Monthly Archives: December 2013

Merry, Merry…

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 This season, this year, is a quiet time for me.

Work is at a slower pace, with many folks away for Christmas.

My children are grown, so the frenzy to have all decorations in place, all traditions in play and “enough” under the tree is no longer a part of Christmas.

There was a time when we added, each year, to our collection of mismatched, hand-made ornaments, balanced with an ever growing collection of tiny baskets, tied onto the branches with red ribbons. Each basket held a small gift, or a bit of Christmas candy. Santa Claus figurines in ever-growing numbers were displayed in front of the books on their shelves. The nativity set was given a place of honor on the old army trunk, which was draped with the Christmas-colored granny-square afghan. A trio of musical angels sat on the kitchen counter; rings of brass bells strung on bright yarn were hung from each door knob; Christmas cards were hung for display.

There was a time when I felt it was absolutely necessary to have a big pot of chicken and stars soup simmering on the stove on the evening we decorated the Christmas tree. The “stars” were cut with a small cookie cutter from pasta dough. A glazed ham had to be prepared on Christmas Eve, just as my mother always had, with left-overs put out in case Santa Claus wanted a sandwich to sustain him on his long night, and ham slices to accompany sweet bread on Christmas morning. The bread was a complicated, scalded milk, butter and sugar recipe with multiple risings. I shaped one half of the dough into a Christmas tree shape. The other half, I rolled out and cut out with my doughnut cutter…and one star. I shingled the base with overlapping rings of dough, then filled each center with preserves. Apple, blackberry and cherry, for the colors they presented. The little circles – doughnut holes – were each dipped in beaten egg white, then course sugar, and arranged on the tree. The star was placed on top. The entire thing was given an egg wash, covered and place in the refrigerator overnight, taken out to rise and bake on Christmas morning.

Christmas Eve, in addition to all the food preparation, was putting finishing touches on home-made presents and last minute gift wrapping.

I loved it all, every crazy-making moment of it, and sometimes I madly miss those days.

Often, though, I find I relish the calmer, more peaceful holidays that punctuate my life today.

I brought gifts down to one daughter and grandson when I went away two weeks ago.

I was late with making decisions, shopping, wrapping, packaging and sending for my other daughter’s growing family…at this point, no matter what, their gifts will arrive late and I am amazingly calm about that, too.

Thinking I still had a stack left over from last year, I didn’t get Christmas cards purchased this year, so that’s another chore that has been set aside. I think I’ll write January letters instead.

I made cookies for a holiday fund-raiser, and doughnuts to bring to work. I’ll make something to contribute to tomorrow’s Christmas dinner, and that’s it for my holiday baking.

This year, I won’t travel for Christmas, except – in the evening – the four miles to Aunt Katie’s house, to have chicken dinner with her.

I’ll take the dogs out in the snow. Last year, they wore red bows for their Christmas walk, which made me smile all the way down the road.

There is time for reflection, for planning, for setting good intentions.

This is a good Christmas.

Whatever shape your holiday takes this year, I hope yours is good, too.

Merry Christmas!

 

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A Drawing for Thursday

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Studio time is on my list of priorities for the coming winter days.

I’ve been finishing up some works in progress, organizing and rearranging.

Ideas are percolating.

Weather is cooperating…we have early cold and snow, making inside projects all the more inviting.

What plans do you have for cozy winter days?

 

Larry, My Friend

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I heard the sad news this morning that my friend, Larry, has passed away.

There, that’s it.

I was going to tell this story another way.

I’m taking a little course in creative writing. I’ve also been reading about the craft of telling a story well. I’ve been learning about talking around the thing you want to say, until there’s nothing else to do but say it. Anticipation, suggestion, forewarning, premonition.

I was going to start by explaining how the owner of the hardware store where I work is also a veterinarian, and that his clinic is in the back, and about how I first met Larry and his partner, John, when they came in with questions and concerns about their two old dogs.

We became better acquainted over pipe and wood stains and plumbing fixtures as they struggled to get their little house in shape.

They came to the opening reception when I had an art show here.

We met for lunch a few times.

Our friendship deepened.

I’d grumble to them about my problems while helping them pick out a paint shade or compare the qualities of different snow shovels.

They’d talk to me – separately and together – about changes and issues in their own lives.

They sold one house, and bought another. They moved a piano. John made drapes.

One year, Larry taught a class on making Christmas ornaments from long strips of colorful papers; my daughter attended with me. What a hoot, watching Jen and Larry tease and cajole and laugh together as she tried her very best to grasp his technique!

Larry played Santa at Christmastime for our charitable animal fund: “For a donation to the Animal Fund, have your pet’s picture taken with Santa!” He was a big hit! He even had his own Santa suit! I’ve never seen anyone so capable of handling animals of all types and sizes, while keeping hat, belly and beard on straight!

Larry came in one day alone, to tell me that John had been diagnosed with cancer. We just hugged each other tight with that sad news.

