I have large quantities of these small, pale, flat-ish stones. Perhaps they have a name; if so, I don’t know it. My grandchildren would call them skipping stones, as their shape is good for bouncing over the surface of the water. I call them worry stones. I often have at least one in my pocket. When stress, nervousness or worry want to take hold, it’s good to have a bit of nature to grab on to, for support.
Today is my day off…kind of.
I have to clean, blanch, package and freeze a dozen quarts of green beans.
I have to bake a few dozen cookies.
There are phone calls and Emails to respond to.
This afternoon I will go make beds and clean floors at the farmhouse.
This evening I have a dinner engagement with family and friends.
May as well start the day quiet and slow, I think.
Over morning coffee and trips to the door to let the dogs out and in, I typed up my list of 62 Life-Altering Books. If you’re interested, you can find it under the “Books” tab.
“Life-altering” seems like a pretty strong term for some of the titles, but it is true in every case. Often it was a matter of a particular book falling into my hands at just the right time. Perhaps my my eyes were opened, my thoughts were altered or my ideas clarified. Maybe I learned something entirely new. Sometimes it was the beginning of a long, on-going relationship with books in general, or with a particular author or field of study. The cookbooks I mention here are only a sampling of the ones I own and enjoy. The same for gardening and lifestyle books. I have gone on to read every single book by Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Maxine Hong Kingston and Barbara Kingsolver, so the entries that made the list are only my favorite or most memorable.
I can already think of several books that should have made the list but didn’t.
Putting it together brought back lots of memories.
Memories often lead to stories, don’t they? Here is one:
When I was a young mother living out in the country in a tiny cottage near a lake, my husband brought home The Exorcist. It was a brand new title, on several best-seller lists and getting a lot of press coverage. “Don’t read it…” I warned him, “too scary!” He laughed. Not having been raised in the Catholic faith, as I had been, it didn’t seem as real, as possible or as terrifying to him. He read it. “I will never read it,” I assured him.
When I married my husband Terry, he was in a band. It was pretty common back in the seventies for a few guys to get together and form a group, especially if one or more members could play an instrument. Terry and his cousin, Steve, both played guitar and sang. That was plenty reason enough to start up a band. It consisted of Terry, Steve and whoever else was around and interested. They got together once or twice a week to practice and to drink.
They never got any actual “gigs” so the “band” element kind of faded to the background. By the time my first daughter was born and we’d moved to the lake cottage, it was basically just a routine of Terry taking his guitar and going out drinking with the guys. Terry would leave right after supper – or sometimes even directly from work – and not get home until the bars closed. Shit-faced drunk.
Leaving me at home alone with an infant, no telephone, no car and no adult companionship. At least once a week.
It always resulted in a big argument which usually lasted over several days. It always ended with him swearing that he was finished with the band, done with going out with the guys, and that he’d quit drinking.
That lasted until the weekend.
The next argument was accelerated by the fact that he’d not only gone out drinking, but had broken his promise to me.
It amazes me to look back and know that this pattern of behaviors – on both of our parts – went on for years.
Anyway, one night after dinner, when we were young parents living in the country, Terry started telling me that Steve had a friend who played drums, and they wanted to just get together and see what they could do, music-wise, and he wouldn’t be late and he didn’t even think there would be beer there…and I said, “Sure, right, I’ve heard it all before,” and then the threat, “I swear, if you go, I’m going to read The Exorcist!”
“Don’t you dare…you can’t handle it!”
I put the baby to bed, and read The Exorcist, cover to cover.
When Terry came home, sometime after 2AM, I was laying under the covers with my eyes wide open, with every single light in the house on, absolutely terrified.
Which he thought was completely hilarious, and which took the starch out of our usual battle.
He didn’t let it go, though. He continued teasing me, knowing how the story haunted me.
I plotted my revenge.
One particularly scary part had been the appearance of stigmata, as a sign from the devil.
One day, when Terry was relaxing after his shower in a pair of bib overhauls (it was the seventies, after all), I looked, alarmed, at his chest where there were a series of grommets and buttonholes on the front placket.
“That wasn’t there before,” I said, pointing to one of the buttonholes.
“Oh, it was, too.” he said, “how else would it get there?”
“I don’t know…but remember that story…?”
He got a nervous look, but we let it go.
The next week, after laundry day, there was a new eyelet on the front placket.
I stared at it until he noticed, then just shook my head and walked away.
Two weeks later, there was a new buttonhole (that I stitched by hand, one night when he was out “with the band”)on the front.
When he put the bibs on, my eyes got wide. “Terry, that is new, I know it! What the hell?!”
