Monthly Archives: December 2015

Timeout for Art: Underway

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My daughter, Jennifer, is working hard on the coming issue of the Beacon.

We are running very late.

Considering that we lost two partners, crashed two computers, had to buy a new computer, transfer data and software and then find someone willing to learn the program and put the magazine together (that would be Jennifer, after much begging on my part), I think we are doing just fine.

I wrote, edited and gathered stories. I organized birth announcements and obituaries. I put documents into a folder. I gathered photographs. For the little leftover spaces on a page, I found usable quotations.

That’s not all of my job. I do back office stuff, too: mailings, record-keeping, billing and banking.

What I don’t do…what I am incapable of… (though I feel like I might eventually be able to, if I had no other obligations, and could give it all of my time and attention for a month or two, getting me past the fear and ignorance of technology so that I could possibly begin to absorb and remember the process…) is design and layout. That is where the begging became so crucial, and my daughter’s help so important.

I have opinions as to what the finished product should look like. I offer suggestions and criticism. When she thinks she’s done, I say, “Not quite…” I tell her, “If we’re going to be late, let’s at least look really good.” Sometimes I am able to help with a completely non-technological solution to a technical problem. Mostly, at this point, I let her do the work.

That – along with the hardware having shorter days and days off on the holidays – has allowed some time for me to be in the studio.

Hurrah!

I have thirty little paintings underway, with plans for completing one hundred of them this winter. They are only 10″ by 10″ in size, so ideas can be developed quickly. I’ve already “overworked” at least four of them, and will have a struggle to bring them back to life. None are finished yet, but some are showing promise. I’ve already determined to use a few of these compositions as jumping off points for larger canvasses.

I work on four at a time, as that is how many fit easily together on my work surface. That allows me to develop an idea with variations. Each group of four are similar but not the same. They seem to communicate one with another. I think of them as “talking circles,” sharing a broad idea, but each with their own point of view.

I have been awfully negligent about posting “Timeout for Art” over the last several months. In the coming year, I plan to do better. It’s already on my list of resolutions for 2016. So, I’ll show my progress on these pieces as the weeks go by.

Meanwhile, tonight.

I’m making a plate of nachos for dinner. I have a short stack of new self-help books to peruse, and a movie to watch. That’s my New Year’s Eve celebration. I hope yours is wonderful, too!

And, of course, Happy New Year!

 

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Looking Back

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Before I retire my daily calendar for 2015…before it is replaced with the brand new, empty-pages-but-full-of-plans-and-hopes daily calendar for the coming year…let me just look. Let me turn through the pages of this record of the year gone by, and remember.

I worked at the hardware store all of the year. There were times that I reduced my hours to four days a week, in order to make time for other jobs. A few weeks I worked six or seven days, to cover the schedule or finish a special project. Most of the year, I was there  five days a week.

I took over the Beaver Beacon at the end of 2014, and my January, 2015, days are filled with notes and ideas for articles. Meetings and interviews were scheduled in. Sketches of possible arrangements fill the margins. It continues throughout the year. The corner of each page where I note creative pursuits, where I might jot down “studio, 2hrs.” or “write, all morning”  now leans heavily to “beacon, receipts,” “beacon, edit article,” “beacon, write,” and the seemingly never-ending “beacon, database.” Clearly, it has taken over a large part of my days.

Though I resigned from my position as Phragmites Coordinator this fall, activities with that job kept me busy through much of the year. In January, I attended a seminar in East Lansing, to be a part of a group discussion on the battle against the invasive plant. Through the year, I wrote letters, answered questions, did some fund-raising, wrote an informational blog, attended meetings and gave talks to further our efforts. I did a little work – also related to invasive plants – for the people fulfilling a Sustain Our Great Lakes grant on behalf of Beaver Island.

