Monthly Archives: October 2013




Boy, oh boy!

This is where I’d usually go into a long diatribe about how I remember the day Patrick was born, and how amazing it was to be included and a part of that special event. I’d go on about all the wonderful years since with all of his smiles,  giggles and expressions. I’d write another version of “where have the years gone” and “how in the world did you get to be eleven?!”

Not today.

Today, ever joyous that Patrick is happy and healthy and wonderful in every way, even though my very youngest grandchild is now eleven and I could wax  melancholic for a few paragraphs at least, he’s heard all my ramblings before.

Today, I’m holding Patrick in my heart, with love, love love to the moon and back, and the best wishes ever for a wonderful birthday.

Happy Birthday, Patrick!




I like this photo of my Dad.

He always hated having his picture taken, so this seems less an invasion of his privacy than most.

The picture was taken here on Beaver Island.

Dad is on the left, heading into the old woodshed. His friend, Peter “Doney” Gallagher is next, and then his sister, Katherine, who is my Aunt Katie.

They were  on a mission, as usual. Maybe pulling out nets for fishing, gathering tools for a repair job, getting a few logs for the wood stove or bringing out the lawn mower. Dad always had a project. A vacation was always a working vacation. Socializing with friends and family was not sitting around commiserating; it was working on something together.

That’s the way Dad raised his family, too.

Mom was great – with incentives, deadlines and guilt – at inducing us to get to work.

Dad had a way of making work fun.

Often, with him, it was so well disguised, we didn’t even recognize it as a job!

In the Spring, we’d ride with him to the pig farm. Usually we stopped at the Eagles tavern on the way, for a bit of fortification. That was a small Coca Cola for each of us children, and a beer for Dad. At the farm, we got a little tour. We’d follow along as the grown-ups talked business, pointing and laughing and head-shaking at the travails of farm life. Our own pigs were chosen: usually two, newly weaned, mostly pink with course, pale hair. We could touch them through the fence.

“Okay, let’s load ’em up, kids! Get ready!”

We’d jump into the back of the station wagon, secure our places, determine our finger-holds and safety’s, and wait.

Soon Dad and the farmer would come. They carried loosely secured, wild and wriggling burlap bags, each one containing a frightened, squealing and extremely strong pig.

They loaded the bags into the back with us, shook hands and parted. Dad took the driver’s seat. The pigs were our job, now, for the long ride home. The goal was to keep them contained, to sooth them if possible, to make sure they stayed in the back of the car and not to let them get hurt.

We kept them surrounded. We giggled and scolded. We told one another what to do and how to do it, only to be foiled by the unpredictable antics of our small bundles. We squealed, too, and yelled out in disgust, and laughed out loud.

Dad, perfectly calm, kept his twinkling eyes on the road ahead.

By the time we got home, we were covered in sweat and pig excrement, exhausted and filthy.

“Well, you did a fine job,” Dad told us as he relieved most of us of our duties, “How’d you get so dirty?”

With that, he’d send his daughters in to tell Mom we were back, and to get cleaned up. My brother, Ted, would help him get the pigs into their pen.

Summertime, if Dad had a Sunday off work, he’d take us out on the pontoon boat.

Lake Nepessing was just across the road and down the hill from our house. It was generously filled with seaweed that Dad liked for mulching his pumpkins, winter squash and tomato plants. He had welded together a giant gathering fork that hung down into the water from the front of the boat. As we trolled, the fork gathered the weeds. When it was full, we hoisted it up by chains attached to either side, and emptied it onto the deck. Down into the water again, and on for more. When the boat was listing dangerously in the water from the weight of our harvest, it was time to call it a day.

Back to the dock; secure the boat. We’d unload seaweed with a rake, a pitchfork and even by our bare armloads onto the dock, and from there into bags and boxes and burlap sacks that we then hauled up the steep hill and across the road and into the garden…

This, we called “Going boating with Dad.”

In the Fall of the year, Dad was in his glory. Every day there was something to harvest. Mom’s eyes would hold a look of fear, knowing that whenever he left the house, he’d come back with several bushel of fruits or vegetables that needed to be processed for winter storage.

This was the time of year to start storing food for the pigs, too, to carry them through until butchering time. For that, Dad made arrangements with farmers to go through their cornfields after the mechanical picking machines. We’d gather the corn that had been left behind.

