Monthly Archives: September 2013

Shadows of Gratitude

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My friend Kathy, who writes from her little house in the woods of Michigan’s upper peninsula, yesterday wrote about gratitude.

She was inspired by the writing of two others, and she was pretty inspirational herself.

If I could remember how to link to things, or if I had the stamina to figure it out, I’d link to all three.

It’s an important thing to remember,  to be thankful.

About twenty years ago, my mother was similarly inspired when she heard Sarah Ban Breathnach speak on the Oprah show about her book, Simple Abundance; a Daybook of Gratitude and Joy. She really took it to heart. For the rest of her life, Mom counted her blessings. She had always been one to “look at the bright side” so it was a subtle change, but important to her. Mom gave Breathnach’s book to me and several of my sisters that year for Christmas.  I remember, too, a short but heartfelt lecture about it.

“Just read it, Cindy, and sincerely give it a try! Just give it a chance, and see if your life doesn’t improve…”

I say things like that to my daughters when it seems they are struggling or unhappy. I suggest books or programs that might help to make sense of the chaos their lives seem – to me, from this distance – to be in. Even over the telephone, I can almost hear the sound of their eyes rolling, they do it with such vehemence!

A talk like that was rare from my mother, though, and I listened.

I read the book, as she requested, and started a “gratitude journal.” Not being one to throw away perfectly good paper, I have it still.  It looks like I was pretty faithful about writing down the things I was thankful for  from April 9, 1996 through May 10, 1996. There is one entry in December of that year, then a long interval until July 24, 2001…then February 3, 2002…then February 1, 2005, where the first entry is, “I’m grateful I didn’t let 3 entire years go by without keeping up with this.” Very funny. I kept up the daily practice, then, for another five days. That’s it. I’m not even a quarter of the way through the book!

What is even more startling than my lack of dedication to the task, is my pathetically negative attitude.

I have my moments.

“I am glad to have two beautiful, sweet daughters”

“…my friends and family”

“…my grandchildren”

These sentiments repeat frequently enough, as well as gratitude for a package, a letter, a good book, a sunny day, a fresh snow, a warm cat curled beside me, the arrival of Girl Scout cookies…

I’m grateful that I at least noted these good things because mostly my gratitude journal is shameful.

“I wasn’t totally depressed today”

“I’m so glad the tire didn’t go completely flat”

“My hair looked okay for a change.”

“I did not sit home alone feeling sorry for myself tonight”

“I’m glad I left the party before I got even more depressed”

“I am grateful to have made it through the day”

“I feel okay today”

“I’m glad the green paint doesn’t look so bad on the bed frame”

This is like the “Dark Side” of gratitude!

It’s no wonder I didn’t keep up with it…I was horrible at it!

Freshly inspired by Kathy’s enthusiasm, I think I’ll try again.

I still have plenty of pages to fill, after all!

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Finding Fall’s Rhythm

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This morning, I threw on warm, loose clothing and filled my lidded coffee cup. I added a tattered wooly blazer and a black felt hat with a large, orange silk flower in the rim. I put the camera in my pocket, and set out for a walk.

The dogs were stunned!

In the last several weeks, every invitation for a walk has turned into a disappointment to them.

Summer traffic discouraged walks down the Fox Lake Road.

Any off-road walks were necessarily abbreviated because of the mosquitoes.

All excursions were limited by my schedule.

There were days when, having arrived home late, I tried to convince them that a brisk jog two or three times around the perimeter of the yard counts as a walk.

Or a few trips back and forth to bring groceries, mail and other supplies in from the car.

A wander through the garden to pick what’s ripe. Perhaps followed by the added bonus of pulling weeds and dead stalks, and adding those items to the compost.

Most often lately (and most convincing, I might add) it has been a long meander through the berry brambles, in the woods and fields that surround my house.

In my busy end-of summer mode, multi-tasking was key.

The dogs weren’t fooled.

They know that when I have my bucket and head for the blackberry bushes, they are getting a “wander” not a “walk”. They follow for a while, then find a patch of sunshine for a nap.

They know a true squirrel-chasing, smelling-every-new-thing, heart-racing walk when they get one.

This morning they got one.

