Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Valentine for Nita

My sister, Nita

My sister, Nita

My sister, Nita, is a legend in our family.

It started when she was about two, and her baby-blonde hair gave way to a darker, almost reddish shade of brown. Mom had always wanted a redhead! The first touch of sun gave Nita’s little nose and round cheeks a nice dusting of freckles. Her twinkly eyes and bright grin finished the look.

In our family, we had sweet and silly and pretty and goofy-looking. We had, rarely, the child who might grow up to be beautiful. Nita effortlessly mastered her own look. She was cute!

Nita was also sassy. In a family of shy and easily intimidated children who were raised to know their place, Nita stood out! She would talk back to either of our parents; she’d stand up for herself and her brothers and sisters; she would vehemently defend her right to finish a game before chores or bath or bedtime. If Brenda and I were too bossy, she called us on it. Nita was the first, always, to cry “No fair!” Mom attributed it to her (nearly) red hair, which – to her – determined a certain rebellious, feisty spirit…so she didn’t work to squelch it.

The rest of us watched in awe.

That girl…cute and scrappy…was going to go far!

She did, too, with setbacks that might have stopped another person in their tracks.

Nita hasn’t had it easy.

Nita got pregnant before she was out of school, worked through her studies while expecting, and graduated high-school with a new baby.

Later, with two little ones at home, she managed to earn a college degree.

An amazing seamstress, one Christmas Nita made “pound-puppy” stuffed animals for each of her nieces and nephews, each customized to suit their owner. If I remember correctly, hair and eye colors matched those of the recipients. The one our nephew, Alan,  recieved (he was a teen-ager at the time) had one earring!

Nita has worked at all kinds of jobs. For several years, she took in piecework, mending underwear for residents at the convalescent home where my mother worked. Most recently, she worked at a fast food restaurant in Florida, frequented by the elderly. “I have to remember what they want from one day to the next,” she told me, “because they don’t.”

Family anecdotes tell of accidents and misfortunes enough to fill a book…but she has always kept us laughing.

Of all of Nita’s attributes, I think the best is her ability to laugh at herself, whatever calamity befalls her, and to make the rest of us laugh with her.

Nita lived, for a while, in the little house next-door to our family home. It had first belonged to Mom’s parents; after they died, it became a rental property. Aunt Margaret and her brood crowded in there for several years. There was a well-worn path from our front door to that front door, from years of visiting back and forth. “That path is an eye-sore,” Nita decided, and vowed to get rid of it. She raked up the soil for the length of the path, added fertilizer, then grass seed. As the final part of the process, she dragged the large picnic table over, and put it right dead-center on the pathway, “so people will have to find a different route.”

One summer evening, after tucking her children into their beds, Nita noticed a police car pull in to the house next door. My parents were both working second shift, so the only one home was my brother, David. If he wasn’t already in some kind of trouble, Nita rightly figured he would be shortly, as he wasn’t known for his compliance – or even polite conversation – when police officers came calling. She scooted across the yard to help.

It was only a friendly inquiry, if I remember correctly, but they talked for a while about one thing and the other.

The sun went down.

A car pulled in to Nita’s driveway. Oh no! If they came to the door and knocked, it would wake up her children!

She set off running in the most direct path across the yard from one house to the next.

When she tells this story, Nita says, “I estimate my speed at 35 miles per hour.”

That’s how fast she was going, then, when she ran into the picnic table…flipped over the top of it…and landed in a heap on the other side.

For six weeks, it looked like her left shoulder was attached to her earlobe.

She was crooked for months.

I still can’t hear this story without giggling!

Though, in our family, we are not above laughing at one another’s pain or embarrassment, it’s her telling of it that makes it so funny.

Nita never takes a “poor me” stance, but rather looks at her misfortunes with amazement, wry humor and a “can you believe this?!” attitude.

Nita’s going through a rough spell right now. Radiation treatments, chemotherapy, doctors and hospitals: these take their toll. Because we love her so much, it has brought the whole family down.

Still, she holds true to herself.

Nita still finds comfort in family and friends.

She still amazes me with her strength and resolve.

And, whenever I speak to her, Nita still always makes me smile.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Dear Sister!

The White Stuff



Yes, it’s snowing again.

We’ve gotten plenty of snow here on Beaver Island this Winter. The last time I checked, we were at one hundred and thirteen inches (that’s over 287cm!!). And now it’s coming down again.

Our all-time record is 138 inches of snowfall in a season. We’re in position to beat that record this year.

That’s not the “white stuff” I’m talking about here, though.

Potatoes, rice, pasta…that white stuff.

The foods that seem so comforting this time of year.

The foods that are most friendly to my budget.

The foods that – according to the experts – women my age should avoid, for optimum health and weight control.

I’m pretty careful most of the time.

I center my meals around fresh vegetables from my garden in the summertime. Salad bowls are my usual dinner in warm weather, with chickpeas, egg and nuts added for protein and crunch. If I have a bit of meat, I’ll add it for variety.

