Monthly Archives: December 2012

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“Years end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”
~Hal Borland

My plan for the new year is to keep going on…to keep on moving forward, to continue trying to  make every day the best it can be and to meet every challenge with the best I can offer.

My wish for all of you is the strength and determination to do the same.

Blessings and Best Wishes!

“Years end is n…

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and a Merry, Merry Christmas…

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I’m up early, early this Christmas morning.

I’ve baked  egg and spinach pie and have dough rising for dinner rolls, and it’s not yet 6AM.

As a child, Christmas Eve seemed unbearable to wait through, sleep was almost impossible, listening for sleigh bells and magic, and Christmas morning started early.

When my own children were small, it was the same. The anticipation of what Santa left under the tree always woke my daughters early. Never wanting to miss a moment of their excitement was what roused me, no matter how late the wrapping and arranging and last minute preparations had gone.

I grew up in a large family and – due to simply the number of children receiving gifts – the tree on Christmas morning was awesome to behold.

Later, celebrating Christmas morning with my small family, I’d have to talk myself down from near panic at the idea of “not enough”. It was impressed in my subconscious that a Christmas morning tree should be almost buried in packages…that presents should spill out from under the tree and take up significant space in the room. Many times Christmas Eve night was spent with me madly sewing or crocheting last minute gifts, just to make a more impressive show.

This year, with no reason in the world to be up before the sun, it was pleasant thoughts and memories that woke me.

It’s easy, over the holidays, to get in a funk over what has changed.

Being big on melancholy, I usually indulge.

There are the sweet childhood memories, and all of that innocent time long behind me.

There are precious memories with my own daughters, now grown and far away.

Grandchildren that I won’t see, this year on Christmas.

Friends and acquaintances that I’ve lost contact with over the years.

There are people, so close to my heart, no longer here.

It’s sometimes too easy to dwell on loss. Not today.

But the memories are precious; I don’t push them away.

They are a part of my own history, and good company this Christmas morning.

What I Did When The Lights Went Out

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First of all, there’s not much you can do without electricity.

In my home, when the electricity is out, there is no computer and no telephone. The pump bringing water in from the well will not function without electricity, so water use has to be kept to a minimum. The only light, after the sun goes down, is candlelight and the occasional glow from the propane heater. Travel is impossible; I am shut off from the world.

It seems there isn’t much I can do, besides read…and eat…and sleep.

Yesterday, a winter storm came through Beaver Island. It started with rain, then sleet. By afternoon it had turned to snow. At my house, the snowflakes were almost as big as the palm of my hand. The landscape was quickly transformed from bare, wintry ground to a beautiful white landscape.

I thought of putting a soothing pot of soup on the stove, of baking bread, and batches of cookies to take advantage of the warm feelings brought on by the wonderland outside.

Then the lights started flickering. Out for a minute or two, then back on…then out again a few minutes later.

I made a simple dinner, lit candles, put dishes in the sink. I was having a dish of cottage cheese and pineapple when the lights went out and stayed out.

I finished my dessert.

I pulled out a soft comforter, picked up my new digital reader (lighted screen! genius!), blew out the candles and made myself comfortable on the sofa.

I have three books downloaded on my reader that I have yet to finish. The one I’m reading now is a mystery by Tana French, Into the Woods. Her stories are set in Ireland and feature an interesting cast of Dublin police officers. A fairly new author, her mysteries have an unpredictable quality that I like. This is the second of her books that I’ve read, though it’s the first in the series.

Cozy on the couch, with the little dog curled at my feet, it seemed like I read for hours.

I have a word game on the reading device, too, and thought of spending some time with that. Then the little icon popped up, telling me my battery was low. I held my watch up to the lighted screen to get an idea of the time. Oh. Eight-thirty. I read for a few more minutes, then turned off the device and went to sleep.

For twelve and a half hours.

I could have roused myself sooner, but without electricity, there seemed little reason to throw off the covers. When the dogs needed to go out, I got up.

No coffee.

Well, there was, in fact, about a half cup of yesterday’s cold coffee in the bottom of the pot. If it had been hot…and more…I would have been happy.

My friend, Laura, had just sent me home two nights earlier with Christmas goodies: home-made “kahlua”, chocolate nut clusters, chocolate covered pretzels…

I put the cold coffee in a loaf pan with a slosh of the liqueur, and set it on the propane stove to warm. I opened the tin of peanut clusters. Hard times call for hard measures.

