Monthly Archives: March 2016

Time Out for Art: Inspiration

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Michael and Kate in front of the Art Museum

On our first full day in Connecticut, we took a short road trip to the historic town of Old Lyme, once home to a thriving artist colony.

Florence Griswold was the daughter of a sea captain, and maintained the family home by letting out rooms to boarders. She was approached at one point by a New York artist, looking for a place for artist’s to gather. The home-turned-boarding-house became a retreat for a large group of Impressionist painters.

The artist’s were influenced by the Impressionists in France, and loved the rural countryside for their subject matter. They enlivened the old house with banter, games and laughter. Their easels became a regular part of the view. They held classes on the grounds, drawing in other aspiring artists; they sold their works in shows and sales that brought collectors from all over the country.

The house itself is now a beautifully restored and appointed museum. The door panels still feature paintings done by the residents, in thanks to Miss Griswold. The furnishings, though not all original, have been carefully chosen for the style of the era. Period paintings grace the walls.

The grounds are park-like, with a Monet-inspired garden, and paths leading from one area of interest to another. Old trees provide beauty and shade, and a winding river runs through the grounds. Parking for visitors was set back away from the old home, to preserve the historic look.

Behind the museum is a long, low, white building that is an art gallery. Though there are changing exhibits of various art styles, many rooms are dedicated to Impressionist works done in the period that the artist’s colony was active. Often the paintings were done while on retreat at the Griswold house. Every work of art was accompanied by a card giving detailed information about it.

I don’t know what was most inspiring. It was wonderful to see so much good work in a gallery setting. I loved getting a sense of the artist’s lives and interactions. Being with my family, who were all observant, interested and enthusiastic, was, I think, the best of all!

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The Florence Griswold House

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig

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It was wonderful to get away!

I had good visits with two of my sisters, both of my daughters and three of my grandchildren…plus quality time with Lincoln Phillip, my tiny new great-grandson.

I waited at the airport on Beaver Island for more than four hours with a driving snowstorm going on outside, before finally making my way to Charlevoix. The flight was good, Charlevoix was clear, and the four hour drive was uneventful. That was Tuesday.

On Thursday I met up with the Clark family: my daughter, Kate; her husband, Jeremy; their two youngest children, Madeline and Tommy. They would be my traveling companions for the next several days. We were headed for Connecticut to visit with Kate’s oldest son, Michael, and his little family.

I hadn’t seen Michael in a couple years. I had not yet met his girlfriend, Samantha. They had recently added a new family member, that we were all excited to meet.

The drive was long, but good. There was plenty to see (except in Ohio, of course) and lots to talk about. Kate and I had each brought stories to read aloud. She brought a short story collection by Steven King; I brought essays by Evan S. Connell. We played travel games; we napped.

Jeremy is a good driver. He doesn’t get nervous, or angry, or impatient. He can change lanes quickly and safely when needed, and he doesn’t mind if we miss an exit and have to backtrack. He doesn’t get agitated when a passenger (me) audibly sucks in her breath or says, “Oh, shit!!” or “Yikes!” or “Look out!” He doesn’t mind stopping for rest rooms or hunger. He doesn’t seem to mind driving for hours on end through pouring rain.

Kate is a fantastic navigator. She was in charge of the map, directing the driver. She had the trip plotted out ahead of time. Kate helped us avoid areas that were costly or that would slow us down, but she also was on the lookout for areas of interest that we might want to see. She could tell us how far we’d gone, how far yet to go and what our elevation was at any given time. When we crossed a bridge, she’d tell us the body of water. When we came to a new state sign, we cheered.

We had a lovely visit with my grandson and his family (I’ll devote a separate post to that).

We took a slightly different route back to Michigan, to change the view. We made a couple detours and stops to enrich the experience.

I spent Monday night back at my sister Brenda’s house, and drove back to Charlevoix Tuesday. I caught the last flight of the day, went to pick up my little dog and came home.

Happy to get away…so glad to be home!

 

Playing With Fire

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Yesterday, I told about my little paper-burning adventure, and how the fire almost got away from me. That brought to mind my first childhood adventure of “burning down the field.” That memorable event was the first, but not the only time we burned down the field.  It became an annual event!

The field was about twenty acres of overgrown grass and weeds. There were wildflowers and vines, but no shrubs or wild juniper bushes like the fields on Beaver Island. We were allowed to wander the field, as long as we always kept our own house in sight. Toward the back, along a wide dirt pathway, wild raspberries grew. We went there often, in season, to pick them…but we were careful.