When he looked, his eyes took on a look of terror. What followed is what his daughters and I have come to call a “Terry fit” with cursing and pounding walls and raging. He tore off the bib overhauls. I think he was prepared to burn them, until he caught the look on my face.
He never teased me about The Exorcist again!
This year, on my birthday, a cool breeze freshened the air.
Birthday greetings were waiting for me when I turned on the computer.
I wonder about social media, announcing birthdays to all who look, so you have no idea if anyone actually remembered, or just checked their Facebook notices. I puzzle over it whenever I check those notices and am spurred to send someone a birthday greeting.
I didn’t wonder about it one bit today, though. I enjoyed every single good wish!
I worked at the hardware store today. Busy enough, but not crazy, and everyone was good-natured and friendly.
After work, I stopped at the farmhouse to see the “Aunts”. Aunt Katie, who lives there, has not been feeling her best lately. Her sister, my Aunt Margaret, is here for a weekend visit along with her daughter, son-in-law and great-granddaughter. I knew the young people had gone to the beach, so I brought ice cream cones for just myself and the Aunts. Aunt Margaret was dozing, so we saved hers in the freezer. Aunt Katie and I enjoyed ours on the spot, while watching the baseball game.
“This is brunch, for me,” I told her, which made her laugh.
A message from my daughter on the telephone answering machine when I got home was another happy note.
A long walk with the dogs made us all feel good.
Two years ago, when I turned sixty, I made a list of the sixty most influential women in my life.
Last year, I counted sixty-one blessings.
What to do this year, to mark my age, and the day?
I compiled a list, last night, of the sixty-two books that made the biggest impression on me so far in my life.
It’s a long and varied list. Many books – that revolutionized my thinking when I read them – would not impress me today. So much depends on the surrounding circumstances, when you pick up a book. There are a few that make me blush for the dated message or obvious risque’ material, but most stand up to the test of time. I’m not going to type them up today (it is my birthday, after all), but will in the next couple days, for anyone that is interested.
I’m thinking, too, of a list of aspirations.
Not a “Bucket List,” for I think – like my mother – I will be satisfied with the life I have lived, at whatever point death takes me.
Aspirations, because I think, whatever the age, we should always have goals, dreams and things to aspire to.
I may share that later, too, but not today.
I’m going out to dinner with friends this evening. I think before that I’m going to take a good book and soak in a hot, perfumed bath, ignoring all “should”s, “could”s and “ought-to”s.
It is my birthday, after all.
One way to start a sketch is to consider the composition, plot the edges and choose whether landscape or portrait view would best suit the arrangement. Viewfinders – which at their simplest are simply two hands, with thumbs and index fingers held at right angles to form a frame – can be helpful in making those decisions.
Another way to begin a sketch is the “start anywhere” approach: put pen to paper and draw whatever fits in the frame. Sometimes it seems like an other-worldly adventure with surprises at every turn. If brain and hand work together, it feels like one is actually traversing the terrain.
There are surprises and disappointments. The tacks on the door form a random pattern of dots that add interest; the sliver of empty space above the door is a bit jarring and would be avoided in a planned composition. There is angst (if I’d started a bit larger – or to the left – I wouldn’t be faced with trying to make sense of that jumble of fabric and paper tacked on the door).
There is a sense of honesty in a sketch like this, that is born of it’s compositional lack, the record of place and the moment.
It’s rarely a path to a “show-able” drawing, but it’s a good exercise.
The August garden, a crazy circus of orange and yellow and (yes!) apricot Day Lilies, Black-eyed Susan, pink Cosmos, bright Marigolds and WEEDS, is also alive with trails of pumpkin runners, tomato plants and heavily loaded grape vines hanging over the fence. The asparagus fronds wave a golden mist in front of the drying raspberry canes. The pea plants are yellow: the last, late harvest of peas went into the soup pot yesterday. The potato plants are wilting, a sign that their work is done, and potatoes can be dug soon. The cucumbers struggle on. This rain will help.
August is a mix of living and dying.
Walking down the Fox Lake Road last evening, I noticed more of the same. The wild raspberries, just like the cultivated plants in my garden, are just about done. The milkweed is dying, putting the last of its energy into producing seed pods…but their drying flowers still perfume the air as I pass. Blackberry bushes, I am happy to announce, are loaded with green fruit. It will be ripening soon, and keep us in sweet harvest until the frost.
August is a mix of dying and living.
