Monthly Archives: August 2015

Presents/Presence

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I made it through another birthday.

I am still here.

The longer I live, the more it seems death is all around me.

All of my grandparents are gone, though their stories still guide me. Both of my parents are gone; I seem stubbornly unable to get used to that fact, and still enjoy their influence in many aspects of my life. Of eleven brothers and sisters, there are only six left. I miss the ones that have died, and cherish the ones still here. That’s all I can do.

At my class reunion in July, it was noted that a full ten percent of our graduating class had passed on. Another member died this week. In every case, I think, “Oh, so young!” I am, of course, remembering them as they were in high school.

I guess I’m not “so young” anymore. That is made clear every time a friend, acquaintance or family member dies. It’s always too soon and I am never prepared. It may even, age-wise, be a bit below the average life-expectancy…but, clearly, I am now in that age where loss of contemporaries is a big part of life.

It seems the only thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.

Early birthday celebrations with my family and friends brought good wishes and cards and gifts: books, bags and bath salts, bottles of wine and a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Creme. Later, an annual birthday dinner with my cousins provided much laughter and good cheer, and more thoughtful presents. There were cards in the mail and hand-delivered cards and messages. A complete birthday meal, fully prepared, wrapped and delivered by my friend, Pam, to be reheated at dinnertime. Over one hundred birthday greetings on Facebook. Telephone calls from each of my daughters and from one grandson, each one a treasured gift.

There have been unexpected presents. I was invited to attend a benefit dinner, held at a stately old island home. We dined on lobster and steak under a beautiful evening sky. I received a big bouquet of gladiolus from two nice ladies who accepted a ride to the grocery store with me. A big, flowered bag was hanging on my doorknob the other day, filled with treats and treasures and a thank-you note. It was from my neighbors, who have a rustic cabin in the woods, and – with my blessing – draw water from my well when they are on the island. None of the gift-givers knew it was my birthday week!

There are other gifts:

  • My little dog, who wakes me with kisses, and greets me at the end of the day with a wildly wagging tail, who entertains me, keeps me company and makes me laugh every single day.
  • A doe and her twin fawns, who I often see at the end of the Fox Lake Road.
  • The wild blackberries ripening in the fields around my house.
  • Fox Lake, a short drive from my home, where the dog loves the smells, and I love the view.
  • My aunt, who struggles with health issues but is still able to share stories, opinions and memories from her long life.
  • A job that supports me, and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I would never have predicted that I would be capable of tasks like cutting and threading pipe, making keys and mixing paint, and that I would get such satisfaction from the ability to do them.
  • Other jobs that enrich me: artist, baker, cook, gardener, writer.
  • My big, blessed family.
  • My friends, far and near.
  • My home, shelter in this world.
  • The moon, last night, in that deep blue sky.
  • The big owl that nests nearby, perches on my fence post, and spreads his wings to fly when I come home after dark (and who, thank God, leaves my little dog alone!).
  • The sunrise every morning and the sunset every night.
  • This beautiful island in the middle of Lake Michigan.
  • The beach all around, with stunning views all year.

These are the gifts that I tend to take for granted, that go too often unnoticed or unappreciated.

It seems the best thing to do, while I’m still here, is to truly be present in this world, in my life.

