Monthly Archives: October 2016

What Next?

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Some days, I wake up with a dozen ideas for things to write about. Other days, there is one clear choice. Now and then, when no ideas jump out at me, I can consult my list of possible topics for subject matter. If nothing there grabs my interest, I just start writing.

I have nothing to talk about today. I am out of ideas, empty, no more ammo.

Oh, I’m sure there is more family history I could expound on. I could relate more of the self-improvement strategies I’m trying to incorporate into my life. Some things are working; some are not. There is always something to complain about. I just don’t have the energy for it. Today, it doesn’t seem interesting, or enlightening, worthy of my time…or yours.

Today, I’m going to just swing my arms and feel the sun and breathe the air…and just be. Without putting it into words. Tomorrow, I’ll have something more to say.

88 Wonderful Things

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Today is my Aunt Katie’s birthday. Tonight, we’ll celebrate with a good meal, cake and ice cream. This morning, I’m making a list…for her 88 years, of many wonderful things that I happen to know and love about her.

  1. Aunt Katie was born on Beaver Island,
  2. the oldest of the two girls
  3. with four brothers
  4. (one of them was my father), and
  5. was the tiniest, at birth, in her family.
  6. They kept her warm by the wood stove,
  7. and she thrived.
  8. She attended Sunnyside School,
  9. which was next door to her house,
  10. so she would walk home for lunch.
  11. That was especially nice on the day her mother baked bread.
  12. Aunt Katie always loved to read.
  13. In her little bedroom at the top of the stairs, she would read by the light of the moon.
  14. At school recess, the girls played baseball right along with the boys.
  15. The nun played, too.
  16. They climbed Mount Pisgah one day on a class excursion,
  17. and another time traveled together to High Island
  18. where they saw remnants of the Israelite’s gardens, still coming up in rows.
  19. Aunt Katie’s mother died when she was eleven years old.
  20. Sometimes, then, she and her sister, Margaret, walked to their Aunt Lizzie’s house in the mornings, so she could braid their hair.
  21. Her father once bought metal dishes because there had been so much breakage,
  22. and she felt offended at the insult.
  23. She went to high school in town,
  24. and graduated with a smaller class than she had started with
  25. because most of the boys had dropped out.
  26. She worked, then as a waitress,
  27. at a restaurant that sat where the old part of the hardware store is now,
  28. while she waited for her sister to graduate, so they could move to the city together.
  29. She still remembers who the poor tippers were!
  30. She and Margaret shared a basement apartment in Pontiac, when they first left the island.
  31. Aunt Katie worked behind the soda fountain at a drugstore,
  32. until she landed a job in the mail room at Pontiac Motors.
  33. She worked there until she retired,
  34. during which time she often had to train young men to do the job,
  35. and then watch them be promoted before her, because “a man has a family to support.”
  36. The irony was not lost on my Aunt Katie,
  37. who recognized the injustice
  38. but lived with it.
  39. She had her own home, with taxes and expenses just like anyone,
  40. and a car payment,
  41. and she helped others when she could.
  42. She took in her Uncle Joe, and he lived under her roof until he died.
  43. On weekends, Aunt Katie played golf in the summertime,
  44. and was on a bowling league in the winter.
  45. By the time she retired, she had many trophies for both sports.
  46. Sometimes, on Sunday, Aunt Katie would come to visit us.
  47. If we were lucky, she’d bring a treat.
  48. Aunt Katie made the world’s best chocolate chip cookies.
  49. She still does!
  50. One Christmas, she brought “Harvey Wallbanger Cake,” with flavors of orange and rum.
  51. She was my Confirmation sponsor.
  52. On her vacation, Aunt Katie often came to Beaver Island.
  53. She rarely came alone.
  54. She’d pick up a few nieces and nephews to give them a chance to get away.
  55. Often, it was the Evans boys.
  56. One especially hot trip, when traffic was moving slowly, she remembers that all of those long-legged boys were sprawled out, with feet and legs hanging out of the windows!
  57. Once, she brought Brenda and I.
  58. First we got car-sick, then sea-sick, then home-sick. She sent us back, early, with Uncle Henry and Aunt Betty.
  59. Many years later, she gave me a second chance, and brought me on vacation with two of my cousins.
  60. She gave me my first chance to drive a car, here on Beaver Island.Not knowing what the accelerator was (as in “take your foot off the accelerator!”), I drove right into a ditch.
  61. Aunt Katie made a shockingly low wage, through all of her working career,
  62. but she was careful with her earnings, and wise in her investments.
  63. She took many of her nieces and nephews aside, if they showed any inclination or desire in their studies, and offered to pay their way through college.
  64. Several of us accepted loans from her for other reasons.
  65. Aunt Katie was able to retire on schedule…maybe a little ahead of schedule,
  66. and has now been retired longer than she worked,
  67. which was one of her goals.
  68. After retirement, Aunt Katie moved back to the family farm,
  69. where she has made necessary and helpful improvements to the house and grounds.
  70. She worked on the Board of Review for quite a while,
  71. and has always taken an interest in politics, both local and national.
  72. Aunt Katie has visited many areas of the United States
  73. and she has traveled the world!
  74. She keeps up with the news
  75. and knows more about the Dow Jones numbers than I ever will!
  76. She has been active in the church, and – until recently – rarely missed Sunday mass.
  77. She planted a big garden for many years,
  78. and now lets her nephew do the gardening.
  79. She just canned a dozen pints of stewed tomatoes for me!
  80. She still welcomes her many nieces and nephews when they come to visit,
  81. and she opens her home to our friends, Bob and Gary when they are on the island.
  82. Her sister is able to come, too, now and then.
  83. Aunt Katie loves dogs, and usually has one around.
  84. She grumbles about her memory, but it’s better than mine,
  85. and she has a sharp wit.
  86. She is stubborn – a family trait.
  87. her health is not what it once was, but she manages,
  88. and she still enjoys a beer and a bit of conversation.