My sisters were here, with families and friends, to celebrate life in our own crazy ways. August is a mix in our family, too, with birthdays and anniversaries interspersed with dates associated with the death of a loved one. Strength is born of sadness, but more: through loss I have learned to cherish the moment, the life we are given, and the people I’m blessed with. I feel in every hug, every baby’s laugh and every “I love you,” a tremendous gratitude for the insight to appreciate this wild life.
A good friend lost her sister last week; another lost her brother just the day before yesterday. My friend, John, is here on Beaver Island to honor his lifelong partner, Larry, who died last year.
It’s raining today, but the sun shines through.
Life is a mix.
We must forge on.
“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” (Jack Gilbert)
“It has done me good to be parched by the heat and drenched by the rain of life.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
“These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.” (Annie Dillard)
From youngest to oldest, left to right, there is Amy, Robin, Nita, Cheryl, Cindy and Brenda.
They came with children and grandchildren, friends and spouses. Though a few can’t stay the entire week, we’ve had more than thirty people at dinner some nights! We have five little ones under four years old!
These are the best days of the whole year, for me!
I’ll get back to writing, drawing and exercise when this week is over.
For now, I’m enjoying the good company of some of my very favorite people in the world.
I’ve been carrying my little sketchbook around with me again.
I pull it out when I have a moment, waiting for a lunch to be served or for the dogs to have a swim.
More often than not, the meal arrives or the dogs shake off before the sketch is complete.
I started this little drawing at Livingstone Studio last weekend. Then someone came by, and we started a conversation. Then I noticed another artist was struggling to hang her work. Then I saw old friends I wanted to speak to. Then someone asked about my painting process. And on the day went, my little sketch abandoned, unfinished.
It used to bother me, having rough-looking, unfinished drawings interrupting the “flow” of my sketchbook.
It doesn’t bother me any more…that’s all a part of the story!
I used to meet a friend on the mainland, for a couple days of shopping and conversation.
Linda would drive across the state; I’d fly off the island. We’d meet in Charlevoix. Sometimes we’d gravitate north to Petoskey, for familiar sites, family history, bookstores and restaurants. Other times we’d go south, to Traverse City, for a change of pace.
Linda usually brought her dog on these mini-vacations, so we’d take turns: one of us would go in to check out a shop while the other stayed outside with the dog.
Once, in Traverse City, Linda went in to a New Age book store. I stayed on the sidewalk.
After a few moments, Linda came out. “She wants to see you!” she said, “That psychic, she wants you to go in to talk to her!”
In my almost fifty years of association with Linda, I can count on one hand the times someone chose to focus on me over her.
Charming, charismatic and funny, with a deeper, spiritual side and a manner of listening that made any speaker feel important, everyone – from bartenders to shoe salesmen and even my own children – would rather talk to Linda!
Why had this woman asked to talk to me?
Was I in trouble?
Maybe she felt I was loitering? Surely Linda would have told her I was waiting for her.
If it was the dog – if she loved the look and wanted to know the breed or if I shouldn’t be lingering outside with a dog – I would be quick to tell her the dog was not mine.
What could it be??
I went inside. She gestured for me to come over, and offered me a seat. She leaned back in her chair and gave me a big smile.
“So…” she said, “I can tell that you see the Wee Folk.”
What would make her think something like that? What would make her ask it?
I am small in stature, perhaps it was a matter of “like is drawn to like.”
It has been pointed out to me that I smile, even when alone in my car with no one to be smiling at. Perhaps I was smiling, out on the sidewalk with the dog, and she felt it was the smile of someone who associated with Wee Folk.
Perhaps she was a fake psychic, and was trying to draw me in to her strange world by giving me weird imaginary powers.
What to say?
Any reference to weirdness or odd-ball ideas or charlatanism were out: this woman had summoned me when she could have been speaking to Linda, who actually is psychic, and understands all of it much better than I do, and who most everyone in the world would rather be talking to.
Of course I would be kind.
I considered brushing it off with a flip comment: “Some people think I am one of the Wee Folk,” but her gaze was sincere.
I told her the truth.
“I don’t,” I answered, “but I see where they live.”
In my walks along wood-lined paths and roadways, sometimes – deep in the woods – an area glows as if lit from within, though there is no obvious source of light.
There must be a break in the canopy of treetops, that lets the sunlight through.
Of course there is a practical and understandable explanation.
But when I see a far bright spot in the center of a dark woods, with grass and leaves and mosses of diminutive size, glowing like the saints in old paintings, with twigs laid out as if by plan, I think of the leprechauns and faeries and wee folk.
If I listened hard enough, I’m sure I’d hear their music.
If I waited, I might even catch a glimpse.