A family lived in a tiny house at the end of that path. The story we told each other was that they were crazy. The father shot a gun. The boys played with knives: big kitchen knives instead of jackknives. They had an outhouse for a bathroom. The mother smelled bad. That, we knew because my parents hired her, on occasion, to do our ironing. The little house was home to seven raggedy children, who often waited at the bus stop with runny noses. All the signs of insanity, in our childish thoughts. If any of them came near us when we were picking berries, we’d run for home.

Beyond the field was a small woods and a swamp that was sometimes just mud, other times several feet of water. There was an electric fence back there, too, that the boys would test by peeing on it. All of that was beyond sight of the house, and we’d be in big trouble if we ever got caught back there.

At the back of our property, at the edge of the field, we had a large metal barrel that we used for burning trash. As soon as he was big enough, eight or nine, maybe, taking out the trash and burning it was Ted’s job. Every now and then, Mom did it for him. We always knew that Ted played in the fire. He often burned his fingers trying to grab something out of the flames to twirl in the air, or to poke other things with. Once, he leaned over the barrel, and got a long blister across his belly. That was a hard one to explain.

The already volatile conditions – fire, dry grass and sometimes wind – were helped along by Ted pulling things out to wave them around and watch them burn. The field caught fire again…and again. And again. Just when it was beginning to look like it couldn’t possibly be an accident, and Dad was losing patience with all of Ted’s excuses, Mom caught the field on fire! Out burning the trash for Ted, a breeze came up and pulled some flaming papers out of the barrel and into the tall grass…and there it went again! That time, one of the neighbor’s sheds burned up, too.

After that, Dad took out a burning permit once every year. He gathered friends to help. They’d spend the day with rakes and shovels, keeping the fire controlled, while they burned the whole field down. We were allowed to watch from the sidelines, and sometimes help. After the fire, the grass came up nice and green. It was less of a hazard, he said. Burning down the field became a big family event: our family and friends, all playing with fire.

 

Charred Earth

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In my frenzy, last Monday, to get everything done that I wanted to do before leaving the island on Tuesday, I got careless. Among the many incidentals on my to-do list were

  • bag up the trash,
  • empty the compost outside in the bin and
  • burn the papers.

Leaving for a week without doing one of these things could be seen as an invitation to the neighborhood mice, local fruit flies or ants. At the very least, having all of the garbage taken care of would make for a more pleasant home-coming.

It was in burning the papers that I got into trouble.

I have a large fire pit, close to six feet in diameter and about half that deep. I use it all winter, without a second thought, to burn my papers. Monday, I carried out my burnable trash, tucked it underneath the big mound of twigs and branches I had collected there, and lit a match. It wasn’t much: a few cardboard tubes from toilet paper, a cereal box, a mound of junk mail and envelopes, and a couple spent butter wrappers. It was all collected in a corrugated box from Amazon. Corrugated cardboard is actually recyclable, but I save a box, just to keep all of my other papers contained, and burn it, then, with the rest.

I had so much to do, I almost walked away and let the fire burn. It’s a large pit, as I said, and bordered with rocks. It’s good that I didn’t. I soon noticed that my fire was feeding on the dried grasses between the rocks, and moving out onto my lawn. I watched for a bit, expecting it would quickly put itself out. Not so. Winds, over the last several days, had done a thorough job of drying out the grasses, that just a week ago were buried in snow. The fire seemed intent on moving right across the yard, through all the tall grass that didn’t get mowed last fall, and all of the leaves that had accumulated there.

I thought of the hoses that, if linked together, would reach from the outdoor spigot in the garden to the fire pit in the front yard. Those hoses were all separated, rolled, and hung in the shed. Did I want to dig them out? No. Did I need to? Maybe.

I had watched too long. The fire was really moving, now. I started stomping on the blades of fire. For every one I trampled, another seemed to spring up. I needed to work faster. I needed better shoes, but had no time to change. The ones I had on, now retired except for yard work, are an old, worn pair of Sketchers GoWalk slip on shoes. They aren’t particularly attractive, but – when new – they have a light, airy sole that makes them comfortable for long days on my feet. The slip-on style is nice for my last minute rush to get out the door in the morning. I notice, though, that the fluffy sole wears down quickly, soon offering no support whatsoever. It didn’t offer much of a barrier between the flames and my feet, either!