May your birthday be everything you want it to be! Happy Birthday, Aunt Katie!

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #20

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Ugh!

I have avoided, mostly, speaking up about this election, the candidates or my politics in general. I do hold opinions, based on my own values, upbringing and thoughtful analysis of the information I gather.  I don’t like having to defend them. I am not good at debate, so I’m immediately disadvantaged and – though I don’t pick my ideas out of the blue – I’m not particularly well-read or informed on the issues of the day. I’m not proud of that. I should be more aware of what’s going on out there, but it doesn’t hold my interest for long. The end result, though, is that a debate over political beliefs feels like a personal attack, and I don’t want to be on either end of that.

However, with the election right around the corner, I have finally, nervously, put a Clinton sign out on my lawn. And, when I opened The writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters, I was faced with this prompt:

The nation is controlled by…

The nation is controlled by the media. I hate to put that down in print, because it feels too much like what I’m hearing from the conservative candidate right now, but I believe it to be true. Our country is a democracy guided by popular opinion. I’m afraid that most people get their information the way I do, and the way that is easiest, from newspapers and magazines, television news reports and the internet, and from the voices of people we respect. I would be hard pressed to know how to investigate a candidate beyond that.

But is it fair? Or accurate? The news networks clearly have an opinion. If the people I trusted and listened to were on Fox News, I’d come away with an entirely different viewpoint and set of “facts” than if I were to put my trust in CNN. I go to the BBC for a bit more of a global perspective. I look at Fact Checker to analyze speeches and debates. It quickly becomes too much information to sift through, and I go back to just listening to the stuff that reinforces my own beliefs.

I want a hero. I want a champion. I think we all do. For many, myself included, Barack Obama was that guy: handsome, fit, intelligent, compassionate, well-spoken, and a symbol of an evolving country. He was “hope” to a large group of people. Considering that – despite the pedestal we gave him – he was a human being, and also had the checks and balances our government provides to contend with, I think he has done a fine job. Still, I wonder if he would have had the opportunity, if it weren’t for the media.

“Did Oprah get Obama elected?” It’s a question that was tossed around quite a bit after his first election. I think she definitely played a part. Oprah Winfrey was in all of our living rooms. She reflected our thinking, yes, but she also guided it. Her shopping show alone revealed dozens of things I felt I absolutely needed…though I didn’t even know they existed before I saw  them on her show. Her book club guided the reading habits of a nation. The doctors, decorators and life guides she supported, got the support of a million viewers overnight. And Oprah Winfrey loved Barack Obama.