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Many Wonderful Things

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  1. I woke up in the early morning hours to the sound of steady, soft rain.
  2. The air was fresh and clean
  3. and a cool breeze was blowing.
  4. I was wide awake, so spent a few hours clearing up some paperwork that needed to be done.
  5. I felt drowsy around four AM, and still had more than two hours to sleep before getting up for work.
  6. I remembered to wear slacks with pockets for freight day – for holding pens and other necessities.
  7. I was almost on time!
  8. John was back at work after two days in bed with a bad back.
  9. Matthew came in, too, to help with freight, though he’s already worked his official “last day” before going back to college.
  10. Levi and I were there too, as scheduled, so we had a good crew.
  11. It did not rain while we were bringing in freight, though the sky looked threatening.
  12. It was steady with customers all day, but not too busy to get things done.
  13. A young woman came in to by an appliance, and paid for it entirely in quarters!
  14. A sweet woman and her young granddaughter came in for more paint, happy with the color I mixed for them yesterday.
  15. The wind blew hard all day long.
  16. I received a sweet card from my sister, Brenda. She sent good wishes and words of encouragement, having read my “Where’s the Joy” blog. I feel so fortunate to have her in my life: always up-beat, always helpful, always willing to listen. Always ready to comfort and advise at the first hint of sorrow, whining or complaint. All of my life.
  17. I know she’ll be pleased to see that I’m working on focusing on the good stuff,
  18. and cultivating gratitude.
  19. I had two packages waiting at the airport. I don’t care what they are, packages are always a treat!
  20. One was books!
  21. It also contained refill treats that fit on Rosa’s chew toy.
  22. The other was the proof of the next issue of the Beaver Beacon…and it looks beautiful!
  23. I stopped to see my friend, Sue, after work,
  24. and we drank wine from pretty little “tea ceremony” style ceramic cups
  25. made, I think, by our friend, Tom.
  26. I remembered to stop at the grocery store for milk.
  27. Then added ice cream,
  28. sugar cones
  29. and fresh blueberries to the shopping basket.
  30. I stopped, too, for a short visit with my Aunt Katie, before heading home.
  31. I straightened her porch and righted a couple potted plants that the wind had tipped over
  32. and arranged to come on Friday morning to do her floors.
  33. I drove home with the windows down
  34. and Fleetwood Mac on the radio.
  35. My right front tire did not go flat, though I forgot to put air in it.
  36. Rosa Parks greeted me with smiles and kisses.
  37. The strong winds kept the mosquitoes away, so we wandered the yard together, picking up downed branches
  38. and working on her dog tricks.
  39. My brightest daylilies are blooming right now.
  40. Inside, I weighted papers down with stones from the beach
  41. and opened windows wide for the breeze.
  42. I made spaghetti for dinner,
  43. with meatballs from Schwan’s, brought up by Joel when they came on vacation, and never used. Fully cooked, solidly frozen, they are easy to thaw and heat to round out a meal.
  44. I had an ice cream cone for dessert.
  45. I took time to catch up on reading some blogs that I follow, and
  46. I have taken this time to write.
  47. Next, I think I’ll take a long bath
  48. with scented bath salts
  49. candles
  50. and one of my new books.

Oh, Honestly…

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Yes, I’m tired, a little moody and experiencing a bit of the end-of-summer blues…but I’m okay. Really.

I was just feeling pretty good about finding time and stamina to write blog posts two days in a row (and now this makes three! Hurray for me!), when I started getting responses that suggested I came across differently than I’d intended.  Yikes!

Empathy, hugs and understanding. A few “you’re as young as you feel,” one  “you’re still a spring chicken” and a couple “you’re much younger than me.” Suggestions that we get together, apologies for being neglectful, sorry we couldn’t be there. Advice, from friends and family, to look at the positive, to not be so hard on myself, to choose a better story. One friend even shared the post on her social media feed. Oh, my!

I am not miserable. Clearly, I came across as if I was…but I’m not.

I do often experience, as I said, a bit of the blues around my birthday…out of habit more than anything else…but that’s just one of the cycles of my life. I come out of it energized and determined to shape an even better life in the coming year.

Even the incident that formed the habit – the birthday without a birthday party – was not horrid. I truly was a selfish child. Melodramatic, too. I loved it when it was “all about me.” That rarely happened in a family as large as mine. The year I didn’t get a party, it seemed to be all about me. I wallowed in it, played it for all it was worth, and relished every bit of self-pity I indulged in. In my mind, it seemed more important than anything else that was happening, and that suited me just fine.

That’s embarrassing to admit, but true. I have moved on. I don’t believe I am still that selfish, though I do still indulge in a little melodrama now and then. I suppose that came through in yesterday’s post…though I wasn’t trying for it.

So, just to be clear, I am okay. I appreciate all the kind thoughts, good wishes, encouragement and advice…but really!

I don’t need to be bolstered up, do not need to be coddled, do not want to be pitied or, for heaven’s sake, be made the center of attention in any way. Honest!

Where’s the Joy?

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It seems that I have dropped into my – almost annual – birthday funk.

It is not my birthday yet…but it’s coming.

There have been a few years where the day has come and gone without the usual feelings of depression and sadness   but they are a rare exception.