Over “breakfast”, I read The Peasant Kitchen by Perla Meyers. I’d found this vintage book several months ago at a sale, and had barely given it a glance since.

My friend, Doug, pulled in around 11:00, with his plow truck. I bundled up and went out to greet him. It had taken him almost an hour, he said, to get from his driveway to mine, just a little over a mile to the south. “Lots of trees down, too”, he said. “Do they know the electricity is out?” I wondered. Doug didn’t have the answer, but said he’d look into it. I made a feeble attempt at clearing the heavy snow from my car, then retreated back inside while Doug cleared my driveway.

Too much snow on our usual trails, the dogs and I headed out straight down the Fox Lake Road for our daily exercise. Doug had cleared the way from his house to mine, so that’s the way we headed. The county road trucks hadn’t been down this way yet, so there would be no other traffic to worry about. So beautiful! So thrilling! All the new snow combined with a change from our usual route had the dogs leaping in the air and wagging tails in excitement. By the time we got home an hour later, we were ready to settle in quietly again.

I pulled out another cookbook. This time, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, purchased with great anticipation last September, never opened until today. It’s beautifully written, basic and inclusive. It made me want to be boiling an egg or roasting vegetables.

I finished off a bag of tortilla chips, for lunch. Opened the tin of chocolate covered pretzels for dessert.

Steve Hamilton has a series of mystery stories set in and around Paradise, Michigan, in the upper peninsula. I’d checked his latest out of the library when I’d stopped last week. I pulled it off the shelf.

Doug stopped back to report that the electrical outage was almost island wide, that our generators were running, so there must be outages on the mainland, too, and that he and another guy had just had to help each other out of the ditch on Paid Een Ogg’s Road. “The road crews have been down the King’s Highway, but it’s still not good. The other roads are terrible. Now it’s starting to drift”, he said, “I’d advise you not to try it today.” Well, I’d been looking forward to going to work for the coffee and hot meal I could get there, but I wasn’t excited about the drive in. Seven and a half miles can seem excruciatingly long and lonely on Beaver Island when the roads are bad. Doug agreed to call in to explain from his land line, at home.

I decided perhaps a nice winter’s nap was in order. I read just long enough to make me drowsy, then settled in for a snooze.

Without electricity, this house is perfectly still. There are no traffic noises, no motors, no voices other than my own.

I was awakened by an electronic beep…my answering machine coming back on.

So twenty-four hours later, life is back on track. I had a hot meal. I’m drinking evening coffee. The best cup of coffee! The road crew came down the Fox Lake Road. I’ve had phone calls from each of my daughters. I am better rested than I’ve been in a long time!

All in all, a nice day.

No Words for Newtown

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Well, it’s awful.

Horrible.

Unthinkable.

And…oh, my God.

We all feel it…

But words don’t meet the challenge.

It’s too much…

The knowledge that this can happen. That it did happen.

It weighs on my mind and fills my heart with heaviness.

In that, it has given me a common bond with every other person living in the shadow of this horror.

I’ve listened for what others have to say… watched to learn from how others handle it.

Words of comfort…

Words of sorrow…

Words of tribute…

Talk of change.

Our president is very good at this. Sadly, very well-practiced, too.

My sweet daughter brought it home by speaking of her own grief, her difficulty in talking to her own children, and by honoring their teachers.

Robert Genn, an artist whose newsletter almost never touches on the political, wrote of the tools that we choose, and eloquently suggested that we choose the paintbrush, the cello…not guns.

Here on Beaver Island, we met on the beach.

We lit candles.

There was some talk about the tragedy and the grief, the lack of understanding and how to move forward.

It was a good effort, but words seem to fall flat in the wake of this travesty.

There was a song. A prayer. Then the suggestion that, before parting, we give each other the sign of peace.

As we moved around to shake hands, pat shoulders, give hugs…I realized that was exactly what we needed.

A bit of comfort.

Understanding.

The knowledge that we’re all in this together.

And that is all that I have to offer.

Words are not sufficient.

Katey

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So, what is this?

I, who barely post once a week most weeks, am putting up my third post in that many days.

Amazing!

Well, not so much, really.

Today is my daughter Katey’s birthday.

She always has caused me to reach beyond my limits.

There was a time when I thought I wanted four children. When I was still in high school, I clipped a photo of four little blondes in robin’s egg blue footed pajamas posing along a bannister. I stuck it in my journal and imagined that would be my house, my family, my bannister.

That was before I experienced pregnancy and childbirth.