We headed out the back door, across the side yard and through the field to the old logging trail. Dodging mud puddles, we turned left toward the deep woods. We did not turn back at the moss-covered stone that marks the back of my property. The cool morning had at least temporarily quieted the insect population. We took the curve to the right.

Past the little deer blind, tucked into the woods.

Past the cut logs and treetops where Dusty has been cutting firewood.

Around the next bend to the left, then several curves more before we came to the open area with the little hunting camp.

Just beyond the building is a pond, almost completely hidden by the tall grasses this time of year. If we get close, and wait, I’ll sometimes be rewarded by the sight of a Sandhill Crane. A pair of them have nested there for several years now.

The dogs generally find something wet and mucky to roll in, and consider that their own reward.

They were thrilled for the long outing!

They didn’t realize I had more on my agenda than their good jaunt.

I was scouting the path to make sure it was passable for my planned hike with my friend, Judi, this afternoon.

I was gathering ferns and grasses to try out an idea for a children’s art project.

I was taking photos of this lovely Fall day.

Finally, now that cool weather has made the woods more accessible, I was checking to see if the blackberries were producing well out beyond my patch.

This time, happily, they were duped. They thought the walk was for their benefit alone.

This afternoon, with Judi, we retraced our steps for another pleasant walk.

Invigorating, relaxing, beautiful.

Just exactly what we’ve been waiting for, here on the Fox lake Road.

Odds and Ends

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I forgot my camera yesterday, so was unable to document (and post to Facebook for all the Moms and Dads and Grandparents to see) the amazing work my after-school artists did.

We talked about line.

Line can be thick or thin, wavy or straight, bold or timid.

It can be used to draw objects, but also to show where those objects are in space. It can show movement. As I was talking, I was drawing. 

“A vase!”

“With flowers!”

I added a simple horizontal line on either side of the vase, about a third of the way up.

“It’s on a table!”

I then drew three fast horizontal lines on one side. Being of the cartoon age, they understood right away.

“It’s sliding!”

We then drew fantastic flying saucers, with clouds and stars to help define the space. The last step was the addition of very exuberant speed lines, in color, to show that their spaceships were zooming through the atmosphere.

Now that it has started, I feel less stress about my little class. I think I’ve got a handle on it. The students are enthusiastic and – as usual – ready for anything.

My other jobs seem to be coming together, too.

So much so, in fact, that I met my friend, Judi, on Tuesday, for a good walk. We might do it again, today.

My schedule seems to have leveled out. I even made tentative arrangements to take a day next week to train for another job, just so that I could fill in on occasion, if they needed help.

I had dinner out with my aunt and my cousin last evening.

That was followed by a meeting last night about the Affordable Care Act. It was – appropriately – subtitled “Not (quite) As Scary as it Sounds”. I feel like I have a better handle on that now, too.

This little drawing has been sitting on my desk for a couple days now. Though it’s a simple sketch, I have walked by a dozen times thinking to pick up the clutter of objects, only to once again realize it is a drawing. That I drewand left laying there.

I could attribute that to my poor memory, failing eyesight or the generally cluttered condition of my desktop.

I prefer to suggest it’s the expert rendering of shadows.

So Much For “S’pose”

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I spent yesterday morning freshening the upstairs rooms, making beds, running the vacuum cleaner, sweeping and mopping floors at Aunt Katie’s, in anticipation of company coming. Aunt Margaret, my cousin Gail and others were arriving on the afternoon ferry. I met the boat and stopped back at the farmhouse to visit for a bit. I promised I’d stop back today, before going to work.

We were supposed to – maybe –  get a frost last night. In anticipation, I’d gathered all the summer squash, zucchini, beans, peppers, tomatoes and Swiss chard that could be harvested yesterday afternoon. I went out in the evening and covered the tomato plants.

Today was supposed to be my day off, but I was asked to fill in for someone. I’m covering the dinner shift and don’t have to be there until four-thirty, so it still kind of feels like a day off.

I started my morning by checking on the garden. No frost! I took the covers off the tomatoes. Juggling coffee cup and gathering pail, I wandered the perimeter of the yard gathering enough berries for breakfast, then came in to get on with the day.