It’s not the age that bothers me.

Sometimes it’s the lack of accomplishment, though that was more pertinent when I was younger. I had a whole list of things I had hoped to accomplish by the time I turned thirty – or even forty – but I never really thought I’d have anything left to accomplish if I was still around at this age (I’ll be turning 63), so I am not disappointed. Still being here, I guess, is an accomplishment!

Sometimes it’s loneliness. My mother used to say I was ” the most anti-social” of all of her children (I’m sure she meant that in the nicest possible way!), and she was probably right. Usually, I’m not bothered by being alone; often I relish it. Not on Christmas, though, and not on my birthday.

Sometimes it’s just that I am generally overwhelmed and exhausted.

Sometimes it’s remembering other years, and the losses that have marked the passage of time.

Sometimes it’s just habit.

I have just had an entire frenzied month that included two trips to the mainland, an open house, a class reunion, a memorial for a dear uncle and three weeks with my granddaughter here on the island. All of my sisters have been here for a wonderful, fun week, as well as nieces and nephews and friends and cousins…and I’m tired.

This is a busy time of year here on Beaver Island. The Fourth of July festivities were followed in quick succession by the Beaver Island Music Fest; Museum Week, including an art show that I participate in; “Baroque on Beaver” concerts and activities; a Bike Fest; “Meet the Artists” at Livingstone Studio, which I also participate in; Home-Coming Weekend, and now Jazz Fest. Add to that the people that come for birding, kayaking and camping, or just the basic warm weather and  beautiful beaches. Visitors to the island mean customers in the stores. Though we appreciate the business and love to see the people come, all who work in the service industries feel the strain by the time August rolls around.

Clearly, I have too much on my plate. I wonder about my sanity in taking on the Beaver Beacon. Even with good help – and my partners are wonderful – it is a huge responsibility that seems overwhelming much of the time. I cut my hours at the hardware to make time for the news magazine, so my income hasn’t changed – except for the things I’ve had to purchase and the times I’ve had to supplement it’s bank account out of my personal funds – but my stress level certainly has.

This month, that features many birthdays and wedding anniversaries in my family, also holds the sad memories of many losses. Both of my parents died in August. So did my sister, Sheila. My Grandma Thelma died around the end of August, when I was a child.

Though I loved my Grandma, I was a selfish child. Her death affected me mostly because I didn’t get a birthday party that year. My poor, harried mother – with seven little children and another on the way, with a husband who worked long hours and didn’t like hospitals, with no brothers or sisters to help, with her mother dying in the hospital – gave me a hug, handed me an unwrapped chapter book (my precious Heidi, that I treasure, still) and said, “This year, this will have to do…happy birthday!”

What?! No party? No balloons? No festivities? Does nobody love me? Does no one care? Am I the least favorite child in this whole family? I embarked on a major “Feeling Sorry For Myself” jag that became so enjoyable in it’s intensity, it became habit, and an almost annual tradition. It is with me, still. I recognize it, and even laugh at myself most of the time for my childish mournfulness (“My sisters will all be gone by my birthday, and I’ll be alone…and my kids will probably forget to call…and I have to work…”)…but I know to be careful, too. What starts as a little self-indulgent self pity can turn into a major depression if I let it go on unchecked.

Clearly, I have matured. I work at avoiding depression; I look for joy. I spend my birthday with good intentions and good memories.

This year, in fact, I think I’ll mark my birthday with a list of 63 joyful things I’d still like to accomplish in this life!

Breathe

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“Having a great time. Wish I was here.”

I saw that while browsing Amazon.com the other day, and immediately ordered the book. If I get no more benefit from it than this quote, it will be worth the purchase price.

August 11th marked the four-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I miss her for a million reasons, not the least of which are the lessons she taught, by her example, at her life’s end. She had few regrets (the only one she mentioned was a lack of patience with her children) and no dreams left unfulfilled. She was not afraid, and reassured us over and over that she was prepared, and content.

This year, a dear man, beloved by many, died on that same date. Jim was a teacher for many years here on Beaver Island, respected and appreciated for his ability to inject interest and humor into high school lessons while maintaining order in the classroom. He was a former marine, a volunteer firefighter, an emergency responder, a husband, father and grandfather, a good friend, a kind and helpful human being. There has been an outpouring of grief here, a sharing of memories, and a unanimous sentiment of “gone too soon.”