Our day started with a lecture about riding in the back of the pick-up truck, who’s in charge, which big kid will take care of which little one, and who is responsible for making sure nobody gets lost or falls out of the truck. We all piled in, then, and headed out. We sat on our gathering sacks, to soften the bumps. Dad would drive right onto the field, unload his “workers” and direct us up and down the rows. We’d empty our bags into the bed of the truck. When an area was cleared, we’ve move to a different section, and continue. When the truck was full, we were done for the day. The ride home was on top of a full load of corn. We kept tight hold of our charges and shivered in the open air. The productive trip and safe ride home was rewarded with a stop at the Hotel Bar, just a quarter mile from home. Glasses of pop and dimes for the juke box finished another day working hard with Dad.

Dad had a way of making every season of the year important, every job associated with it, crucial.

Every child participating in that work was a necessary and valuable contributor.

The old woodshed is gone now. It was replaced with a modern pole barn several years ago. Dad passed away in 1998. Peter “Doney” has been gone a few years, too. Aunt Katie turned eighty-five years old on her birthday last week.

In my memories, they live on as they always did.

Where to Begin?



Today is my day off.

It lies before me, a broad landscape with endless possibilities.

An unblemished apple.

A bag of coins to spend however I choose.

Where do I start?

No alarm this morning, I sleep until the little dog nuzzles me awake.

A perfect cup of coffee, then, to be savored as I plot my day.

I have a list of things I need to do. Housekeeping chores, of course. Shall I wash clothes and hope the weather clears so that I can hang them on the clothesline…or plan to spend the afternoon at the laundromat? I have letters to write and bills to pay.  I stewed the last of the tomatoes last night; they have to be processed today. I need to flesh out my plans for the after-school art class, and make examples to illustrate the project.

I have a list of things I’d like to accomplish, if I have time. This includes things like mending, rearranging and minor repairs. I want to bake bread today. I’ve got a swatch of nice fabric to re-cover the seat of my desk chair. I’m still in the middle of the major re-organizing project that I started two weeks ago. The studio needs to be put in order so that actual studio work can happen there. This week I also have a suitcase full of clothes – “hand-me-downs” from my sister, Brenda – that need to be put away. Since I’ve promised myself that for everything I bring in to this house, I will let something go (because otherwise “enough” quickly becomes “too much”), that entails going through what I have in closet and dresser, and weeding out what I no longer wear. While I’m at it, I’d might as well pack up the  warm weather clothes for storage and bring out the winter sweaters. And oh, glory be, if I could take the time to hem the four pair of slacks that are useless to me until it’s done, it would be a great day!

Then there is the list of “should”s. These are things that are good for my body or good for my soul: study, read, write, draw, exercise, meditate. They should be my first consideration, I know, but the benefits – or lack thereof – are not as immediate as a messy desk, unpaid bills or having no clean socks. Too often, these are squeezed into breaks or rest periods between other tasks…or they are put off until last…or neglected completely.

The moments rush past – they always do – turning into hours and then this precious day is gone.

Last night we had our first snow of the season. Our warm, lingering Autumn is quickly turning bitter. Though the snow didn’t last, clearly Winter will be here before we know it.

This morning, trying to slow down and savor this time before it’s gone, I started my day with a walk in the woods.




Getting There



I have one million things yet to do before I’m finished with this project…but I’m happy with my new shelves.

My stereo is in the living space along with a collection of old albums (the Beatles! Vanilla Fudge! Hendrix! The Soft Machine!) quite a few cassette tapes (Harry Chapin, the Eagles, Paul Simon) and a couple dozen compact discs (jazz, blues and folk, mostly). As the technology changed, so did my taste in music.

The little television set – that doesn’t actually “receive” television – is in the living room, too. It has a built-in DVD player, so is good for watching a movie with company, if I choose. I am also taking a couple courses on DVD: The Art of Teaching and Analysis and Critique. Finally, I have a couple exercise videos that I use, and the living room is the only room large and open enough to actually do the exercises in.

My favorite books are here. Not the ones that have the best bindings, or that I’m proudest to have read because they show me to be a thoughtful and intelligent person. No. These are the ones that I pick up to read again and again, that I can flip open to precious passages or reflect on when it is meaningful. Emily Dickinson is here, along with E.B. White and Maxine Hong Kingston…but so are David Sedaris, Christopher Moore…and Jim Fitzgerald, who got his start writing for the Lapeer County Press, my home town newspaper.

A few plants are tucked in, to soften the lines.

I’m pleased with this space.

Thursday, Already!



My little thumbnail sketches keep getting smaller and smaller!

