Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hanging On

Standard

Image

In the Summer, these leaves are nothing special.

A simple leaf shape. A plain green color.

In Autumn, when other trees are sporting dozens of shades at once in hues from brightest yellow to deep magenta, these leave fade – uniformly – to this pale, barely orange tone. Tree wide, without variation.

Unremarkable.

It’s only in the Winter when I start to take notice of them.

These are the only leaves still clinging to the branches.

Some days, when the snow blankets the ground and the sunless days leave the pine needles looking black, these leaves are the only bit of color in the woods.

All through the Winter, and right into Spring, they hang on.

Through winter storms that stripped pine trees of their branches and caused tall maples to bow, these leaves just stayed.

That alone is pretty remarkable.

Advertisements

Dressing the Beaver

Standard

Image

One hundred years ago (or so it seems), I attended Bishop Kelly Memorial School in Lapeer, Michigan.

Our teachers were nuns. Our nuns were Dominicans.

They wore habits of white and black. Their only embellishment was the long, black rosary that hung from their belt.

No patent leather.

No plaid.

No mohair.

On the deep windowsill of the elementary classroom sat a small statue of the Christ child. About eighteen inches tall, with porcelain features and outstretched arms, I believe it was “the Infant of Prague”. Not a newborn baby Jesus, but a toddler sized version, with a kind little face and sweet blond curls.

The very best thing about the Christ statue was that he had different outfits. Though he looked to be made of the same material as any statue, it seems he must have had some flexibility in his joints, because his clothes could be changed.

There were lacy and shimmery robes of velvet or satin with gold and silver embroidery. Tiny, precious beads and crowns. A gold necklace with a large, glowing jewel. The colors seemed to coordinate with what the priest was wearing at Mass. I’m sure there was seasonal significance, with special robes for Lent or Advent or Epiphany.

As a child, it just seemed glorious to come in and see the Christ Child in new colors. I pictured the nuns sitting around in their drab but well-pressed habits, trying one outfit after another on the little statue until they were satisfied. I imagined their glee when He finally looked just right.

When I started working at the hardware store more than ten years ago, I knew nothing about the business. I was unfamiliar with the computer system they used for purchases, ordering and inventory. I was ignorant about plumbing and electrical methods or materials. I had not yet learned about paint and caulk and nuts and bolts.

As I learned, I made myself useful doing what I knew.

I cleaned the rugs and swept around the fixtures in the front of the store. I went down the aisles with the big push broom and then the mop and bucket. I cleaned the pavement outside with snow shovel or rake or broom, depending on the season.

It wasn’t especially rewarding, but it made me a valued employee. I was willing to work every single weekend, and do the grunt work. It ensured that I would keep my job long enough to become good at it.

Still, I looked for creative outlet.

As the morning server at the Shamrock, I’d been known for my “Specials” board. In addition to posting the daily specials, soup of the day and dessert offerings, I added birthday wishes for my morning regulars, sketches of the weather, and caricatures of my customers. When people marveled over it, I’d say, “Oh, thanks…thirteen years of art school, twenty thousand dollars in student loans…I can do a pretty good specials board.”

At the hardware store, I set my sights on the beaver. As tall as me and three times as round, the beaver stands on a fleecy log inside the entrance. When I started working there, he was just a greeter. He wore a simple work apron. A sign hung around his neck saying “Hi, I’m Bucky Beaver! If you need help, ask someone dressed like me…” or some such nonsense.

What is the thing, by the way, with all beavers being named “Bucky” and all dachshunds having a name reflecting the fact that they look like a sausage?? Aren’t we glad that we, as humans, aren’t named for our most obvious physical feature?

Anyway, I adopted the beaver as my creative outlet. In my mind, his name is now something a little less about the teeth and more about respecting his gender-variable status. Maybe Lance.

I watched the re-sale shop for items that might appeal to him, in the triple-X size. I stitched fabrics together at home. I fashioned costumes out of plastic trash bags and foil gift wrap and poster board. I put together a box – labelled “Beaver-Wear” – of all of his costumes.

I dressed him for the seasons the way the nuns used to dress the Baby Jesus.

Maybe even a bit more flamboyantly.

For New Years, the beaver is a middle-aged drunken version of Baby New Year, with a glittery sash marking the year, an off-kilter crown and curled-ribbon confetti.

He has worn a stove pipe hat for President’s Day.

He’s the cutest, furry Cupid for Valentine’s Day…and on, and on.

