filling in the swampy areas, in the empty lot next door, to help to keep the mosquitoes down. He was adding a shoulder to the narrow paved road we lived on, so that the children that lived down the road would have an easier time walking to the bus stop.  He was raising pigs… chickens….an ever expanding garden…and – at any given time – keeping his own and a dozen or more other children busy and entertained.

I have joked that Dad often treated us like his own crew of migrant workers. Up in the morning early to pull weeds in the garden, at dusk we’d haul hoses and buckets to water the plants. In between there was plenty more to fill the time from helping with housework, taking care of little brothers and sisters, meal preparation, harvesting and canning, feeding the animals…and on and on. Mom was involved in all of this, too, as well as being the one to defend us, or answer to Dad if our work wasn’t done to his expectations.

His stubborn cantankerousness was legend, too. There was a particular way to make a bed, or wipe a table, or weed a row of beans. Dad didn’t just want us busy, he wanted things done right. Arguing in defense of cut corners was futile. He was rock solid in his opinions, and would hold his ground, picking up anger and momentum as the discussion continued. His sharp temper affects the way I deal with conflict, still. No matter how sure I am of my position, a contrary opinion spoken in a sharp tone will bring tears to my eyes and silence me every time. It’s humiliating, but I am unable to react in any way but the way I reacted as a child, to that tone of voice.

Listen to my ramblings for long, and one could be led to a particular image of my Dad. It would likely be inaccurate, because I’ve neglected the very best aspects of him. Beyond the firm belief in hard work and a job done correctly, and a stubborn insistence on his infinite rightness, my Dad had the heart of a young boy.

Dad was a tease. He had a twinkle in his eye and a little mischievous sideways grin that gave away his pleasure in the moment. Dad loved projects and adventures. He could turn work into play, or – when that was impossible – make the reward worth the effort. A  coca cola and a dime for the jukebox while Dad shot the breeze with the bartender was a fitting ending to a day spent in hard work. There were harvesting parties, corn-gathering parties and butchering parties, but also sledding parties – often involving the biggest hills, or specially-designed icy ramps. On Beaver Island, there were long days spent on the beach, and evenings of long drives filled with stories.

That was the person that visited last night. Driving home from a friend’s house after dinner and a movie, my Dad was suddenly with me. It wasn’t a ghost-like visitation; there was nothing mystic about it. It was only the definite feeling of Dad’s presence as I winded down the narrow roads toward home. I could picture him clearly: one hand casually slung over the bottom of the steering wheel, the other cradling a can of beer. I could imagine his voice as places led to stories, and hear his laugh as we rolled downhill toward Barney’s Lake.

The movie I’d watched was about an old man whose curmudgeon-like ways belied his big heart. The dinner was picnic fare, cooked over charcoal. I’d had two glasses of wine. The drive home, after dark and guided by the light from the head lamps, was alone a rarity for me. The route along Barney’s Lake was one of Dad’s favorite drives. I’m sure all of these things contributed to his presence last evening. Whatever the cause, it was a welcome visit!

 

 

 

A Morning of No Enthusiasm

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Sometimes, I wake up early and can’t fall back asleep with rampaging thoughts of all I need or want to do. Not today. I lay abed long after I woke up, trying to drum up a little incentive to get up.

There was a cool breeze coming in through the open window; I was cozy under the soft comforter. Darla, from her spot beside the bed, had rested her big head on my chest, to accept all the attention I could give her. She rewarded me for the petting with an occasional big lap of her tongue on my face. Rosa Parks, not to be left out, had nestled in to the space under my other shoulder, so that my second hand could scratch behind her ears. Her throaty murmurs – the closest thing to a purr I’ve ever heard coming from a dog – let me know she was enjoying the interlude, too.

Finally, I got up and made coffee. Last night before I went to sleep, I’d jotted some notes in my journal as reminders of what I wanted to accomplish today. There it was, if I needed a refresher. There is house work, yard work and garden work. There are bills to pay and bookkeeping to be done. I have a list of stories and articles to prepare for the next issue of the Beacon.

There is a long list for the studio, including cleaning and clearing space, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show, and packaging a collagraph to be mailed out. There is old work to finish and plans for new work waiting. As I am wise to my wily ways of avoidance, procrastination and trade-offs, I rarely allow myself to go to the studio first. It is reward, for jobs well underway or tasks completed.

Sunday mornings used to be an exception to that rule. When I had television, my Sundays started in the studio, with the TV tuned to CBS Sunday Morning, coffee conveniently on the shelf beside me, and whatever I was currently involved in, on the drafting table in front of me. It was a lovely way to wake up, and made this day of the week stand out.