I rushed around that fire pit for twenty minutes, trampling out the escaping flames. Just when I’d think I finally had it, another would spring up. When I finally had it reduced to black ash, I was afraid to move away until the whole fire was finished burning. Why had I so carefully tucked the papers under all that wood? I don’t know.

The whole episode left me behind in my tasks and buried in  memories that reach back more than half a century. When we were just little, Brenda, Ted and I one day managed to steal a pack of matches. I don’t know how accurate this story is, but this is exactly how I’ve held it in my memory for all of these years:

We were small. Maybe Brenda was as old as eight, which would have meant I was seven and Ted was five. The matches weren’t long, or even wooden, as I remember it. We stood in a tight circle with our contraband, in the field behind our back yard. First, Brenda tried to strike the match, with no success. She handed it to me; I couldn’t make it light, either. I handed it to Ted. He struck the match, and it burst into flame. Startled by the heat, he handed it to me. I saw that the flame was getting close to my fingers, and handed it to Brenda. It burned her, and Brenda dropped the match. The flames took off across the dry grass.

It seems that we tried to stomp it out, though I can’t remember a summer day when we had shoes on. As Brenda and I stood, near panicked, watching the spreading flames, Ted grabbed up his shovel, ran across the half acre of yard to our sand pile, scooped up maybe a cupful of sand (it was a child-sized shovel) and ran back, to throw the few grains of sand he’d managed to keep onto the flames in an attempt to staunch the spreading blaze…and then ran back to do it all over again. My heart swells at the memory of little Ted (he was Teddy back then), scrawny and shirtless, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth as he ran with crazy eyes, with all of his might, to try to put out the fire.

We finally had to confess to our Mama, which we did with great remorse and many tears. The fire trucks came, and the day was saved. We each remember that day, of course. You notice that in my memory, I am innocent: I neither lit the match nor dropped it. The way the story lives in the minds of my sister and brother may be a little different!

The 52 Lists Project #13

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List the things that always cheer you up:

  • Sunshine, bright sky!
  • Warmth. Cozy blankets, wooly sweaters, the warmth of a fire, the heat of the sun. I am rarely uncomfortably warm. I’m lucky that way, as some people really suffer in the heat. As a child, I used to sit on the deep  sill of the picture window in the kitchen, and bask in the sun just like a cat.
  • A nap, sometimes. Just a little refresher, while ignoring whatever is bothering me.
  • The moon and stars. When my grandson, Michael, was tiny, we’d go outside in the evenings to watch the night sky. When I spent five days on a sailboat, nights were my favorite time. I loved the quiet under that big bowl of starry sky. I felt like I finally understood where the old stories – based on constellations – originated.
  • Summer nights. Combining the moon and stars, warmth, and maybe a nice breeze, summer nights can almost always transport me to a more magical time and place.
  • Conversations with toddlers. Their minds work mysteriously; they don’t filter their words. I’m amazed at the logic that’s often revealed. Once, while pushing my little daughter through a store in her stroller, we came upon a woman in a wheelchair. We each navigated our wheeled vehicles to be able to pass each other in the aisle. Then, my daughters looked at me with raised eyebrows and slight surprise. “A baby mama!” was her novel conclusion.
  • A baby’s laugh. Always.
  • My little dog, who seems to sense when I’m having a bad day and need cheering up.
  • Chocolate, usually.
  • Flowers in bloom.
  • Changing seasons. From the first warm day in spring to the first snowfall, the anticipation is cheering to me.
  • A finished project.
  • Now and again, a holiday. Happy Easter!

A Bit of a Cheat

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Today, because I’m away from home, enjoying a vacation with family, I am offering a “re-blog.” I originally published this story in May of 2013. As that’s almost three years ago, I’m thinking it may be new to some readers. Others may have forgotten about it. I may have forgotten it myself, except that the the very issue I write about has once again been keeping me up at night. So, though it’s a little bit of a cheat, I offer a re-posting of what I titled,

Old Age…or Life in the Woods?

Odd question, right?

Of course I’m old. Not that old…but old enough.

My house was built on the front, semi-cleared area of a woodlot. This was a farmstead over a hundred years ago. Large maple trees with rock piles at their bases mark the old boundaries of the plowed fields. Still, the woods want to move back in.

We removed a dozen small trees to make space for the foundation of this little house.  In the thirty years since, I have removed a dozen more – as well as over a hundred wild juniper – to make room for a garden, and to have a small lawn. I’m having three overgrown, diseased wild cherry trees removed this year, along with a pine tree that is threatening to take out my electrical service in every big wind.

Clearly, I live in the woods.