This week, with a rare three days – sort of – away from my main jobs and in anticipation of two sisters coming to visit next week, I decided to do some cleaning and rearranging.

I emptied and moved two large (32″ wide x 62″ high x 12″ deep) bookcases that had stood on either side of the window on the west wall in the living room. I replaced them with deeper shelves on the north wall, that hold the small TV and the stereo as well as books.

The stereo – along with the record albums, cassette tapes, compact discs and speakers – had been housed in my bedroom, which is much too small for all of that excess.  I may read a bit before going to sleep, but that’s about it. I don’t spend enough awake time in the bedroom to listen to music, so the equipment was never used there.

Moving the stereo allowed me to move the two deep bookcases out of my bedroom and into the studio. One bookcase under each window there, with art books categorized and alphabetized on the shelves.

Having a new home for the art books allowed me to dismantle the shelf unit that took up the entire stairway wall in the studio…and freed up the shelf standards that I needed to support the new living room shelves. They needed to be spruced up first with a fresh coat of paint, of course.

As for the bookcases I took out of the living room: one went to the landing at the top of the stairs, the other to the kitchen, to replace a ratty looking set of shelves that had been holding my cookbooks and gardening books.

The kitchen shelves got stored in the shed; the standards got painted for use in the living room with the others.

To free the landing for the bookcase, I had to move a cabinet that held bed linens. That is right now taking up space in my bedroom, but I think it will fit in the closet space under the eaves.

When I finish, everything will be much more organized and more suited to my lifestyle.

In the meantime, I’ve created a big mess.

In three days, I have moved four bookcases and two dozen shelves, a linen cabinet, stereo system and about four hundred books. I painted and hung five shelf standards – twice – and patched twenty four holes (from my misguided first attempt at finding the studs without a stud-finder). I also taught my after school art class, made up the guest rooms at Aunt Katie’s house and drew the sketches you see here.

The living room is looking cute and cozy as can be…but I still need to find a place for the rocking chair, the trunk, and the low table.

My bedroom will be much more open and inviting, with the dresser, hope chest, nightstand and bed as the only furniture. I’m banking on being able to fit that linen cabinet (as well as the trunk, the second dresser and possibly the rocking chair) into the closet.

The kitchen shelves look great.

The studio is not quite there yet. I lost a great deal of storage when I took down that wall of shelves. All of the excess is temporarily piled on my drafting table.

Granted, it would have been better to plan a major overhaul for a better time…maybe for a time when company isn’t coming in just a few days.  I may be frustrated and angry with myself by the weekend, but I’m not there yet.

I’m pretty proud of all that I’ve accomplished. In fact, I’d have been blasting Helen Reddy’s “I am woman, hear me roar”…if I hadn’t accidentally snapped the speaker wire while moving the stereo.





One absolute truth that has grieved me for most of my life is this: When I have projects underway that cannot be set aside or  deadlines close approaching, I will get an irresistible urge to start something else.

I’m not normally big on housework. I can easily convince myself that floors can wait, that closets and drawers and anything unseen can be put off, that it’s really not a good day to do windows…

Unless I have a bit of writing due, in which case I will decide that the floors have gone too long without a good scrubbing, that the closet must absolutely be organized today, and that maybe – while I’m at it, I should paint the shelf and put new hooks on the inside of the door…

Until I’m in such a mess that there is no turning back, but then the new hooks will plant the idea of a new hat and in the blink of an eye I’m going through yarn and patterns and half-finished crochet projects…

But I am quickly discouraged that it goes too slow when I – after all – have other things that are much more important, that are being neglected…in the garden, for instance. So off I’ll go to dead-head and weed and prune with a vengeance…

Then I’ll get such gigantic inspiration for an art project that it would be a sin to ignore it and I tell myself that I must paint…

But then maybe a single hunger pang interrupts, and I think, “Why not make soup? How nice to have soup bubbling on the stove while I work. With soup, why not bread? Soup simmering and bread rising…” and before I can talk myself out of it I have cleaned the paint from my fingernails and am surrounded by carrot and onion peelings…

Such is my life.

So today, with my half-day of work in town done, my meeting finished, web seminar completed…I have an hour or two of extra time.

I could devote it to housework, what with company coming in a week.

I could spend the time in the garden; there’s plenty to do there. It’s a bit drizzly, though.

It would, in fact, be a nice day for soup.

Four large paintings are in progress in the studio. Sixteen small collages could use final touches, and yet…my printing press is calling, to send me in an entirely new direction.