When Things Fall Apart

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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.

I Fall To My Knees

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I’m reading a book by Norman Vincent Peale: Positive Thinking Every Day. It has a little prayer or meditation or positive message for each day of the year. I feel, most of the time, that I could use more positive thoughts in my life! Actually, the book is one I bought for my mother. It is inscribed, wishing her “Merry Christmas and much love, 1996.” When Mom died, my sisters set it aside for me.

Though it makes me feel good to think that as I  turn the pages I am following her movements, I’m not really sure she ever read it. Probably, though.

Mom was a positive-thinker, a believer in miracles, a pray-er. She had so many children, I suppose she had to be.

My most sincere prayers have been for the health and well-being of my children. Or dogs.

For the most part, I’m not much on praying, though. When friends are ill or having difficulties, I’m careful to offer “best wishes” or “good thoughts” rather than prayers. Worse than not praying, I figure, is offering to pray and then not doing it. I cut my losses.

Even so, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my knees.

These longer, warmer days provide a chance to work in the garden.

Snowdrops are wildly blooming along the edges of my flower beds. Clusters of Narcissus and Daffodils show all shades of yellow. Tulips have fat buds at the top of their stems. Iris and Day Lilies have presented their fan-shaped leaves. Through it all are layers of wet brown leaves that fell from the maple trees last fall, long bunches of pale Day Lily stalks and leaves and the remains of the fall-flowering plants. Together, they hide the progress of persistent spreading weeds.

Every day I come home from work, stash my papers and bags, let the dogs out to enjoy the sunshine, and I drop to the ground. My tools are simple: one claw tool for loosening and lifting roots, one ratcheting pruner for wayward rose, grape or wisteria branches. The creaking, wobbly and rusty wheelbarrow stands nearby.

My rule is that I’ll work at least one hour, and fill the wheelbarrow at least once with debris.

First, I pull all the dead stuff away, working with my hands around stalks, raking with my fingers though the blooms. Then I tackle the weeds.

Years ago, when I had about four fewer jobs, and much more impressive gardens, friends would ask me to come over in the springtime, to look at their gardens, and help them determine what was a desired plant, and what was a weed. I couldn’t help. I don’t recognize every good plant, and I don’t know all weeds, especially in the springtime. My advise was this: “Pull what you know: pull the grasses; pull the dandelions. If you’re not sure about it, wait until you’re sure.” Weeds show their true nature soon enough.

That’s the way I do it. One at a time, I move the rocks that border the flower beds. Roots of grasses are visible there, as they try to move into the gardens. I dig in with my fingers. I try to use gloves, but can’t get a sense for what I’m doing, so I usually set them aside. I pull roots up one by one, and follow them to the end, or until they snap. When an area is clear, I move on to the next rock, and repeat the process.

When I am working at the hardware store, I’m often thinking of things I need to accomplish for the news magazine, or for the townships. When I’m driving to and from other obligations, I’m planning art projects or remodeling projects, or plotting where I’ll find time to get groceries or do a load or two of laundry. When I’m awake in the middle of the night, I’m running through to-do lists or writing articles and doing interviews in my head.

When I’m working in the garden, I’m hardly thinking at all. One leaf, one root at a time, I am in the moment. It’s the closest thing to a meditative experience in my life.

The entry for May 1st, in my little book of positive thoughts, says this:

The secret of prayer is to find the process that will most effectively open your mind humbly to God. So experiment with fresh prayer formulas. Practice new skills and get new insights.

May 7th, I have heard, is the National Day of Prayer.

If the sun is shining, I’ll be on my knees…with my hands in the dirt.

When Everything Comes Together

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I like Goldie Hawn.

I always have.

I like her style, her laugh, her personality.

I love her hair. Whatever the length, it always comes across as purposely  tousled, a little messy. It suits her.

The thing is, I’ve always thought that style would suit me, too. I feel like that wild mane would fit my personality. The trouble is, I can’t pull it off. It’s not just that my hair is the wrong color and the wrong texture. It’s not only my small stature, short neck or round face. It’s worse than all of that.

