Monthly Archives: August 2013

Oh, Yeah…

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I live on Beaver Island.

When counting my blessings, I never mentioned it.

I forget, sometimes, how special it is.

When I was in college, coming back here to work only in the summertime, my daughters complained: they would miss all their friends, there would be nothing to do, they would die of boredom. “Hey, guys, we are lucky to be able to do this,” I told them, “Summers on Beaver Island…that’s how the rich people live!” As it turned out, they made new friends and found plenty to do. Now they wish they could be here in the summertime.

This is where I always wanted to be. From the time I was eleven years old, and we were able to take annual vacations to Beaver Island, I never wanted to leave. No one ever felt as lucky as I did when that finally became a reality.

It’s easy, though, to get caught up in the “day-to-day”.

We work hard here, just to get by.

I doubt any of us here chose this place for the money-making opportunities. We came for the peace, the beauty, the atmosphere…still, we have basic needs.

The “rat-race” here is not a battle that will ever be won.

We’ve been making great strides, but I think our pay rate here is still a bit less than it would be on the mainland. Career opportunities are rare. I am not the only one with a terminal degree working at menial labor. Besides, we pay more for almost everything, from electricity and gasoline to milk and bread. There are a few “frequent traveler” promotions, but we pay the same amount on boat or plane as any visitor. Things break down and need to be replaced, just like they do anywhere.

It’s easy, then, to get caught up in the struggle. In the summer, when there are lots of jobs to be filled, some people work dawn ’til dark, and beyond. I don’t even attempt that pace anymore…and yet, I find myself somehow with several jobs, working too much, with too little time for pleasure. I sometimes get out to see the sights only when I have visitors.

I designed a bumper sticker a few years ago that said: “Beaver Island: Dreamers at Work“. I think that kind of says it all. The struggle is to hold on to the dreams. To remember what brought me here. To remember to slow down enough to enjoy it. To keep in mind all the things that make this place so special.

I live on Beaver Island!

I stopped in the middle of the road on my way home from work the other day, to have a staring contest with a white-tail deer.

I changed out of work clothes last night, then decided to take the dogs for a swim. I grabbed my book and drove down to Fox Lake…in my pajamas.

Wild blackberries are in abundance this year. I’m able to pick a quart every day from the bushes around my house. Before that it was raspberries, from my garden and the field beyond. Strawberries before that. I have eaten fresh berries every day for months!

People know me, and I know them.  When they ask how I’m doing, they really want to know.

The water all around…the sky overhead…

I live on Beaver Island!

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Sixty-One Blessings

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Last year, in honor of my sixtieth birthday, I compiled a list of the 60 most influential women in my life.

The list included family members, friends, poets, activists and authors.

I intended to write a blog about each person on the list.

I considered gathering recipes from each person, living or dead. I already have Emily Dickinson’s “Black Cake” recipe! My list, and the essays, combined with photos and recipes  could be assembled into a nice book, I thought.

In the course of the entire last year, I wrote three essays on women from my list: Mom (#1), Johanna Spyri (#38) and Emma Jean (#24).

That’s me, full of ideas…brimming with good intentions. My life is punctuated by unfinished projects!

Still, it was a good exercise, just writing the names. It caused me to think about who influenced my life, and how, and why.

For my birthday this year, I’m counting blessings.

First, two parents who loved their children and always did their best.

Five grandparents: four that I knew personally and loved; one that I was acquainted with only through her photo – always on display in my childhood home – and the stories my Dad told.

Ten siblings: I’m eternally grateful for every single one of them. Each one – even those that died in infancy – has helped to guide and shape my life.

Two daughters: by far the most heart-wrenching, soul-stretching, life-enriching blessings in my life.

Four strong, smart and handsome grandsons.

One charming, intelligent and beautiful granddaughter.

Three in-laws: father, mother and sister, who I’m glad to have known.

Seventeen nieces and nephews. And now their children…and their children’s children.

Other relatives: aunts and uncles and cousins.