One day after I had quit working there, Larry called the hardware store regarding an urgent problem concerning his dog, Samantha. To Larry, all problems with his pets were urgent. He doted, fussed and worried over his animals like an over-protective mother.

The young girl that answered the telephone was new to the business. When Larry said, “I need to talk to the doctor!”, she replied, “Sir, this is a hardware store! There is no doctor here!”

Larry and John came to the little downtown gallery where I was working that day.

“This is crazy,” Larry shouted, after relating the telephone conversation. “What are you thinking? You have to go back! You are needed there!”

And then he broke down.

And we sat there, side by side, and I held both of his hands in mine as he told me about Samantha, and her nervous stomach, and the diet they tried first, then second, and the meals they were now making for her themselves, with organic brown rice and yams and chicken. He told me about her arthritic joints and how he could sympathize because of his own aches and pains. He told me about the puppy they took in, to replace the old dog they’d lost, and how it terrorized the entire household, especially Samantha, until they regretfully had to find it another home. He told me about their house-guests, who understood nothing, and stood in judgment of his doting and worrisome nature…

Every single painting could have been carried out of the gallery, and I would not have been able to turn away from Larry that day, he was so distraught and sad and in need of a listening ear.

Every now and then I caught a glimpse of John rolling his eyes.

Mostly, having missed Larry and his sweet disposition as much as he’d missed me, I was content to just hold his hands and let him talk.

I was going to tell all of this first, so that the message of Larry’s death would be a shock to you, as it was to me.

Having gotten to know him a little, you might feel the loss, too.

I just couldn’t get my heart into it.

It seemed manipulative, for one.

Two, there’s really no dressing this up.

Sometimes, a sad story is simply that.

And the loss of a dear friend is always a sad story.

Katey

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When my daughter, Kate, was born…in the early morning hours of a wintry Wednesday morning, thirty-nine years ago…my life was in flux.

I had gotten married at eighteen and had my first child just a year later. I hadn’t thought much about what else I’d wanted out of life, but motherhood changed that. My choices affected my daughter, too, so everything seemed more important.

I thought a great deal about every parenting decision and worried over everything that might unduly influence my child.

Though I swore, when I got out of high school, that I never wanted to step foot in a classroom again, I had started taking night classes. I started with a craft class, then my mother-in-law and I took a vegetarian cooking class, then I found a writing class. It reminded me that learning could be fun, and paved the way for my eventual college education.

In anticipation of having a new baby, our family had recently moved from the raggedy little cold and unfinished lake cottage into a brand new townhouse. For the first time in my adult life, I was “house-proud.” I enjoyed decorating and entertaining and – yes! – even cleaning.

I had started challenging the status quo. I no longer embraced my mother’s deferential attitude toward men in general and husbands in particular. I began to see  reason in what the new feminists were saying. I asserted my opinion, both at home and in public. I wrote to representatives; I passed out petitions; I boycotted beef, then sugar, then all Nestle’ products.

I had learned to drive. I had started an exercise program. I was learning to cook Chinese food. I was becoming a discerning reader and a lover of good books.

Big changes were happening in my life!

Little did I know, the greatest transformation would arrive in the early morning hours of that wintry Wednesday morning on December 11th.

I didn’t anticipate how much Katey would  change my life.

I never guessed how much my heart would expand with love for her.

I couldn’t have imagined how she’d constantly surprise me with her ability to make me laugh out loud…yell in frustration…lose sleep from worry…and be grateful every single day for her.

Happy Birthday to Katey!

Getting Away and Settling In

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The older I get, the more nervous I get about driving.

The longer I live here on Beaver Island, the more I am intimidated by traffic and speed.

It’s not road conditions.

We, here in northern Michigan, are well aware of ice and snow.

I have driven to work before the plow truck came through, making the first tracks through deep snow.

I have made it home on roads slick with ice.

I’ve had my share of scary sliding, fish-tailing and spinning events that make my heart pound and my hands shake.

The differences are this:

  1. On Beaver Island, I rarely contend with other vehicles. My car, for most of my trip, is the only one on the road.
  2. I can pick my speed, based on the conditions. If worn out tires and slippery roads dictate a speed of 15 miles per hour, I can pretty much guarantee there won’t be an angry four-wheel-drive pick-up driver tearing up from behind and zipping around me.
  3. If an accident happens, it is usually car-to-snowbank, car-to-ditch or car-to-tree…not car-to-madly-careening-down-the-icy-freeway-sideways-semi-truck.

I drove down-state this last weekend, for a Christmas party and a pre-Christmas visit with family and friends.

I watched the weather predictions closely, and with trepidation. It was a fickle forecast, changing almost daily from “not bad” to the terror inducing “winter storm watch.” By the time my departure day on Friday came around, it looked like the most I’d have to contend with was a little “lake-effect” snow around the Kalkaska area.

That held true, and my drive down was an easy trip.

In Ionia, I met my daughter, Jen, and my grandson, Patrick, for dinner and presents, conversation and games.

The next day, Jen took the wheel. We brought Patrick to his Dad’s house, then headed for Saugatuck.