The fact is, though I think of myself as a bit unconventional, kind of wild, somewhat bohemian, when it comes right down to it, at least as far as the hair, I just can’t stand it.

I have tried.

I would pull my hair up into a sloppy ponytail…then take it down, brush it smooth, and secure it into the meekest ponytail possible. I would pull out a few tendrils around my face and neck…and before long would be lifting each strand to tuck it back into place. I would make a loose, off-center, over-the-shoulder braid…but then redo it into a neat, centered braid, secured at both ends. I would get a daring short haircut, imagining something edgy and spiky…but by the time I walked away from the bathroom mirror, I would have tamed it into something better suited to my grandmother.

Now, with age, I have settled into a cut and styling method  – though not ideal –  that works for me. The cut is a slightly layered, long-ish bob. I dry my hair with my head hanging up-side down, then toss my head, letting the hair fall where it wants.

Then I take the brush and  smooth it all into something very conventional before going out the door.

It’s about control. It crops up in many aspects of my life.

I rarely sing or dance in public.

Though I love bright colors, my home and my wardrobe are mainly black and white.

I hold pretty firmly to the theory that there is one right way to do a thing, and I try to adhere to it.

Inside, I’m a wild bohemian artist.

Outside…something else entirely.

Cats, for their dignity and reserve, would be the pet that would suit me best. For many years cats were the only pets I had. Cats being cats…and me being me…we spent much of our days just ignoring one another. Settled in my lap if I sat down to watch a movie, curled around my feet in bed at  night, basking in the sunshine as I worked in the garden, my cats were companionable but not needy.

For several years now, I’ve had dogs instead. They like a little more interaction; they want more attention. They hate it when I leave, are thrilled when I come home and want to be near the action, always. If I’m at the kitchen sink, both dogs find excuse to be in the kitchen. If I am sitting at the desk, they lounge on the cushion beside me. When I am in the shower, Rosa Parks watches from her spot beside the heater. Clover, who hates a bath, waits just outside the bathroom door.

Dogs will not be ignored. I find myself chatting with them through the day. Sometimes I just talk to myself about them, knowing that they are listening.

“That Clover Sue is a good, good dog,” I’ll say, “We’re so lucky to have that Clover Sue!”

Her tail wags in response.

“Rosa Parks goes out the big door,” I announce to the room, “Rosa Parks does number two outside!”

She struts proudly in for her reward.

Clover sleeps on her own cushion beside my bed.

Rosa Parks starts out in the bed with me. My sleep is altered by her presence; I’m aware of her movement just as if I had a small child in the bed with me. Most nights, once she knows for sure that the time for pets and pats, ear-scratches and belly rubs is over, she curls up at the foot of the bed. Sometimes, especially on cold nights, she moves up to the “spooning” position, tucked in behind my knees as I lay on my side. Now and then she chooses to sleep on my pillow, in the space between the top of my head and the headboard.

Usually, mornings after sharing the pillow with my small dog, my hair looks like a rat’s nest.

Or maybe a dog’s nest.

But, every now and then…

Every great now and then…

I look in the mirror and think, with joy,

“I have Goldie Hawn hair!”

Still Here

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With warmer temperatures and Spring breezes, the snow is melting fast. Off the path and into the woods, though, there are traces of winter, still.

The ice breaker came in to the harbor here on Beaver Island, and our ferry boat has now made three trips to the mainland and back, right on schedule. There is still ice out there, moving around based on the wind direction and currents. Sometimes it jambs up the north shore, sometimes crowds back in to Paradise Bay. It will all be gone soon.

My old dog is still with me, though I watch her closely for the signs of discomfort. She has learned to get along quite well walking only on three legs. The other day, in fact, she managed to tear a giant hole in the back of my garden fence, then leap through it in an effort to get to a cat that was lounging on the roof of the garden shed. The weather has been pleasant, and she enjoys being outdoors while I’m working in the garden. When her time comes, I’ll bury her in that spot in the front yard near the snowball bush, where she sits right now in the sunshine.