I taught three classes at the Community Center last winter. The first, Paper-Making, introduced the craft of making hand-made paper with methods and materials available to anyone. The second was Painted Papers, where attendees were provided with many types of paper, several paint colors and various tools for applying them. To encourage pattern-making rather than picture-painting, they were encouraged to “take a paper and paint it with one color, then do something else to it, then do something else to it.” The “something else” could include folding it onto itself or rubbing it onto another sheet to disperse paint and blend colors, stamping it, smearing it, polka-dotting it…or any of a hundred other choices. The third class, Collage-Making, combined hand-made papers, painted papers and other items to make personal collages. The classes were well-attended, everyone seemed to enjoy the processes, and the results were quite stunning!

My sister, Nita, died last winter. I took a detour after my seminar in East Lansing in January, to visit with her. She was failing, but still herself. She was by turns stoic, sad, scared, grouchy and hilarious. She got up at one point from her hospital bed to make her way to the bathroom. She got lightheaded at standing, and as she staggered and weaved, we all raised up, arms outstretched, from our chairs as if to catch her. She gave a look of surprise and said, “You guys! I’ve been a drinker all my life…I got this!” Nita passed away in the early morning hours of February 14th. I wasn’t with her at the very end of her life, when the disease had weakened her so that she couldn’t even speak. I am able to picture  her as she was that day, grumbling about her lot in life, but making us laugh out loud.

In May, my old dog, Clover died.

June, Livingstone Studio opened for the season, my artwork included among its offerings.

July, I went downstate for a cluster of lovely things: a graduation open house gave me a chance to catch up with lots of friends and family; a class reunion was an opportunity for reconnecting and reminiscing; good visits with each of my daughters were a joy; my granddaughter, Madeline, came home with me, to spend time entertaining me and working at the ice cream shop.

My Uncle Al passed away in July, at ninety years old.

In August, my sisters and other friends came to Beaver Island, with assorted nieces and nephews with their children for a rollicking week of games and giggles, meals and memory-making.

September, my friend Donna came for a visit, with time for talk and laughter and sight-seeing.

October, sisters Brenda and Cheryl drove north, and met me in Petoskey for an overnight stay, before coming back with me to the island. They came, along with cousins Joannie and Mary Jean, to help us celebrate Aunt Katie’s  birthday. We squeezed in a trip around the island and some good conversations, too!

November, more travel! First to Petoskey with Aunt Katie for doctor visits, then to Lapeer to help celebrate my baby sister Amy’s fiftieth birthday. I stayed downstate then, for the week so that I could have Thanksgiving there, with family. That gave me time to see my daughter Kate’s new house, and all the wonderful things they’re doing with it. It provided time to go to water aerobics with Brenda and our friend, Elaine. It gave me the chance to meet my friend Joan for lunch, to catch up on our long list of challenges and experiences of the last forty years. It amazes and pleases me how a shared Catholic school beginning can form lifelong bonds of friendship! It gave me time to visit with family for more than a few rushed minutes, to participate in meal preparation, to watch the little ones play.

December, I am ending the year as I began it, with much of my concentration going to work. The hardware’s last orders before the ferry boat quits running for the winter, Christmas sales and new products to display and organize made for full, busy days there. The Beacon is undergoing a bit of an upheaval and giving me many sleepless nights as I fumble through the changes.

On a personal front, I’m finishing the year with a renewed effort to fit in more quiet time, more exercise and more time in the studio. That’s a good place to end the year: looking forward to the next one.

 

Snow or Not

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It’s Christmas.

I don’t send Christmas cards, but I receive them, still, and am thrilled with each and every one. I have them taped to the faces of my kitchen cabinets, where I enjoy them every day.

Over the last two weeks, I made hundreds of cookies. The first baking day resulted in cookies to serve at the Christmas shopping day at the hardware store. The second day gave me platefuls to distribute to friends and colleagues. For the last two days, I’ve kept an assortment of them at the counter at work, for customers to help themselves.

Last night, dinner was chicken and stars soup. The soup is home-made; the stars are cut from noodle dough and cooked in the simmering broth. It was the traditional dinner, in years past, for the day my girls and I decorated the Christmas tree.