More talk and laughter, more family and friends and the thirty-fourth annual Pine & Pasta Party.

The party had its start when my friend Bob, newly divorced, decided that decorating for Christmas would be more fun with a few friends. It has evolved over the years into a much anticipated holiday tradition. Bob makes a big pot of his famously good spaghetti sauce and cooks up pasta to go with it. Guests bring breads and salads and munchies. Bob and his brother Gary – AKA “The Bare-Chested Christmas Tree Wrestlers” – bring in the tree, set it up and string the lights. Some visitors add the ornaments while others advise and dictate placement from the comfort of the sofa. Many of the decorations were contributed by guests over the years and reflect the times past. One of my favorites is a garland of hand-sewn silver alewives, presented in the year our beaches were smelly with that fish. Drawings are held, and gifts distributed. My sister, Brenda, was the proud winner of a box of miniature hotel soaps from all over the country…collected by Bob in his travels with the Red Cross. Others were lucky enough to receive prizes retrieved from cereal boxes or earned with box tops or coupons. Every guest was given a commemorative ornament, inscribed by Bob with the event and year. I don’t make it to his party every year, but have a nice collection of ornaments reminding me of when I attended. It was a great group this year, and I’m glad I was there.

Sunday morning, up early and on the road.

First east, to pick up Patrick and bring him and Jen home. After that, I was on my own.

North, to Charlevoix, where I’d get on the small plane that would take me back to the island.

The roads were clear and the trip was without complications. I had allowed enough time so that when I came into wet, snowy conditions less than a hundred miles from my destination, I was able to slow down without worrying about missing my flight.

I arrived early at the airport, and – with inclement weather threatening – my flight left shortly after.

A smooth flight and a perfect landing on the island, then retrieve the car and load my bags, a quick visit with my aunt, to the boarders to pick up my dogs…then home!

It has hardly stopped snowing since I got here, day before yesterday!

I was ready for a trip, and happy to get away. It was a great chance to reconnect and visit and play.

I was happy to get back home, too, to my cozy house in the snow.

I’m ready, now, to settle in for a while.

Rosa Parks Can’t Sleep

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When Rosa Parks can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, either.

December 1st marked the anniversary of the day Rosa Parks – the original –  gently refused to give up her seat on the bus.

I was reminded of the date by National Public Radio, which I listen to in the car, going to and from work.

I don’t think my little dog, Rosa Parks, heard that information, though she’s alert to items of interest when they concern her.

Once, as she sat on my lap to watch Jeopardy, I knew the answer to the “final jeopardy” question.

“It’s Rosa Parks!” I told her, “They are going to say your name!”

Her eyes brightened attentively.

It was an easy question, and each of the three contestants had the correct answer. As the host, Alex Trebek, revealed them, he read the answers in his strong, television game-show host voice: “Rosa Parks”…”Rosa Parks”…”Rosa Parks!”

Each time my little dog heard her name, her ears perked up and her eyes darted back and forth. She looked at me as if wondering whether she should go up there. By the time he said her name for the third time, she was quivering with excitement. Rosa Parks proudly swaggered down the stairs to present her famous self to poor Clover Sue, the dog who wasn’t mentioned by Alex Trebek or any other television personality.

Like I said, though, I don’t think my little dog had access to the news that day.

I don’t know what made her so restless.

Sunday is a long day at work for me, so I don’t have as much interaction with the dogs as on any other day of the week. Still, we took a short walk in the cold before I went to open the hardware store, and we got another walk in before I went back to town to serve dinner at the restaurant. I gave the dogs their dinner when I got home, before sitting down to my own meal. We played for a bit, the best we know how, and had a little inside/outside time before settling down for the night.

Except for Rosa Parks, who never did settle down.

First, she decided her ears were itchy, so she scratched and rolled and rubbed on them until she had the blankets in a snarl. Then she thought she needed more love and attention, so she came around to me for a long belly rub. She explored every possible sleeping place, from behind my knees to on my feet to curled around my head on the pillow I was using. Next, she needed to go outside. We repeated this pattern, with variations, all night long. Ignoring her didn’t help. When I thought, “no way does she really need to go out again,” I heard her little feet go padding into the hallway…which is her default area for leaving messes if nobody is around to let her outside…and I jumped out of bed again.

After the fourth trip down the stairs to throw on robe and boots and stand outside to protect my little dog from night-time predators, I gave up on the bed, and just lay on the sofa.

I say “sofa,” but really it’s a “love seat”.

And I’m short, but still not short enough to sleep comfortably on a love seat.

From there, the path to the door was shorter, but had it’s own hazards. By morning, I had memorized the “run-into-the-coffee-table, bump-the-magazine-stand, stub-toe-on-the-trunk and step-right-on-the-dog-dish” routine.

When it was time to get up, it seemed like I’d already been up for hours.

By the time I was showered and ready for work, I felt like I’d been working all night.

As I was getting ready to leave the house, Rosa Parks was settling in for a long nap.

Good dog!