I’m still here, though I haven’t been visiting or writing on this site much.

I’m still struggling with incorporating my new enterprise into my life. I have neglected my personal pursuits – my studio work, this blog and my other writing – for the necessary tasks involved in putting out a news magazine. It’s a matter of shuffling things around, until a balance is reached. That’s what it takes whenever a new challenge comes into my life. It doesn’t seem to matter what brings the change, or how welcome it is…there is always a struggle.

The thing that has brought this particular endeavor beyond the realm of a normal transition is the #&@*%# computer. Actually, the combination of a new computer with a different program and – entirely new and foreign to me – design software. I have sat in front of the screen trying – unsuccessfully – to make it work until I was ready to weep…until I was weeping…day after day, until I was ready to throw the whole shebang out of the second story window.

I came to the conclusion that I cannot do this alone.

It is hard to admit defeat!

Harder still – for me, at least – to ask for help.

Difficult…but necessary.

With little to offer in the way of compensation for the trouble, I asked. Several people went out of their way to assist. We are getting it together! As soon as details are worked out, I’ll have more information.

Meanwhile, I feel like I may be getting a little bit of my life back!

And I’m happy to be back here!

This Dreary Day

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This is a sight I’ve grown accustomed to. I have many photos like this taken at all times of the year: two dogs ahead of me on whatever path I choose: ears alert to sounds of chipmunk or squirrel, sniffing the air for whatever information the smells give them; tails always wagging. Sometimes the big dog takes the lead; sometimes it’s the other way around.

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This one was taken in March of this year, on one of our last walks.

My big dog, Clover, developed a limp about a month ago. I thought she twisted her leg stepping through piles of deep, softening snow, or that she slid on ice. When it didn’t improve, I took her to see Jeff, my boss and our island veterinarian. She had almost entirely quit using the troubled leg. X-rays showed something on her bone. It was probably a growth, but maybe caused by a trauma. Had she been bumped by a car? Certainly not that I was aware of. We put her on gentle pain medicine, and gave it some time. After ten days, when it only seemed to be worsening, more extensive X-rays were called for. Consultations with another vet, a pathologist and a medical doctor followed. Definitely a growth…and spreading quickly.

“You won’t want to have that limb amputated,” Jeff said, more as a statement than a question.

“No!”

How could she adjust to that?

Clover, who has always loved the outdoors, who never missed a walk, who would take a car trip down to Fox Lake, but always chose to run the two miles home, will not, at this stage in her life, suffer that indignity.

She has been with me for nine years. She was my daughter’s dog before that, after she rescued her from a life on the street in Tennessee. It was my granddaughter, Madeline, that named her. The first veterinarian she saw then, more than eleven years ago, estimated her age to be about seven. He also suggested she had probably been a part of the dog fighting industry. She showed signs of having lived a pretty rough life.

She’s had it pretty good since then! Kate and her family adored her. When they were moving, and couldn’t keep her, she came to Beaver Island to live with me…and I quickly grew to love her, too.

“Right now, she’s okay,” I told Jeff,  “The pain medicine is working.”

That appeared to be true when I said it. The deeper truth was, I needed time to get used to the idea of life without her.

About the very moment that Jeff left for a week away, the pain worsened. I have increased Clover’s dosage, and still she whimpers in her sleep. She comes to lay her heavy head in my lap and gaze up at me, confident that I can help her. She stubbornly climbs the stairs – with difficulty – when she wants to, though I jump to get her when I hear her attempting to come down. With one front leg unusable, I’m afraid she’d topple down the stairs. She is laying now on her pillow on the floor beside my chair.

Jeff will be back on the island soon. I have a few questions, but I know, pretty surely, the direction this is taking. Clover has been a good companion, and has always trusted me. I can’t let her down now.march2015 062

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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.