So, two questions; the answer to both is yes. One would think one has nothing to do with the other. And yet…

My sister, Brenda has developed “floaters”. Fortunately, I developed them several years ago, so I could enlighten and advise.

Brenda is one year and twenty days older than me. She hit puberty a full three years before I did. She reached adulthood at least ten years ahead of me. Maybe more. Being the oldest child in our large family, Brenda had to grow up fast, to allow me and the other younger siblings our “slacker” childhood.

She may be making up for that now.

Retired, Brenda is having quite a bit of fun.  She and her husband are on their way to Seattle right now, to get on a cruise ship. And, although (did I mention?) she is one year and twenty days older than me, Brenda is far behind me in all areas of aging, from menopause to wrinkles. Now it’s the “floaters.”

There was no one to advise me. It is one of those aspects of aging that nobody talks about. Until you are diagnosed. Then everyone says, “Oh, that, yes that’s been driving me crazy for years.”

It makes me wonder what other secrets are waiting.

Floaters, in case you don’t know, are caused by the stiffening and separation of layers of the eyeball, usually due to age. It causes the afflicted to see tiny dark spots moving in their peripheral vision, randomly and annoyingly.

Because no one had advised me of this, and because I live in the woods, I didn’t know I had floaters.

I thought it was “no-see-ums.”

No-see-ums: the tiny black, biting gnats that come out in swarms in the Spring of the year. Because the wind will carry them away, they like to get inside the ears, behind the eyeglasses, under the collar or at the hairline. There, they take an enormous bite with their tiny jaws, usually leaving blood running and an itchy welt.

They look amazingly the same as floaters.

For months, I was waving away insects. I was complaining to others, “aren’t the no-see-ums terrible this year?” and “do they always last this long into the Fall?”

Finally, it started to dawn on me that this was a vision issue rather than a living-in-the-woods problem.

Then I wondered about a detached retina. Or a stroke. Or several other scary scenarios.

Lucky Brenda – not living in the woods – thought about stroke right away!

I went to the Medical Center, and then to the Eye Doctor. Everyone assured me that it was a normal – albeit secret – part of aging. They told me coping strategies that I was later able to pass on to Brenda, in my new role of  “expert on aging.”

Now, this year, after what seemed like an exceptionally long winter, Spring has arrived on Beaver Island. What a noisy Spring it has been, too!

I’d lay down at night and hear loud chirping. Such pleasant sounds of the season! Birds…at night? Was it the little peepers? Crickets? I read somewhere this was going to be a tremendous year for Cicadas. Maybe I was hearing Cicadas.

After several nearly sleepless nights spent trying to decide what life form was making the sounds that were keeping me awake, I decided to try earplugs. No offense to Spring and all of the sounds of the season, but I need my sleep.

Oddly enough, the sounds are just as loud with ears plugged.

Come to find out, once again this has nothing to do with living in the woods.

It seems I have Tinnitus.

I’ve heard, at least, of Tinnitus.  A problem of the inner ear (most often associated with age) that results in a buzzing or ringing in the ear.

Or, as in my case, the sound of Springtime in the woods.

Thinking Ahead

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I’m doing okay.

Having started this daily writing commitment on December 31, 2015, I haven’t missed a day. I celebrated in a blog when I reached the forty-day mark, then let day sixty and day eighty go by without a mention. More than eighty days in a row, that’s what I’ve done! As I managed to get a little wordy in some of my reminiscing, I am now averaging about five hundred words a day. Whew!

While dwelling on that self-congratulatory idea, I decided to do the math. How many words would I have written when this year is done? The answer (without a calculator, thank you!) is 183,500 words. Approximately. Maybe I should have been writing a book, rather than a simple, navel-gazing blog. Surely, at 183,500 words, I could have written War and Peace, or some lesser equivalent. Well, not exactly.

It turns out, the English translation of War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, has, by some estimates, just over 590,000 words. Even more surprising, it doesn’t even make Wikipedia’s list of the 27 longest books. Of those, I recognized only a few: …And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer has upwards of 600,000 words; Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand clocked in at 645,000 words; Les Miserables by Victor Hugo has 655,000 words. All of them were soundly beaten by the King James Version of the Bible, which has over 788, 200 words!

So, that’s discouraging! If I manage to continue this (not easy!) commitment for the rest of this year, I will have the satisfaction of having written the equivalent of a mass market paperback. Possibly a mystery story , a romance novel or some vampire tale for young adults. I’d might as well just continue on with my own self-indulgent daily ramblings!