In the wintertime, soups are the staple of my diet. I use stocks and vegetable purees that I put up in the Fall, from my harvest. Beans and grains give it substance. Meat, when I have it, for flavor. I make a whole-grain bread that’s a nice accompaniment.

Oh, I have my little indulgences: a glass of wine; chocolate in almost any form; coffee; cream; cheese…still, pretty healthy, for the most part.

Not this winter, it seems.

When the first wave of cold came through, I started wanting “comfort” food. The “white stuff.” Macaroni and cheese; tuna casserole; baked potatoes. As layer upon layer of snow came down, the craving continued. Goulash; fried rice; stew. The many (so many!) extremely cold and blustery days where the wind drove the temperature down and my drafty house was in a constant state of refrigeration, I warmed myself around the oven cooking one heavy meal after another.

Last week, I made a nice turkey soup. Broth and diced turkey that I’d put in the freezer after Thanksgiving, fresh celery, onion and carrots. “Substance,” I thought, “It needs some substance in this cold!” Barley was one healthy choice that I had on hand. I could have also chosen brown rice, wild rice, spelt, wheat berries or quinoa. I opted, instead, to make home-made egg noodles. You know, the white flour and egg recipe. That’s substance, all right.

One night I decided I’d just have breakfast for dinner. I mixed up a half-batch of pancakes. I made them in the silver-dollar size. Added blackberries that I’d frozen last Fall. Ate them with just butter. Looking back at the meal, I thought, “Congratulations, Cindy, you have just eaten one cup of white flour…butter added.”

Yesterday I made St. Scholastica’s Soup. It’s a lentil, barley and wild rice soup that’s one of my staple recipes. I usually top a bowl of the thick vegetarian soup with a dollop of sour cream and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Yesterday, because I had the time, and it was cold, I also made two loaves of crusty Italian bread so that I’d have that to go along with the soup.

I also took time yesterday to try on some clothes, in anticipation of a trip to the mainland. The snow is softening the landscape; it seems my shape has shifted and changed as well.

There is no doubt about it, it’s time to give up the white stuff!

Winter Bright



We’ve had a few days, here on Beaver Island, of sunshine and  blue sky!

It’s crisp and cold, but the wind has died down. The weatherman isn’t amending every temperature presented with the “wind chill” factor. The drifting has stopped, at least for now. The piles of snow are settling in where we’ve put them.

For three days in a row, I’ve been able to walk down the Fox Lake Road. Not too cold, not too icy to make it to the corner and back. The dogs had mixed feelings about it: Rosa Parks has taken a nice jaunt around the plowed driveway, and retreated to the warm house to wait; Clover was thrilled for the fresh air and exercise. I agree!

We’ve actually had quite a bit of snow melt, with the sunshine, even though the temperatures have remained steadily cold. Things that were completely hidden a week ago are beginning again to reveal themselves:  tree stump, bird bath, compost bin.

This is really encouraging!

Today, we’re into the “deep freeze” again, and it looks like we will be for at least a few days.

It seems, this winter, I need to grab on to encouragement when the sun shines!

In the Studio



First of all, there is a dead mouse in my studio.

I can’t find it, but I can certainly smell it.

It’s a very distinctive, extremely repulsive smell.

A couple months ago, while moving shelves and the books and other things stored on them, I found a mound of blue mouse poison underneath a clay pot. I have pets, so I don’t poison mice. Do they find my house so welcoming that they travel here with their winter stores?

I don’t try to welcome them. I store all dry goods in sturdy glass jars. Bags of flour and sugar have a shelf in the refrigerator. I don’t leave food in the dog dishes. I set traps.

I’ve accounted for all of my traps; no dead bodies there.

There are days when I go to the studio, determined to find the source.

I eschew all creative endeavors to instead rummage through totes and drawers and bins of tools and art materials, stacks of framed work, piles of papers and shelves of containers.

So far, no success.

There are days when I just close the door.

I did an internet search, “how long for a mouse body to decompose?”

Maybe I should just wait it out.

There are days where I think, “Maybe it’s gone,” or “I probably won’t even notice it” and try to get a bit of work done.

I had big studio plans for this winter.

I have one good sized drawing to complete, a set of paintings underway, two collage series in the works, one large painting to finish, one commission piece to start, and a set of thirteen collagraph plates waiting to be printed.

I intended to have the collagraph series done by March, in order to submit it to a competition. The plates are large; they take an hour or more to ink and wipe, and each one goes through that process and through the press at least three times before they are complete. With additions of gouache and watercolor in between.

Until I get the paintings finished and out of the way, I can’t access the printing press.

Other jobs and obligations, other concerns get in the way.

Now the dead mouse.

And winter will be gone before I know it.

So, though the smell is not gone…and I certainly do notice it…I’ve been working a little in the studio each day, to finish up what I can.

These collages will have some layers of texture and glaze to unify the surface before they’re done, but I like the way they’re coming along.