I like to think it makes people a little giddy to see him re-dressed, the way I used to feel coming in to the classroom (one hundred years ago).

I know it makes folks smile.

I left the hardware last Spring – just about the time I got really good at it – and moved on to other things.

I re-learned jobs that I used to excel at before computers entered the picture. I found that – though I may be an old waitress – I am not too old to do the job. I set my sights higher, when other careers opened up. I kept going.

The beaver looked a little sad, whenever I stopped in.

He wore a camo jacket that the owner bought just for him, and put on a jaunty hat for St. Patrick’s Day…but the flair just wasn’t there.

I am back now, just temporarily, working one day a week at the hardware store…to supplement my income in the off-season.

Yesterday, I dressed the beaver up for Easter.

Isn’t life grand?

Enough of Hopefulness

Standard

Image

Enough of planning, optimal thinking and expecting the best.

It all leads to disappointment, I think.

My friend Chris is a die-hard optimist.

We are friends in misery.

With busy lives, we go weeks or months without a good visit. But, when her sons are arguing or her job is not working out or her husband is making her unhappy, she turns to me. And, when heartbreak is upon me, Chris will always listen, and understand.

Her catchphrase is, “It will all work out,” as she relates tale after sorry tale; “It will be okay,” as she listens to my tales of woe.

I have teased her that we should carve on her gravestone, “It finally all worked out”.

I have taken her by the shoulders and asked, “When?? You tell me when has it ever all worked out?!”

My sister Brenda is the most positive person I know.

She’s a strong believer in the power of thought and visualization.

She believes in always looking at the bright side.

When I am wasting too much time on self-pity and need a good pep talk, Brenda is the one I call. When I’m afraid of a challenge and want to hear words of encouragement, I always know Brenda has them. I have to be selective, though.

I once phoned her, heart-broken and sobbing over a break-up.

“Aren’t you glad that happened?”, she asked, “Better now than after you invested any more time…”

“I’ve gotta go,” I whimpered, “I’ve got to call Chris.”

Personally, I lean toward pessimism.

I prefer to be prepared.

I like to keep the “worst-case scenario” always in my mind.

The very worst rarely happens, so it’s a pleasant surprise when the outcome is something less than total disaster.

I think this attitude has kept me smiling through years of disappointment.

Recently, though, I let my guard down.

A job opening became available here: Director of the Beaver Island District Library.

I felt like I was born for that job. From my love of reading and writing to my knowledge of books and my lifelong haunting of libraries and bookstores…from my education in literature and the fine arts to my grant-writing ability and my work with children at the school…to my public relations skills and my generally smiling demeanor and my desire to please…it was the perfect job for me.

It would also be a life changer. With a pay scale of double what I’ve ever made annually, and quadruple what I am earning now, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

My social security would be pumped up, so that it might eventually be enough to live on. That would move my retirement up to six to ten years from now…rather than at death, as I had originally planned. It would allow me to make repairs and replacements that have otherwise been impossible…to pay down my mortgage…to, for once in my life, not have to worry about every cent.

Others encouraged me.

I allowed myself to dream.

It felt like every decision good and bad that I had made in life to this point had led me to this place.

It felt like validation…as if the universe was telling me I was worthy of good things.

I poured my heart and soul into it.

Though I’ve written dozens of resumes and cover letters before, I read three new books on the process. I spent two long nights fine-tuning my submission before sending it off to daughters and sisters to approve and make suggestions. I lost another night’s sleep when I realized – too late – that a misspelled word had gotten past all of us.

There was a long wait before the library board went through the submissions.

I researched libraries – small libraries in particular – to learn about organization, funding and management. I took notes; I asked questions. I filled page after page with ideas.

I made it through the first and second cut, and was scheduled for an interview.

My hopes soared.

“Don’t even think that it won’t happen,” I told myself.

Picture it. Believe it.

But be prepared for the interview.

I tackled sample questions over the telephone with my sister.

I continued gathering ideas.

I planned a library blog…Garrison Keillor-esque, Books in Northport-like, non political, newsy and fun. I wrote the first three submissions in my head.

By this time I had more than thirty pages of notes and ideas. I read them and re-read them so that I could speak from knowledge, not by rote.

I tried on every single thing I planned to wear, to make sure there was not a speck of hardware paint or restaurant grease anywhere.