Then I wound it down; one child was a nice little family.

Until I got pregnant again.

And realized that was just right.

I worried that I couldn’t possibly love a second child as much as I loved the first.

Until Kate was born.

Then I realized the capacity for loving grows with the number of beings to receive it.

I thought children would grow and develop personalities based solely on what they were exposed to.

Yet I’ve watched each of my daughters grow up with their own distinct personalities, separate from me, separate from their father, and different from each other.

Unique.

Beautiful.

Much Loved.

Happy Birthday, Katey!

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#24 Emma Jean

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I don’t decorate much for Christmas in recent years, but I always haul out all the old memories.

My friend, Emma Jean, has an important role in my memories of Christmases past.

I first met Emma Jean in 1978. I had just moved to Beaver Island with my family. Emma and I worked together as waitresses for the breakfast shift at the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant.

It was my first job as a server, and I took it seriously. I was a perfect example of the completely over the top and very annoying “Hi, my name is Cindy and I’ll be your waitress…” type. Combined with my clumsiness and ineptitude, I was quite a sight to behold.

Emma Jean, on the other hand, was very skilled at the job and a little bit famous for her “What the HELL do you want from me NOW?” greeting.

I’d see her rolling her eyes at me, or grumbling under her breath, or laughing out loud at my foibles.

As the year wore on, though (no-one was more surprised than I was!), I caught on to the job. Through busy mornings and kitchen disasters and after-shift cocktails, Emma Jean and I became friends.

She is #24 on the list of 60 Most Influential Women in My Life that I compiled for my sixtieth birthday. In my life, though, Emma Jean is invaluable.

And, in my family, she saved Christmas. Twice.

The first time was in perhaps 1981 or ’82. The island ferry had quit running early that year, and we were dependent on the planes for supplies. The weather conditions were such that the planes couldn’t fly…for days on end. At Christmas! The airport in Charlevoix was packed with groceries, gifts and people waiting to come to the island. Several of Emma Jean’s children were among them, as was my husband…with our Christmas turkey and all of Santa’s gifts. In the little apartment we were spending our winter in, we were facing a tree with few presents and a can of cream of mushroom soup.

On Christmas Eve, we gave up hope that the planes would fly. Emma Jean pulled out the food she’d planned for her family meals and started cooking. She called all the “strays”. Anyone that had been trying to go home for the holidays and couldn’t, anyone who’d been expecting family that didn’t get here, anyone that hadn’t ordered groceries early enough…all were on Emma Jean’s list of invited guests.

Emma Jean’s table had been extended to the limits of her small kitchen. Lace cloths covered the surface. Christmas lights twinkled and candles glowed. Bottles of wine and other spirits waited on the sideboard. Real crystal glassware. Her best china. Hors-d’oeuvres, salads, turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, several lovely side dishes and elegant desserts. Offered, as if we were the most important guests in the world, to a motley crew that included a group of course linemen from Mississippi, a young bartender, a group of rabbit hunters and…thankfully…myself and my two young daughters.

It was a wonderful meal filled with laughter and camaraderie.

We walked home, my girls and I, around the harbor, with the water at our side, a sky full of stars overhead and the church bells sounding for the midnight mass. I still think of it as one of the loveliest nights of my life.

The second time was just a couple years later. My husband and I had separated in late October, and started divorce proceedings. As the temperatures turned cold, staying in our house proved impossible. Faced with less than a cord of soft wood for heat and water that froze whenever the temperature dropped, my daughters and I moved into a motel room in town for the winter. I packed up the car with the bare necessities while Jen and Kate were at school. In a moment of hope and with a bit of extra space, I added the tote of holiday decorations.

I was angry and sad and broke. Add confused to that list to get of picture of my girls’ state of mind.

And yet, here was Christmas.

Emma Jean stopped one Saturday in early December, with the Shamrock truck, a large pruning saw and a brown bag of refreshments.

“Get your boots on, girls, and we’ll go get trees!”, she grinned. “We need two for the Shamrock: one for the dining room and one for the dance floor; two for my house: one inside, one outside…one will probably be enough for you here”, she said with a glance around our crowded room.

That was the start of our wonderful day.