When television went digital, the only way to get a signal out here in the middle of Lake Michigan is to pay for satellite TV. I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. For the news, Jeopardy, and a handful of other programs, it hardly seemed worth the cost. I do miss that excuse to spend Sunday mornings in the studio, though!

Now, I get my news from the computer, where one link leads to another, and it’s easy to waste an entire morning following a single event. It’s also simple, from this spot at the desk, to click over to social media, to see what’s going on there, and comment on a status or two. Before I know it I’ve wasted half a day.

It’s afternoon, now, on this precious Sunday. It’s high time to get into gear, and find a little energy and enthusiasm for all the things that wait for me!

Nothing’s Lost In God’s Kingdom

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I have a co-worker who insists that, to find anything, one must state – out loud and with confidence – “There’s nothing lost in God’s kingdom.” I have to admit, it has proven to be a pretty reliable method when I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup or when one of us has misplaced the hand-held computer. It’s not working so well at my house.

Losing things is easy for me. I spend far too much time looking for stuff. To compensate, I try to have a place for everything, and stick to it. In an extra file drawer, there is a slot specifically for tape, another for tape measures, and a third for staples and staple guns. Pens and pencils always belong in a cup on the desk; the dogs leashes go in a basket by the back door; my purse always hangs on the back of my desk chair. Those designated spots have added hours to my life, that otherwise would be spent searching.

It’s a good system, but there are flaws. Sometimes, that’s because an item is unusual or new, and doesn’t have a designated place. Most often, it’s because I neglect to enforce my own rule about putting things where they belong…or, I get scatter-brained. Lately, I’ve been doing lots of talking out loud about nothing lost in God’s kingdom while tearing around looking whenever a new possibility crosses my mind…and – so far – to no avail.

First, I lost an envelope. A customer handed it to me while I was working at the hardware store. It was addressed to the Beaver Beacon, and I believe it held a check for three subscriptions. I didn’t open it, but folded it twice, and tucked it into the left front pocket of my blue jeans. Then, I continued my work day. When I got home, I worked out in the garden for a couple hours. Later, I showered, put on pajamas, and dropped my clothes into the laundry basket.

I woke up the next morning with a start, having remembered the envelope. It was not where I expected to find it, in the pocket of my jeans. Then the search began. Could it have fallen out in the garden? In the car on the way home? At work? Might I have shifted it to another pocket? In my jacket, maybe? Or tucked it into my purse? Could I have accidentally thrown it away, with stickers, tags and other detritus that I pick up at work and carefully only put in my right-hand pocket?

You can see where this is going. For three days now, I have been looking for the missing envelope. I have searched the house, yard, garden, car, and the hardware store. I have gone through all pockets and every trash receptacle. I have gone through every pile of papers, every nook and cranny. The envelope is lost.

Yesterday, in an amazingly productive day, I finished mulching the raspberries, put up tomato cages, fenced in the garden, and finally completed the mowing of the back yard. At one point I brought the camera out, to document my progress.

I photographed the lawnmower, nearly invisible in the last patch of really tall grass. I took pictures of the garden, the flowers, and the finished lawn, complete with towels hanging on the clothesline in the background. I photographed one hundred feet of deer fence rolled out over the grass in my front yard while I trimmed twelve inches off, so that it would be the right height. I documented the tangled snarl of deer fence after it was dragged to the back, and as I fought to wrangle it around the posts that border the garden. I took one final picture of the fence, finally in place.

In between pictures, I was careful to put the camera on the potter’s wheel, along with other necessities I had brought outside. When I was done for the day, I gathered up scissors, pruning shears, staple gun, two boxes of staples, graph paper tablet, pencil, camera and coffee cup, and carried it all inside.

It was after my shower, while the dogs were having their dinner and mine was cooking, when I went to download the pictures from my camera. Where was the camera?  Scissors and pruning shears were in the basket by the back door; the tablet and pencil had been deposited on the dining room table; staples and staple gun were in their proper file; my coffee cup was in the sink. No camera!

I checked outside. I retraced my steps inside. Then I did it again…and again. I tried bribing the dogs, “Find the camera, and I’ll give you a treat!” I chanted “There is nothing lost in God’s kingdom” while continuing to search. Is it sitting in plain sight, and I’m just overlooking it?

Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to post photos of my productive day, I decided, instead, to share photos of my “reward.” On the day that I got such a huge list of things accomplished, I was treating myself to a T-bone steak dinner with asparagus spears and sauteed mushrooms on the side. I’m not big on photographing food, but it would be compensation for not being able to show the other pictures. Then, it struck me. Without a camera, I can’t photograph my meal or anything else. The camera is lost!