This year there was no family, no decorations, no tree. It was good soup, anyway. My friend Vince came over. We ate soup and bread and cookies. We drank sparkling wine and watched a movie. We talked about politics and mushrooms and books. It was a good way to spend Christmas Eve.

Today, I’ve had telephone conversations with several loved ones. I took a walk with my little dog. I’m making dinner rolls as my contribution to the Christmas meal, and cheese balls to distribute as gifts. I’ll go to my cousin Bob’s later, to have dinner with Aunt Katie and friends. I have a small cache of presents from family, friends and “Santa” that I am saving. I’ll open them when I get home tonight, maybe with a mug of hot cider.

This is not Christmas the way it lives in my memory, with bustle of family activities.

This is not the way I see Christmas in my mind, with greeting card landscape of snow-covered pines.

Still, this is Christmas, merry and bright.

My best wishes to all of you for a wonderful holiday, too!

 

 

 

 

 

Rain in December

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Another rainy December day.

And so close to Christmas!

My mood follows the weather.

I miss the beautiful Christmas-card landscape that a nice blanket of snow provides.

I miss Christmases past: meals and games with family and friends; small children to please; decorations and lights and a big Christmas tree; holiday chaos.

I miss my family.

This time of year, with all the memories and nostalgia that Christmas brings, and all of the “re-evaluating of what is important” that come with the new year, I wonder about my good sense in choosing to live on an isolated island, far from my siblings, my children, my grandchildren…

The rain doesn’t help.

It’s an annual thing, it seems, these doubts about my choices in life. They have become more intense over the years as deaths serve as reminders of the shortness of time, and the value of family. It starts with melancholy, loneliness and missing old times. It grows into a feeling of near desperation.

I could move! I could pack up what’s important, and go back to my home town.

I could sell my rag-tag little house, with its mis-matched windows, particle board floor and shingles sliding off the roof. I could rent! My needs are few: dog-friendly, affordable, and with a small space to use as a studio. Maybe I could rent the little house from my brother, that is next door to his, and was – sixty years ago – where my grandparents lived. Or I could rent the house on Howard Street from my sister, and be close to downtown. Good riddance to the long list of things that need to be completed and the never-ending repairs!

I could leave my good job at the hardware store…my boss has been pretty cranky lately, anyway. I could find someone to take over the Beacon: it has caused me enough frustration already. It isn’t impossible to think I could get a job “out in the real world.” I could substitute teach. I could teach enrichment classes in the  evenings, for community education. Maybe I could write for the newspaper…

But then…

In doing my day-off chores, I go to the hardware store, post office, bank, grocery store, gas station, and then to the transfer station to drop off my trash and recyclables. Everyone knows me, and I know them. Everyone is nice, helpful, and sends me off with good holiday wishes.

Then there’s my Aunt Katie, the matriarch of our family, who is important to me for her good humor, generosity and kindness as well as all the history we share. I don’t think I could move away from Aunt Katie.

Carrying in loads of groceries and packages, I notice, with tenderness, the bright green moss growing out from between the red paving stones on my kitchen stoop. I see with fresh eyes the stones – placed one by one with my own hands – that border flower beds and garden edges and – buried so that just the flattish tops show – form a rustic walkway leading to the back door.

Inside, I appreciate the vertical trim board, where my grandchildren have noted their growth over the years. My kitchen cabinets are adorned with paintings on the inside of each cupboard door. An assortment of mismatched cabinet and drawer pulls, gathered by my daughter Kate from a dozen different sources, give them a one-of-a-kind look.

Just before Kate was born, we moved our little family out of the lake house (too small, too rickety, too impossible to heat!) into a brand new townhouse. What a relief! And yet, the plans we’d made for that little lake house…good plans…were never completed. That has always bothered me a little. If I were to walk away from my house now, would I be haunted by my unfinished business here?

There are the “bottom lines” to think of: property values and the slow-moving real estate market, the cost and difficulty of moving, the particulars of maintaining a vehicle on the mainland, transferring medical and insurance records, and on and on.