When Mom died, I did a little arithmetic. She was twenty years and one month older than me. If I lived as long as she did (she probably took much better care of herself than I have!), I would have about 7,300 days left. What an eye opener! I promised myself I would make the best of it. I would work toward the goal of having a satisfactory life, with no big regrets. Mainly, I wanted to be aware. The years up to that point had flown by, leaving me with a small collection of memories and the feeling that I’d wasted a lot of time. That needed to change.

I started this writing practice with the goal of paying attention.

I wanted to notice the moments of the days as they flew by. I wanted to note the quality of light, and the feel of sunshine or raindrops. I wanted to really hear what is being said, and feel what is being felt. It was a lofty ambition but, as with many things in my life, easy to forget, lose interest, or let it fall by the wayside. Where have all the moments of all the days of the last four years gone? Too often, it seems, I am doing one thing while thinking ahead of the next thing I need to do, so that I am never fully experiencing the moment I am in.

It’s a small thing, to appreciate this life, but it’s the very best thing to do…for myself, and for the ones who are no longer here to experience it.

I need to continue to work on that…forever.

Hello…Hello…

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Yesterday, these three pirates arrived on Beaver Island. The two biggest ones (A.K.A. the Miller brothers, Bob and Gary) came on the morning boat. The smaller guy came later in the day, along with my sister Brenda, her husband Keith, their daughter Laura and her husband Jim (their son, Victor, is the short pirate). Also arriving was my sister Amy, her husband Dennis, two small dogs and their daughters Nicole, Kristen and Danielle. Nicole brought along her husband Jim and their new baby, Hannah; Danielle came with her husband John, their daughter Lily, their son Cash and Lily’s friend Maddie.

Today, my sisters Cheryl and Robin arrived with their friends, Joel and Dick.

Tomorrow, Cheryl’s daughter, Tammy is coming across with her husband Todd and their three little ones: Cole, Cade and Chloe. Cole firmly believes that this island has pirates.

Tomorrow, it will!

Good-bye…Good-bye…

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Cousin Bob and I made a quick trip off the island and down-state, to pay our respects to an uncle.

Uncle Al lived to be ninety years old – he’d celebrated that milestone birthday just a few weeks ago – and, by all accounts, lived a pretty good life. He’d had a long and happy marriage (his wife preceded him in death by less than two years) and raised four sons. He enjoyed grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He’d had a long career, but also many years of retirement to pursue other interests. There had been a few issues, but his health was pretty good. Though his sons were there to help when needed, he was fairly self-sufficient for most of his life. His decline was sudden, and he did not linger in pain, helplessness or ever-diminishing capacity. The photos show a handsome man with a nice smile and a twinkle in his eye, often gazing lovingly at his wife. As heart-wrenching as these events sometimes are, this one was not bad.

I took the opportunity to deliver my granddaughter to her Papa and Grandma ‘Nay’s house, where my daughter will pick her up at the end of the week. I treasured our time together though – when all is said and done – she is fifteen and wanting to test boundaries…and I am old and a stickler for the rules. We are both stubborn. We disagreed about bed times and texting at all hours, spending habits and curfews. We agreed on fixing and eating nice meals together, hats, french braids and spoiling Miss Rosa Parks. One day, Madeline brought a sample of pistachio-almond ice cream to the car when I picked her up from work (she always smelled like burnt sugar and ice cream after a shift at the ice cream shop), and spooned it, by turns, into her mouth and mine, with an occasional taste for Rosa Parks, all the drive home. Another day, she quit her job and spent the evening trying to arrange for her Papa to come pick her up at the airport. “I’ll pay my  own flight, to get away from here,” she told me. She only broke down when her Papa said he couldn’t, and it took every bit of restraint I could muster to keep from wrapping her in my arms. The next day, she made Mexican skillet, and had the table set nicely when I came home from work. “Just to let you know I’m sorry for all my crazy behavior yesterday,” she said. As heart-wrenching as these events sometimes are, this one was not bad.

Some good-byes are worse than others, but even the best of them are sad