Tuesday, Already

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Today is Tuesday. Tomorrow, it’s back to the hardware store, for another five-day run of long, busy days, with only bits of remaining energy left for my own stuff, crowded into the fringes of the days. So, I always have big plans for my “weekend,” which this week included Sunday as well as the usual Monday and Tuesday. Plenty of time, right? As always, my list of things to accomplish was much longer than the hours available.

Sunday, a friend was coming over to help me level and set the posts around my garden. I’d offered him dinner, in exchange for his help. I started my day catching up on the news, then my writing. After that, there was some necessary house-keeping to do, so that a guest would not be shocked, or have qualms about having a meal here. I cleaned the bathroom, and swept a mound of sand and dog hair from my floors. I cleared the mountain of bills and other paperwork from my dining room table, and put a fresh tablecloth on it.

I put dinner together, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with food after working in the garden. I boiled eggs and potatoes in separate pans and put together a potato salad. I made a side salad of romaine, peppers and carrots. I floured and browned chicken thighs, then put them in a baking pan on top of a layer of sliced red peppers, and smothered with barbecue sauce. I assembled a rhubarb crisp, to be baked at the same time as the chicken, then covered and refrigerated all of the dishes.

By that time, I had a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. I tackled those, and moved a load of laundry through the system. I doused up, then, with mosquito repellent, and headed outside. I took the dogs for a short walk, then moved a bail of straw and mulched around a row of plants. I pulled some weeds, picked some berries, and debated whether the “field” that is my back lawn would be dry enough for Monday mowing.

When my friend arrived, we spent a good two hours getting my garden posts lined up correctly, and set firmly in place. I was hoping to get the tops lopped off level, too but, it turned out, the one job took long enough. We were stepping and digging where I had newly-sprouted seeds; I was nervous and testy. He was critical of the posts I had chosen, and my alignment. Several holes had to be re-dug, to move the post two inches in one direction or another. I had put the chicken and dessert in the oven halfway through our project, so dinner was ready when we finished. A good meal and some relaxed conversation was – I hope – enough to show gratitude for his help, and a little remorse for my crankiness.

He left right after dinner. I spent another hour outside pulling weeds and moving straw, until it started to rain, foiling my plans to finish mowing on Monday. The evening was – I thought – well spent, laying out plans for all I intended to accomplish the next day. “A good list is half the battle,” I told myself. I plotted a whole series of chores and stops in town, so that today – Tuesday – I could stay right at home, to concentrate on writing for the next issue of the magazine, that is coming up close on deadline.

Monday was productive but, just like the day before, each task took longer than expected, complications and diversions got in the way, and I accomplished much less than I intended. I had four people to track down about past-due accounts; I managed to catch up with only one of them. In my pathetic attempt at bill-collecting, I devolved into a hard-luck story and tears, which threw my mood into a downward spiral for the whole day. There was a long wait at the bank. I got side-tracked at the hardware store. Another stop was at my aunt’s house, to clean her floors. As I was leaving, she asked if I would come back tomorrow (Tuesday) to help her with another project. Of course.

So, here is Tuesday, already, and I still have a long list of things I have yet to get done, on a day that I can’t, after all, spend exclusively at home. Not only that, but it’s already 10:30 in the morning! If there is going to be any hope, I’d better get busy!

 

The Best-Laid Plans…

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My garden plans changed a little over the course of the last week.

I was making slow but steady progress, using the longer days to work outside after coming home from my job. I’d greet the dogs, deposit the mail, my purse and lunchbox on the counter, grab my tote and head for the backyard. First, an all-over spray with good, “deep woods” style mosquito repellent. Then more of the same ingredients, but in an oil, rubbed onto face, ears and scalp. Then, to work! One shovelful at a time, I’d turn over the soil, then drop to my knees. I’d pull the grass and rake out the long roots with my fingers, tossing them into the five-gallon bucket that followed along with me.

When the bucket was full, I’d dump it into the wheelbarrow. When the wheelbarrow was full – after two or three bucket-loads – I’d wheel it to the front of the property, where I am slowly building a woodland garden among the trees near the road. At this time, it looks like mounds of windfall branches, grass-clippings, leaves and weeds, plus the rotting boards from my old shed hidden in the low areas…but eventually, it will be lovely: finally smoothed out, covered with wood chips, and planted with spring flowering bulbs. Then, I’ll have to find another place to dump my yard waste!

On the way back down the driveway, I stop near the garden shed and dismantle a bail of straw. I found I cannot lift a whole, wet bail, and the tires of the wheelbarrow won’t support that weight, either. So, one half bail at a time, I bring straw to the garden, to mulch around the plants and the paths between the rows.