I made an appointment to get my hair cut. Brenda advised me against it, remembering me throwing the brush at the mirror over bad hair when we were kids. We agreed, it could be a confidence builder or a confidence killer, depending on how it turned out. I opted to get the new hair-do, and it turned out well.

I got up at four A.M. on Friday, to prepare for my nine o’clock interview.

I ate a light, high-protein breakfast early.

Took the dogs for a short walk.

Visualized success. Thought only positive thoughts.

Went over my notes, once again, before going to the interview.

I maybe talked a little too much at times, and stammered over a couple questions, but I felt good about it.

Brenda and I talked that night as if I already had the job. I planned kind letters to the other interviewees, and letters of thanks to all who had encouraged me.

I did not get the position.

The news was delivered halfway through my lunch shift at the Shamrock yesterday. As the news hit the social media sites, people came in to tell me, or to ask if I’d heard. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying not to cry in public. When they’d try to hug me or say, “Sorry,” I had to warn them away. Too much kindness would break down my guard, and I would fall apart.

I did that when I got home. I cried so much that my jaw aches and my cheeks are chapped. I have a headache that is probably the result of dehydration from shedding too many tears. That doesn’t often happen.

It feels unfair, but the entire process was more than fair.

It feels like I was cheated, but that’s not the case, either.

The problem is not in the result.

The problem is that I was not prepared for it.

Jack Kerouac said, “Accept loss forever.” That’s good advice.

I’m done with hopefulness.

Happy Spring!

Standard

Image

We got another winter storm this week, here on Beaver Island.

It left us with a few inches of new snow, on top of what was still on the ground.

It is snowing again, now.

We’ve had enough of Winter, sure.

We had one whopper rain-to-sleet-to-snow storm in December that took down trees and disabled electrical service and left us a little bit frightened of what else the season would give us.

Beyond that, I don’t think we’ve broken any records for low temperatures or amount of snowfall.

Still, it’s been a real Winter.

Especially compared to last year, which was almost no Winter at all.

I’m hearing people say, “Enough!”

Tired of the snow. Ready for Spring.

I understand. I feel it, too.

Still, I feel a bit sentimental about snow this time of year.

This might be our last snow of the season. I get wistful.

It is just undeniably beautiful, after all, with the trees casting blue shadows across the white surface, the sun shining down…

Whatever nature gives us, it won’t last long now.

The days are longer; the sun shines brighter; the earth is warming up.

I love the Springtime. I’m ready for it.

Still, I’m happy to be watching the snow coming down, this first day of Spring!

What Voices Do You Listen To?

Standard

Image

My friend, Kathy, writes a wonderful blog as Lake Superior Spirit.

She had posted recently about a mental dialogue, where her “inner voice” was being a bit of a harp, providing her with thoughts of how she should and should not spend her morning. The “universe” gave her the go-ahead to do what she wanted, and what she felt was right.

I know exactly what she means by “universe” though she says the word sometimes sends the wrong message.

I think we all know that deep, resonating, to-the-heart feeling that lets us know we are on the right track…that hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-raising feeling that assures us we have just heard a profound truth…that blessed calm that comes from the alignment of our world. If we’re smart, we pay attention when those feeling occur.

Still, I am skeptical. I wonder, for instance, if youth in Hitler’s Germany felt the hairs on the back of their necks rise up when they heard him speak, and thought – because of it – that they were chosen. I think of the “Son of Sam” killer, and what he did because he thought God told him to. Mass murderers and despots aside, I have given myself some indescribably horrible haircuts when moved by feelings that it was the absolute right thing to do. How could something that felt so right go so very wrong? I don’t know.

In any case, I told Kathy that her “inner voice” sounded a lot like my [trying to be a better person] self and her “universe” much like my [slacker] self. She said they usually had opposite roles, and that she’s learned what to pay attention to. It made me think about what voices I hear, and what I listen to.

There are, of course, many voices running through my head (and I hope I’m not alone as I just realized that, if I don’t have company in this, I have just made myself sound pretty crazy!). Some are hold-overs from my childhood; others come from places of fear or insecurity that I have left mostly behind; some are playful, cynical, judgmental and more.

They fall predominantly into three categories.

Freud called them id, ego and super-ego, I think. Mine may be different in scope than his. To avoid any misunderstanding, or possible lawsuit, I’m calling mine Boss Voice, Adult Voice and Child Voice.

Boss Voice is the one that reasons “because I said so” or “because that’s the way it has always been done”. Boss Voice is rigid; it does not challenge the status quo. Listening to that voice – when it matters – feels like the opposite of listening to the universe. It feels sour and cowardly, bitter and wrong.