And then it comes to the emotional terms. For my whole life, I missed Beaver Island when I wasn’t here. As an adult, whenever I’ve had to be away for a season or more, I’ve kept a poem by Langston Hughes posted to console me:

Wave of sorrow/do not drown me now./I see the island/still ahead somehow./I see the island/and its sands are fair./Wave of sorrow/take me there.

I don’t know how to reconcile all of the feelings of love and loss and distance. For now at least, Beaver Island is my home.

A little snow right now would help!

 

 

Potato Peels and Other Scraps

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I was planning to make mushroom risotto for my dinner this evening. I have plenty of rice, onions, and a few fresh mushrooms that need to be used before they go soft. I was going to pick up chicken broth and a lemon at the grocery store after work, and would have everything I’d need.

While mailing out Christmas packages this morning, I wrote out a check to cover postage, and realized it was the last check in the book. I had tucked a twenty dollar bill in a birthday card yesterday. In cash, I was left with three dollars and change. Not enough.

Instead, it’s fried potatoes with onions for my dinner this evening.

That’s okay. It’s one of my favorite meals. I fry the potatoes until they’re brown on the outside, but still firm, not quite cooked through on the inside. I like the onions very done, caramelized almost, but the potatoes al dente’. Then, sometimes, I melt cheese on top.

As I was slicing onions, I was struck with a memory of cutting onions horizontally and separating them into neat rounds for fried potatoes. I don’t do it that way anymore. Now I slice them vertically, into long, curved strips. I don’t know when that changed. Or why.

I used to slice the potatoes into rounds, too. Now I cut them in half before slicing them, so I have half-moon shapes. I might have changed my onion slicing at the same time as I changed my potato cutting, so that they’d look similar…but I’m only guessing.

I remembered, as I was peeling potatoes, that the funny tip at the end of a carrot peeler (I suppose it could be a potato peeler, too) is a tool for removing the eyes of a potato (also for the spots on a whole pineapple, but that has nothing to do with this discussion). I used to know that, and then I forgot.

I didn’t remember it at Thanksgiving, when my sister and I were peeling potatoes together. The potatoes were just filled with eyes, and I was passing them to Brenda, to cut out the spots. I lose patience with a job like that, and was sure I’d end up just cutting away chunks of the potato. My mother would have found that unacceptable, and I was afraid that Brenda would feel the same way. I took care of it by just handing the job off to her. I was secretly pleased to see that she was kind of cutting away chunks, too. That would have been a darn good time to remember about the carrot peeler…but, no.

It strikes me that if these two revelations come to me in one day, for no particular reason, how many other things have I forgotten?

 

Blackout, Birthday and Business

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A cold December rain makes this a good day for working inside.

I’m waiting for a telephone call, which will then occupy me for at least an hour or two, so I don’t want to  go far from the phone, or get involved in a project I can’t easily walk away from.

That means I can’t work in the studio this morning. Paints squeezed out of tubes, glues and polymers set out in pots and brushes once put to use cannot be easily walked away from.

It means I can’t finish rolling out and baking the cookie dough that’s wrapped and waiting in the refrigerator.

It means I can’t go to town for visits to bank and post office.

That’s okay. There is plenty right here to be done.

In the kitchen, there are mixing bowls and baking sheets stacked in the drainer waiting to be put away. Cookbooks, flipped open to batter-stained pages with favored cookie recipes, adorn the counters. Yesterday, the hardware store held its annual Christmas shopping event. We had discounts and specials, drawings and giveaways. There were races down the aisles on plasma cars. Santa was there, too, for those who wanted to have their pet’s photo taken with him, for a freewill donation to the Friends of Beaver Island Animals. I made more than a hundred cookies for the event. My kitchen still shows the consequences.

In the laundry room, there are loads of washing to be done. I stripped the bed, so have a load of sheets and another of blankets. I have throw rugs to wash, and at least one load of dark clothes. I think there are still towels in the dryer that need to be folded. No matter how hard I try to keep up with the laundry all week, it seems I am always faced with a pile of it on my day off.