All of the produce I’d collected yesterday had to be dealt with…except for the Swiss chard, which I’d had with dinner last night.

First the tomatoes, peeled and chopped, go into the big kettle. Peppers next: one hot, one mild. I set aside the young beans for a side dish, but the larger ones, ends nipped off and roughly chopped, get added to the pot. Small squash – whether yellow, light green or dark – go back to the vegetable bin, too. Medium-sized get washed and set aside for grating. The large ones, cut into chunks, go into the kettle. There is still room, so I go back to the garden to cut some kale. I gather purslane, parsley and basil on the way back. All goes in to the soup pot. I add just enough water to prevent sticking and put it on the stove to simmer.

When the whole mix has stewed until it’s tender, I’ll chill it. Tomorrow, I’ll put it through the food mill, and store it, labelled “soup base” in quarts for the freezer. I use it instead of water to cook rice. I use it with other ingredients to make soups or sauces. It makes a great braising liquid. With only a bit of seasoning and a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, it stands on its own as a pureed soup. It’s flavor is always different, based on what ingredients went in, but it’s always good…and always easy.

Now for grated squash. I grow three types of summer squash and – though they all have slightly different flavors and textures – use them interchangeably in recipes. When I put them up, grated, for zucchini pancakes, zucchini-crust pizza or zucchini bread, I just mix them all together. I like the little flecks of yellow or light green, and they are similar enough in taste to work.

This is one of the few jobs I actually like my food processor for. Though I’ve regretted buying it almost from the moment I got it home, hate the amount of cupboard space it takes up, despise the many small pieces to wash and store, and feel I could easily live a full life without it, the food processor does make quick work of grating a mountain of summer squash. Six quarts, labelled and dated, were in the freezer by noon.

There were four cups left over when I ran out of containers. I’d make zucchini bread! My recipe – actually James Beard’s rendition of Carl Goh’s zucchini bread – calls for two cups of peeled, grated zucchini. Who peels zucchini? Not me! Since my mound of unpeeled, mixed squash measured four cups, I’d have to double the recipe. No problem.

I had six eggs broken and beaten before realizing I didn’t have four cups of sugar in the house.

Okay. Two and a half cups of sugar and one half cup of real maple syrup would have to do.

Two cups of oil seemed like a lot. Aunt Margaret, in her baking days, used to substitute applesauce for part of the oil in recipes.

No apple sauce in my house.

But (aha!), one small jar of yams. I ask myself, might mashed yams be – taste and texture-wise – about the same mushy sweetness as apple sauce? Maybe. One cup of oil, one cup of mashed yams.

Three cups of all-purpose flour means that I need six cups in my doubled recipe.

Yikes!

That ended up being two cups of all-purpose flour, three cups of whole wheat flour and one cup of brown rice flour.

Baking powder, baking soda and vanilla caused no issues.

I spilled the cinnamon, so that was a bit more than what the recipe called for.

I had no walnuts or filberts, but a generous cup of slivered almonds went in.

After filling two loaf pans, I decided to add a half-cupful of dried cranberries to the rest of the batter before filling the third loaf pan and the muffin cups.

Bake one hour, except for the muffins which finished sooner.

Delicious!

This was supposed to be Carl Goh’s zucchini bread as interpreted by James Beard.

I’m calling it mine!

Checking messages, I see I am now supposed to be at work by three-thirty or four. I still have to walk the dogs, refrigerate the soup base, wrap the zucchini bread, change clothes and get out of the house in time to stop at the farmhouse. So much for my supposed day off!

Taking Time

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When there is no time for art, but my spirit needs art, there are ways.

When there is no time for art, I can pull out my sketchbook where I have divided each page into small squares. With my fine point marker, I can fill in one little square…or two, if the opportunity presents itself. The squares are so tiny, no need to think of perspective or balance or composition…just draw.

When there is no time for art, I can cut papers for collage. I am collecting pieces for a collage painting. Quilt-like, it will be made up of squares – cut from old paintings, drawings and collages, each with a triangle of another paper glued on in. I have templates for each shape in sturdy board. I cut each square and triangle by hand. The base I have planned for this work is 2′ x 4′. I estimate that I need about a thousand small pieces. It is mindless activity, yet there is comfort in it. Some small pieces are amazingly beautiful…far better than the large work they were taken from. The thought process will come later, in assembly. For now…just cut out shapes.