Boss Voice rarely affects my life anymore. I challenged rules when I was growing up. I continued questioning as an adult. My daughters challenged me further. Nothing is credible only because it’s always been so. Every idea needs to prove its merit to stand.

My daughters would argue. They would say I am very rigid. They would note that I will not embarrass myself by singing in public. I refuse to be thrown into Lake Michigan or even splashed with its icy cold waters; I insist on taking a full hour and a half to get wet to my navel, if need be. They would cite my clothes-folding techniques as absolute proof of my inflexibility. I can picture them nodding vehemently at this statement.

They are wrong.

I am undoubtedly very particular about how I fold clothes. It is only because, after trial and error, I have learned what works. I don’t like to iron, and it can usually be avoided with proper folding. I also take into consideration the size of the drawer, shelf or cupboard that the items need to fit into. My bath towel folding has evolved over the years from “twice in half from the length, then into thirds with the binding out” to “twice in half from the length, then twice in half from the width, with the binding out” to – presently – “once in half from the length, then into thirds from the width, then in half again lengthwise, binding out”…because that is how they best fit on the shelf. That is not blindly following a rule! That is evolving with necessity and the times! That is Adult!

Adult Voice is the one that knows what needs to be done, and harps incessantly at me until I do it. It wakes me in the middle of the night reminding me of impending deadlines or neglected obligations. It haunts me when I sit down at the computer, or pick up a book or magazine to read. It makes me feel guilty when I choose a leisurely bath over a quick shower, a nap over a brisk walk. It is the scourge of my days…and it is my salvation. I would be lost without it. I would quickly devolve into the slothful, disorganized, scatter-brained 12-year-old that is still a huge part of my personality. Evident, always, in Child Voice.

Petulant, silly, sarcastic and playful, the child in me is at the heart of my creativity, joy and hopefulness. The Child Voice is the one singing loudly to distract me from all the “should”s and “shouldn’t”s in my life. It is saying “what if you don’t?” to everything I think I need to do. It is also the voice that encourages me to ignore the pattern, experiment with the recipe, forget what has already been done and forge my own path. It is both a curse and a blessing.

Sometimes, I look around and know, from the clutter and disorder, that I’ve listened too much to Child Voice. Other times I know, from my sense of despondency, that I have been living too much in only the Adult world. Most times, all of it works. Adult gets me up and cleaning house; Child turns it into a game. Child makes wild messes in the studio; Adult organizes it into art. Adult keeps me on top of my obligations. Child makes obligations fun!

What voices do you listen to?

Is This the End?

Standard

Image

I’m afraid it might be the end.

For my good little car.

I have a history of shabby, old, rattle-trap cars.

I had a Volkswagon Beetle once – a stick shift, before I knew how to drive a stick shift – that had no heat, no windshield wipers and no floor. Driving it down the freeway was like standing in 70 mile an hour winds. I’d wear everything I could, on winter days. I’d get off at Oglethorpe Drive to pick up my friend, Linda. She’d come running out with a grin, an afghan her mother had crocheted…and ski masks! If the tires from a passing truck doused us with slush, we’d have to pull immediately off the road to chip the ice off the windshield. The gas gauge didn’t work. We often had to be rescued from the side of the road, out of gas. I drove it to and from college classes in Flint for an entire year, jerking and stalling whenever I had to switch gears.

I had a Ford LTD that burned more oil than gas. With that car, I stopped at every single gas station I passed, and bought the sludge oil that had been drained from other cars during an oil change. This was back when you could get an oil change at most any gas station.

I had a truck the first winter my husband and I separated. It had wooden side rails on the back that would fall off into the street every time I went around a corner. Not completely off, so that I could consider abandoning them. No, the back corners were firmly attached, so that if I didn’t stop and re-load the rails, I would be dragging them alongside, like broken wings. That truck also had very poor brakes. Luckily, though, it also had a horn that would blast, loudly and without reason. My daughters like to tell the story of when the priest absent-mindedly stepped into the street in front of us. I started furiously pumping the brakes, but it didn’t look good. Then – because there is a godthe horn blasted, the priest looked up, broke into a run, and made it safely to the curb.

These are not the very worst vehicles I’ve owned, nor the most colorful. Just a random sampling.

One lousy car after another.

The car I’ve been driving for the last few years, though, has been an exception.

It has been good transportation, for about five years, now.