Friends: I’m happy to say I’ve gained at least as many as I’ve lost over the years, and appreciate every single one.

Two sweet dogs.

Three one-hundred-year-old Maple trees on the north side of my house.

Six jobs. No, maybe seven.

Two vehicles: both in good running order.

One non-running vehicle that has served me well as a “garage”.

A fresh, unopened bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream.

My mother’s hope chest!

Seventy-five cookbooks!

Paul McCartney’s autograph!!

Almost one hundred birthday greetings on my Facebook page!

Cards and gifts from family and friends!

Phone calls from loved ones on my birthday!

Clearly, I should be much older than this.

Sixty-one is too small a number, for counting all the blessings in my life!

August: Sun Shine

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The month of August, for me, brings a wide mix of emotions.

It always has.

As a child, the hot days pulling weeds in the garden were balanced by time at the lake, splashing around at the Hill Top Beach, or fishing from Magabelle’s dock. The stifling nights were often spent camping in large tents in the the backyard, with an assortment of sleeping bags and army cots to accommodate the masses of over-heated children.

The field behind our house offered mysteries and danger, wild berries and lots of hiding places. The willow trees, front yard and back, always offered a nice shade. The privet hedge shielded the back yard play area from the passing cars. We wore as little clothing as possible, and were barefoot except for church-going. I treasure one photograph of a cluster of us little children, squinting into the sun in a mad collection of underpants and shorts. My brother Ted, the only boy in the photo, is the only one with a shirt on!

August was birthdays and birthday parties, family reunions and family vacations. The start of school loomed just around the bend, but even that brought new supplies, a fresh wardrobe and its own level of excitement.

August was the best month of summer…made even more sweet with the knowledge that the season was coming to an end.

Now, as an adult, I still feel the bittersweet mixture of joy and sadness all through the month.

Here on Beaver Island, the cooler nights of August remind us to treasure each summer day. Warm weather and our “Home Coming” celebration bring the crowds. Visitors pour off the ferry boats and planes, or their own motorboats or sailboats. They enjoy the beaches and wander through the shops.

Yet, every week is marked by people leaving. The businesses are forced to rearrange work schedules to make up for employees who go to get settled into dorms or houses, to get registered for classes, to get ready to start another job, or just to get a break before the season has passed them by.

Every joy at seeing loved ones come to visit is juxtaposed with sadness at their departure.

To the many birthdays we’ve always celebrated in August, my family has added a whole collection of memorable dates. Many are happy ones: we have several wedding anniversaries in August. Others note passings: my sister Sheila and both of my parents died in this month. It is almost impossible for a day in August to go by without a memory attached to it.

This year on August 2nd – which is my godson’s birthday but also the day that, two years ago, my sister, Sheila, died unexpectedly – I had a meeting before my regular workday. My granddaughter, Madeline, and I walked the dogs early. We picked raspberries in the evening as we watered the beans and squash. We took our simple dinner upstairs to the studio to watch Jeopardy while we ate. We read two chapters before bed.

The next seven days – which included two birthdays and two wedding anniversaries – were spent in similar fashion.

On August 10th, family and friends came: Robin and Dick first, then Bob, Gary, Brenda, Keith, Amy, Danielle, John, Lillie, Nicole, Jim, Kristen and Chris. Cheryl and Joel arrived the next day.

Sunday, August 11th, was our “Home Coming” Dinner, a much anticipated annual event held at the Holy Cross Hall here on Beaver Island. This year was special, as a series of events had caused the dinner to be cancelled last year. Madeline and I made pies to donate to the dessert table.

We didn’t attend, though.

In our group, Sunday was “Thanksgiving in August.” Brenda cooked turkey and all the trimmings! Because I am never able to get off the island for that holiday, it was wonderful to enjoy that lovely meal surrounded by my family.

August 11th is the birthday of our dear family friend, Mary, who watched all of us grow up.

It is also the anniversary of the day our Mother died, two years ago.

That wasn’t forgotten, through the laughter and chatter and, “pass the gravy down this way, please.” We are happy, though, to build new memories to go along with the other ones.