We drove down the east side as far as it was plowed, and around McCauley Road to the King’s Highway, Paid Een Ogg Road to the West Side Drive, and on and on. Whenever a trail looked passable, we took it. Whenever a tree looked interesting, we stopped to check it from all angles. When we found a “keeper”, I was the one to shimmy under it and cut it down. Though I’d heard a lot of, “Don’t worry about who’s property it’s on, it’s one small tree…” from Emma Jean, when a car came down the road while I was, belly down, under an evergreen with the saw halfway through the trunk, Emma shouted, “Quick, into the bushes, girls, HIDE!” and they ducked for cover. If the driver of the vehicle had looked into the field, he would have seen a small tree swaying with my uncontrolled laughter.

By evening, we had dropped four trees off at their proper locations and were back in my little motel room setting up a fair-sized tree. I made hot chocolate; Emma Jean cracked a beer. I strung the lights. Then the ornaments came out.

“Show me”, Emma Jean said, and my daughters did, shyly at first, and ready to discount their offerings as worthless at the slightest indication.

“I made this one in Brownies when I was little” Jen shrugged, “It’s a tuna fish can with cloth glued to it.”

“I made this in Sister Marie’s class” Kate offered, “It’s a ring from a jar with yarn wrapped around it.”

Before they could finish their description, the sparkle of interest in Emma Jean’s eyes told them the items they held were of tremendous value.

“Bring that over here so I can get a better look…”

“Now tell me again, what? A canning jar lid? Amazing!”

One after the other the ornaments came out, and were described and discussed and marveled over. One memory at a time, we were integrating Christmas back into our lives.

“This one…”, a big sigh, “…I made it in kindergarten…it’s a lid from a margarine tub, and we cut out pictures from old Christmas cards and glued them on…”, another self deprecating shrug, “…then we put glitter all over it…”, another sigh. “I hate this one, really. I always want to hang it on the back of the tree where no one can see it. My Dad always says, “NO! I love that one! That has to hang in the front!”…”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Emma Jean asked, “So, where are you going to hang it this year, Honey?”

My daughter’s eyes went to the side, and there was a slight pause before her face brightened and she laughed out loud. We all joined her.

There, in that tiny motel room, with hot cocoa and beer and evergreen, and with tremendous thanks to Emma Jean, we started to learn how to move forward.

And that is how Emma Jean saved Christmas…twice.

Lost

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I have a couple ideas for what to write about.

I have gathered photos to accompany these posts.

I have notes to remind me of what I want to say.

It’s all in my red notebook.

And I’ve misplaced my red notebook.

My daughter, Kate, gave the book to me a couple years ago, for Christmas. It’s a blank book, with lined pages in the eight and a half by eleven inch size. It has a red, corrugated vinyl cover that is easy to spot, and easy to keep clean. Red is my favorite color. It has a black elastic band attached, to hold it closed when not in use. That keeps the pages neat.

Very special.

I’d been thinking, around the time I received it, about how many magazines I kept around, simply because there was one recipe I wanted to try, one web-site to explore, one special bit of inspiration I wanted to remember or information I wanted to have at hand.

Perfect!

My habit became this: when sitting down to page through a magazine, I’d keep my red book and a nice pen beside me. When I came across a tidbit I wanted to remember, I’d jot it down in the book. In addition, I kept it close when surfing the internet, to take down inspirational sayings or snippets of information. Quotations from books, references, sequels or authors to remember were added to the pages. When putting in a DVD to watch a movie, I’d grab the book in case, in the previews, I saw another that I wanted to remember. When blog ideas came to me, I’d put them in the book, to refer to later.

Now, the book has gone missing.

It’s all I can think about.

I have searched the house and the car.

I have retraced my steps, in my mind, a hundred times.

I don’t know exactly how long it’s been gone.

I wake in the night with the puzzle still on my mind. “Oh!”, I’ll think to myself, “It must be in the old satchel that I took with me the last time I went to the mainland…” or “in the big bag that I switched off for the smaller purse last week…” or “under that box in the back seat of the car…”, and, sure that in the morning I will now be able to put my hands on it, I go peacefully back to sleep.

But, in the morning my nighttime ideas do not pan out. Then I think, “Okay, not the satchel, but what about the little overnight bag…” and one idea will lead to another search and another, until I once again feel like I’ve exhausted all possibilities.

But things do not just disappear.

It has to be here somewhere.

Sometimes I think I saw it recently, and I only need to remember where.

I can’t remember the last time I wrote in it, but I know it was not that long ago.

One week…maybe two I have been without it.

Every bit of information it holds has taken on added value simply from being inaccessible. I can’t fathom retrieving all of that absolutely vital knowledge. It is gone.

Until I find my red notebook.

Do things become more important, or just more appreciated, when they are gone?