My friend, Ruth, and her husband, Jack, sold it to me.

It was neat as a pin, got excellent gas mileage and had a good engine.

It had one major flaw. The radio stations could not be tuned in. “I’ve got it on a station now,” Jack told me, “just don’t move the dial, and you’ll always have radio.” Great!

Five hundred dollars. Exactly my limit when looking to purchase a new car. Worth every penny!

It’s a stick-shift, and I now know how to drive one! It has front wheel drive, so gets around well on Beaver Island roads. I know for a fact it will hold at least nine adults when, after closing the bar, we decide it’s necessary to go out to the Port of St. James and climb Mount Pisgah. We tested it!

There have been expenses, of course. I had to have the heater fixed, and I bought a set of new tires before the first winter. I replaced the battery after a year or so. I spent almost a thousand dollars getting the brakes fixed, before they were finally really, truly fixed, but it now has some of the best brakes I’ve ever experienced!

There have been a few unfortunate incidents.

My grandson got mad at me – for a totally non-car-related reason – and deliberately (might I say maliciously?) spun the radio knobs. That was the end of the music.

My windshield wipers worked great for one year, then worked independently for the next two. That meant I had to stop frequently to disentangle them. When the passenger side wiper quit working altogether, I considered it a blessing.

Driving home from work one summer evening, a deer jumped in front of my car and I couldn’t avoid hitting it. The accident crumpled the hood, broke out most of the plastic grill and shattered the headlights. From that time on, the hood didn’t quite latch properly.

A few months later, driving down the King’s Highway, the hood flew up and wrapped itself around the windshield. I had experienced that several times before with a Subaru I’d owned, so it didn’t scare me as badly as it otherwise might have. In fact, it took a bit of the crumple out of the hood, though it was left with an upward slope that held quite a bit of water.

From that time on, the hood was secured with a length of rope, compliments of my friend, Laura.

I had, at that time, only one working headlamp, and it aimed directly into the treetops. I’m not often out past dark anyway, but when my sisters visited, that was not acceptable. The nice repair job – not really visible in the photo – involves three small blocks of wood, two new headlamps and a half roll of duct tape.

The very day I quit my job at the hardware store, the rope that secured my hood snapped in an extreme gust of wind, and again sent the hood flying up to the windshield. This time, the glass cracked – pretty severely in one corner, with a long crack at just below eye level across the front. It dented the roof of the car, and sent the rear view mirror flying. I whipped over to the roadside and reconfigured the rope. Good as new.

Except that, in snowy weather, the rope gets frozen in place, making it very difficult to check fluid levels. Regular maintenance gets neglected. The last time the oil light came on, it took me two days with an extension cord and my blow dryer just to get the rope off! What I found when I got under the hood was not good.

About that same time, my only remaining windshield wiper quit working.

That was followed by consultations with professionals and friends and a day trip to the mechanic’s shop for an oil change.

The rope has been replaced by a stainless steel bolt for a hood ornament, holding a slick black rubber bungee cord to secure the hood.

The wiper is fixed temporarily, but it needs a new motor. Dare I order it?

Sometimes it only takes an expensive new part or a full tank of gas to put the curse on a car.

We all had high hopes. It seemed to be working fine.

Then, leaving town last night after dinner and a movie (Eggplant Parmesan was terrific; “Argo” was sensational!), I had just rounded the corner onto the King’s Highway when lights started coming on.

Check Engine.

Oil.

Battery.

I lost power. The car shuddered, then stalled. It would not re-start.

It may be terminal.

Thank you, dear Liz, for picking me up from the roadside, and driving me all the way home.

Thank you, Tom, for giving me a lift to Aunt Katie’s this morning, so we could get to church.

Michelle and Deb, thank you so much for taking time this morning to push my car off the road!

Bob, thanks for the ride home after Mass.

Thank you, Laura, for offering me the use of your car while you’re on the mainland!

Thank you, Johnny B, for offering me the use of your vehicle – indefinitely – until I can get something else!

Thank you, Doug, for your willingness to go to town three full hours sooner than you’d planned, in order to see that I get to work on time!

Thank you, John R., for always being willing to help!

Finally, thank you, Aunt Katie, for calling just to check on me this evening, because you worried.

I was fully planning a self-pity extravaganza. I was well on my way.

I’m still a bit depressed over the condition of my car.

It’s the best car I ever owned!

Among the good people here, though, blessings abound! It seems you can be down…but you’re never down and out!