In the bedroom, I am in the middle of a “paring down” project. I have a giant box ready to be filled with clothes that I don’t wear, don’t want or don’t need. It will then be delivered to our Island Treasures Resale Shop, where the items will be offered for sale by the Fire Department Auxiliary. At this time, the box is one-quarter full, drawers are opened, clothes are stacked in piles for assessment and it is a big transitional mess.

The living room has the usual accumulation of dust and clutter to be dealt with.

The desk, as always these days, is mounded with papers to be filed and issues to be handled.

As for writing, I’m behind here, too.

Since I last posted we had a major internet blackout here on Beaver Island. It is reported that a hub in Chicago was to blame, and it may have affected areas beyond this island. The internet went down at 12:34PM on December 9th, and was not restored until 3:08PM on December 10th. During that time, credit cards could not be run at the hardware store. The internet broadcast from our little island radio station could not be heard. We all realized (and maybe felt a little ashamed) at how heavily we had come to rely on the internet for daily news, entertainment and communication. I, for one, was surprised at how much more time there seemed to be in an evening, when internet Scrabble or Netflix was not a part of it. I am determined to use that as a lesson, and limit time-wasting computer time from now on!

Since I last wrote, my youngest daughter celebrated a birthday. Every  birthday brings memories and wonderment and gratitude. I think how blessed and fortunate I am to have had this amazing person in my life, and wonder at how the years have sped by. Happy birthday to Katey!

In the last week, I have seen both setbacks and progress where my little news magazine is concerned. I’ve had to send a cash advance, buy a new computer, transfer data, reinstall software, and depend on others for help. I have been by turns frustrated, confused, panicky and overwhelmed…and now and then, without reason, overcome by the most peaceful, zen-like calm. When my telephone call comes through today…if it comes…I should soon be in a better position to know which of those emotional states is most appropriate.

Meanwhile, I’m going to shake off this rainy day mood and get busy!

 

 

 

Monday, Monday…

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I have never much liked advice, even when I clearly needed it.

I’m not sure if it seems like a weakness, if it feels like criticism, or something else entirely. I just know I don’t like it.

I’ve learned to not ask for it unless I plan to listen. I try not to complain in a way that might be interpreted as asking for it. I think I’ve become more gracious about receiving it over the years, even if I don’t plan to follow it.

Still, it’s not comfortable for me, to have advice offered.

I’ve often generalized – perhaps unfairly – stating that it is impossible to talk to men about problems or difficulties, because they won’t just listen…they want to solve it.

There have been many times in my life where I have, frustrated and angry, said to one man or another, “Just LISTEN! Maybe sympathize. For God’s sake, quit trying to fix it!

So…I totally understand a person sometimes needing someone to complain to, and needing that person to listen without judgement, without drawing conclusions and without (for God’s sake!) trying to fix it.

Generally, I think, I’m pretty good at it, too.

Until it comes to my children.

Granted, they are no longer children, but fully grown adults. And I’m good with that. I don’t want the daily headaches and heartaches that parenting entails. I did it. I’m finished. I don’t have the stamina for it anymore.

Still, when they are not completely happy and fulfilled – which is, of course, exactly what I want for them – and I think a little tweak of their lifestyle, attitude or spending habits might make a big difference…I advise.

Not only do I offer advice, I remind them of past advice I’ve given. I make a point of saying things like, “If you had only listened to my advice…” I argue for my advice, and shoot down any defensive reasoning they may offer.

I keep it up usually until they cry. Or find an excuse to hang up. Or both.

That’s when I realize I have displayed behavior that I myself would never tolerate. That’s when I know I’ve over-stepped boundaries and abused the rights and privileges of parenthood. That’s when I know I’ve gone too far.

That’s when I sit hear, feeling sorry, swearing to myself that I’ll do better from now on.

We’ll see.