When there is no time for art, I can pull out black and white images – collagraphs, run once through the press – and add color. I don’t do editions, so my color choices are fresh and intuitive each time. The lines are already there, I’m just coloring in. Later – when there is more time – when the plate is re-inked and run through the press over the painted image, colors will be highlighted, shapes will be accentuated and small flaws in the paint surface will disappear. Now, when time is short…just paint.

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This Tired Time of Year

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Here it is…September.

I’ve been looking forward to this month all summer long!

When cooler nights and milder days provide relief from the heat of August.

When a slower pace with fewer tourists offers more time.

Time to think, to relax, to recuperate from a busy season.

And yet…

The garden is offering up its harvest. Every day there are things to pick, to prepare, to put up for winter. I’ve had to defrost and clean two freezers to prepare for this winter’s storage. My counter is lined with jars and containers, ready to be filled. Last night I was up past midnight processing chili base from my tomatoes, hot peppers and various greens. That’s been pretty much the norm, these last few weeks. The raspberry bushes need to be cut back. Peonies need to be mounded with straw. The potato plants are yellowing; it will soon be time to dig the potatoes.

The blackberries are ripening. How can I ignore them? They won’t wait until my schedule opens up! So, every day, bucket in hand, I wander the paths and fields and woods-edge around my house, to gather what has ripened. I don’t venture beyond – I don’t have the time! Sometimes, though, the thought of the berries down Camp #3 Trail or Green’s Lake Road dropping to the ground when they could be going in my freezer disturbs my sleep, and I wake up thinking I have to find more time. A day off, maybe?

But, no. This September, I don’t get a day off. My schedule as server, which gave me four days a week most of the summer season, has expanded to five days a week now that many of the workers have gone back to other lives. My job at the hardware store is one day per week, soon to expand to three days per week. Then I have my collection of “a few hours a week” jobs. I clean for my aunt. I teach after-school art. I write an article each month for our local news magazine.  I am the Phragmites Administrator for Beaver Island. I work in my studio.

Some of these jobs I know by heart; I only need to show up and put in my time, doing the work I am hired to do. Others are more of a struggle.

I spent four early-morning hours recently writing, editing and re-writing a public notice about a meeting regarding phragmites treatment…only to find out I’d effectively written a press release, not a public notice. Because I’m still in the learning process regarding invasive species in general, and Phragmites in particular, I’ve had to allow time for research. Because September is a critical time for dealing with this problem, I’ve been learning on the fly!

I put a dozen hours into my class plan for the season, complete with a time-line going back to the Paleolithic Era, to illustrate the breadth of time we were covering…then was told my class will – this year – be divided into two classes, with less time for each. Everything needs to be re-worked. And, I need to find time to do an inventory of the materials-on-hand in my shared closet at the school, so that I can put in an order for what I need. Dependent, of course, on my class plan…which I need to re-do entirely, based on shorter class time.

Writing is always a long, hard, time-consuming process for me. In college, I’d wait until the 11th hour to start a paper, and sweat over it for long, sleepless nights before turning it in. The problem was this: if I started six weeks before it was due, leaving myself ample time for editing and re-writing, I would still be pulling “all-nighters” before deadline, doing last minute touch-ups. I’m just never satisfied. Taking on a writing project is, for me, killing off the last bit of spare time I might find!

The studio is similarly open-ended. If I finish three paintings and twelve collages for next year’s gallery opening…well, I could start that series of collagraphs I’ve been thinking about…or do a piece for the “Goddess Show” or to submit to the Alma Print Show or to “ArtPrize”. I could tweak my artist’s statement, or design a better business card, or send out a few letters to a few galleries. I could always clean the studio.

On top of all this, the lawn really needs to be mowed. The house could really use a good once over while it’s still nice enough to open windows. I’m halfway through tearing up the laundry room floor…which will then have to be replaced. The grapes are starting to ripen. The leaves are starting to turn; before long they’ll be falling.

Here it is: September…that tired time of year.