Some evenings, I’d get enough digging done to go over it with the rake, and plant seeds. I am alternating, this year: thirty-six-inch wide beds for mass plantings; 18-inch beds for plants in rows. Every bed is twelve foot long, and divided from the next by a twelve inch pathway. I’ve had wider paths…and there are advantages…but this year I am trying to eliminate weeding by leaving few open areas.

At the front, there is a narrow bed planted with butternut squash. A narrow pathway separates it from the next, wide bed, which is planted all over with peas, four inches apart in every direction. I accomplished that by laying my muffin tin into the freshly raked soil, and pressing it down to leave an impression. I repeated that all the way through the 36-inch by 12 foot bed. I then dropped a pea seed into every other depression, all the way across the surface.

I did the same thing near the back of the garden, in the bed for beans. Bush beans – planted in muffin-tin spacing – take up the first third of the bed; pole beans, planted against the back to grow up the fence, and around a tepee there, take up the back third. Radishes are scattered in the sheltered space inside the tepee; cucumbers and marigolds take up the rest of the bed.

A narrow bed – against what will be the back wall of the garden – has zucchini and two other types of summer squash. Two other narrow beds were planted with tomatoes: one row of a beefsteak type; one row of Italian plum tomatoes. One old automobile tire sits at the back of the walkway, filled with dirt and one pumpkin plant.

That’s where I was at last week. I had two wide beds yet to dig, rake and plant: one with lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard; one with kale and Chinese cabbage. One narrow row was left, for carrots and turnips. More than half of my pile of straw still had to be moved, and arranged around the garden to keep the weeds out. A dozen marigold plants still waited, under the shade of the cherry tree, to be tucked in around the garden to fill in and brighten it up.

Then…because things rarely go according to plan in my world…things started going awry. First, my back went out. Work continued, but slower, and with a lot more groaning. Then one night, exhausted from digging and raking and hauling, and distracted by ripe strawberries on my vines, I left my garden tote outside. That night, it rained. Hard. On my pruning snips, measuring tape, scissors, twine, muffin tin…and all of my seeds. Good, for the plants and seeds already in the ground; ruination for the rest.

Having come this far, I was not about to quit. It was getting almost too far into the season for salad greens, anyway; they should have been planted weeks ago. It was getting too late for most seeds, in fact, with our short growing season up here in northern Michigan. The few remaining annual and vegetable plants in the garden section of the hardware were put on sale, 40% off. I’d improvise! I bought twelve more tomato plants, six “Early Girl” and six yellow ($1.97 for six!). I picked up three acorn squash plants, and one more pumpkin. One narrow bed for tomatoes, one wide bed for tomatoes sharing space with a pumpkin vine, and one wide bed for acorn squash. I tucked the marigolds in where they’d look pretty, and called it done.

Except for the straw. And the fencing. And the cleanup. And then, of course, if all goes well, I’ll be complaining in the fall about the work involved in preserving the harvest from twenty-four tomato plants. For the moment, though, I just want to bask in the success of finally having the garden planted!

 

Timeout for Art: A New Venue

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It would be impossible for me to deny that I am not good with change. Too many negatives? Let me state clearly: I HATE CHANGE. I want things to remain predictable, comfortable and “as they always were.” It often makes life difficult, as things rarely cooperate.

This year, Livingstone Studio – the little gallery that has carried my art work during the summer season on Beaver Island for the last twenty years – is not opening. The owner, Sue – who I love – will not be there, ready to offer a chair in the shade, a chat, and an occasional glass of wine. The little, crooked-walled log cabin gallery spaces, jam-packed with all kinds of magical wonders…closed. I’ve been mourning for weeks!

This year, I’m showing my work in a new venue. Beaver Island Studio and Gallery has lots of natural light, broad expanses of white walls, and lots of details that help to break up the space and add architectural interest. Lois – who I also love – has gone out of her way to encourage me, listened to all my misgivings, and welcomed my work in her space.

I should be thrilled. It’s the “I hate change” part of me that is holding me back. I feel disloyal, as if I’m denying how important Livingstone Studio was to me. I truly considered just taking a break from showing my work altogether. Time to grieve, I thought. I had to kind of talk myself into moving on.

The new space has also made me somewhat self-conscious about my art. I feel like when I moved out of a cute – older but personality-filled – little lake cottage into a brand new townhouse. All of a sudden, all of my belongings – which I treasured – seemed drab and inadequate. I was afraid that – in the new pristine surroundings – my art would not hold up. I had to work up my courage to go see it.

Yesterday, I finally took a few minutes to walk through. It was a quiet day, so I was able to wander the gallery without interruption, alone with my thoughts. Lois was careful and thoughtful in her presentation, and everything showed well. There is a nice flow from one room to the next. I’m still getting used to the change, but feel like this may work out.

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