Tuesday, Madeline left on the ferry boat with my sister, Amy, and her family. I waved them off, then went to work. I felt like I could cry uncontrollably if given half a chance. Yet when I stopped at the house where my sisters were staying, my friend, Bob, greeted me at the door with a big hug, and before I knew it, I was happily surrounded by the love of my family.

And the week went on, joyously.

Yesterday, all remaining family and friends left.

Last night’s dinner was a simple affair.

The evening, without diversion of any kind, seemed to drag on a bit too long.

It was awfully quiet out here on the Fox Lake Road.

I went to bed early.

The sun came up warm and bright this morning, though. It shined through the trees as I walked the dogs, leaving dappled patterns on the path.

Summer is not over yet.

There are still warm days to be savored, memories to be made, sunshine to enjoy.

There is still some August left.

Summer Wash-a-Day Blues

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I love the look of clothes hanging on a clothesline.

Not everyone does.

Even here on Beaver Island, there are communities that have banned them.

Happily, that’s not the case at my home, here on the Fox Lake Road.

I threw out my dryer a few weeks ago.

Lord knows, I had gotten my money’s worth out of it. My husband and I bought it – used – for fifty dollars back in 1979. Lately, it had been sending out a fine mist of lint every time I used it. It took me a while to figure out where all the dust was coming from. It took me another great while to do something about it. I might still be putting up with it, if the laundry room floor hadn’t started sprouting mushrooms.

My washing machine was leaking.

I had noticed dampness around the base of the washer whenever I did a load of laundry. I assumed the leak was from a hose. Because the washer and dryer sat side by side, the only way to access the back of either of them was by pulling them straight out. I can push a great deal of weight, but to pull either appliance straight toward me was not possible. There was no place to get a grip. There was no room to do the zig-zag push and pull technique that I employ when moving the refrigerator. I worried that if I were able to somehow manage it, I’d displace the hoses so that I’d be unable to diagnose the problem anyway. I was equally afraid of upsetting the vent-work for the dryer.

It didn’t seem like that much of a problem. A little moisture, a bit of dust.

Then summer came.

With summer came my granddaughter, Madeline.

Madeline, who loves painting and gardening and beaches.

Who is not above climbing trees or playing in the mud.

But who (heaven forbid!) cannot possibly wear the same outfit twice, ever, without laundering it first, can’t use a towel more than once, must dress appropriately for every occasion, whether it be a trip to the ice cream shop or an hour in the garden and firmly believes our dining room table needs a fresh tablecloth at least every second day.

I’ve had considerably more laundry than usual.

My laundry room floor started growing mushrooms.

One day, when Madeline was at day camp, I dismantled part of a shelf support in order to move out the dryer, so that I could get behind the washer to try to fix the leak.

It turns out, I had bigger problems than I had anticipated.

The moisture put out by the washing machine was much more than what was evident from the front. The particle board floor under both appliances was spongy, wet and rotted.

As far as I can tell, the hoses are all intact and working fine. The – reasonably new – washing machine seems to be leaking from the base.

The back of the dryer had bare wires and missing panels and was harboring enough dryer lint to be a huge fire danger. It should have been replaced years ago. I retired it immediately, better late than never.

Since then, we’ve been drying everything on the clothesline.

I’ve always used the line for drying sheets and blankets, rugs and sometimes towels…when the weather was warm. Other clothes get too wrinkled, I thought. It was impractical to try to dry everything, with my work schedule, I insisted.

It turns out, it takes a bit of forethought and discipline, but it’s really quite possible. Enjoyable, even!

Madeline has become quite expert at the process, too, and helps with the hanging out and folding. She insists that we’re saving hundreds of dollars this way.

Her amounts may be an exaggeration, but I’m sure we’ll see a difference in the electricity bill.

Still, there have been a few rainy days where I’ve watched my clothes dripping on the line and wished I had a dryer to make my life easier.

And we’re not yet into the cold weather.

For now, though, having clothes hanging outside to dry seems just right.