Saturday Night Live was so biased in their portrayal of Obama in comparison to the other candidates, they started mocking their own bias! At the same time, their portrayal of Sarah Palin was so “spot-on,” it became difficult to remember what she had actually said versus what words their comedy skits put in her mouth. They do a good job of mocking most candidates equally, though it’s easy to latch onto the foolishness of the opposition, and simply laugh at the silly parody of the others.

It’s possible, with television and the internet, to find support no matter what direction a person is headed. The media helps to funnel a million different opinions onto a hundred paths. People don’t agree on every aspect, but the chances of making change are better with a support group, so ideals are diluted and differences are shaded over. In an election year, there are only two main paths. It seems those millions of different ideas, goals and guiding principles have to be hammered into shape to fit into one or the other.  No wonder we’re all so tense!

When Paths Cross

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I mentioned, the other day, about how the boys and girls in my family seemed to have been  raised in parallel universes, where our paths rarely crossed. Though my brother Ted was only two years younger than me, and we grew up in the same house with the same parents, it often seemed that he may as well have come from another planet, for how little we had in common. Our growing-up experiences were so different, it was hard to relate. There are exceptions:

  • There was the first time Brenda, Ted and I burned down the field. Before the fire took off, and we had to tell Mom…before we had to figure out who was to blame, causing all of our memories to take divergent paths…it was just a shared encounter between brother and sisters, playing with matches.
  • There were the times when Mom would hand out work assignments and chores, then take notice of poor Ted, who didn’t have to help with housework, but who would be left without a playmate while we worked. “Who wants to play friends with Ted,” she’d ask, and I – who hated chores – would jump at the opportunity. “Playing friends with Ted” involved taking on the identity of Mike (who was Ted’s real friend but unable to be there), wandering the yard, digging night crawlers, climbing trees or picking wooly bear caterpillars off the side of the house. It was my favorite job!
  • When our baby sister, Darla, died, I was twelve and Ted was ten years old. The whole family grieved, but it was only Ted and I that took it upon ourselves to sing “I Want My Baby Back” on the trip to and from church on Sunday for weeks afterward. It wasn’t really a song about an infant. Like “Teen Angel” and “Running Bear and Little White Dove,” it was one of those mournful teen love songs that we all knew the words to, filled with angst and sadness. To Ted and I, though, it was the perfect intersection of Pop Music with Real Life. Though I seem to remember a few scowls from Brenda, I don’t recall my poor grieving parents  ever speaking up to say “Enough, already,” even when Ted used his deepest voice to sing the last line in bass, “She’s gone to heaven so I got to be good…so I can see my baby when I leeeaaave…a-this world.”
  • New Year’s Eve, when Ted was fourteen and I was sixteen, and we were left to babysit for our (sleeping) younger brother and sisters, we decided to get into the liquor that Dad kept ready to offer visitors. I don’t think we actually drank much, but we took a lot of pictures: Ted, in his plaid pajamas, carrying a bottle across the room; me, eyes half-open to look under-the-influence, with a glass in hand; each of us grinning drunkenly into the camera. Ted drank quite a bit when he was a young man, and doesn’t drink at all now. I drink only socially, and even then not much. For that one night, though, we imbibed together.
  • And through our adult lives, when holidays, weddings and funerals brought us together, and I’d realize, through conversations surrounding loss or celebration or heartache, that the differences are small compared to the love that we share.

My brother, Ted, is having surgery today. There is every reason to believe he’ll do just fine, and be better then before when it’s done, and that for many more years, as brother and sister, our paths will continue to cross.

The 52 Lists project #42

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img_8367List the things that make you feel peaceful:

  • Water. Being in it or just being close to it. The sound of waves, the movement of water.
  • Sunrises. Ah, relief, that the earth is still on its axis, and another day is before me.
  • Sunsets. The day comes to an end, and all is right with the world.
  • The moon. One luminous point in the night sky, whose position and shape help to mark the passage of hours and weeks.
  • Soft clouds in blue sky.
  • Fluffy pillows and soft blankets.
  • The poetry of Mary Oliver.
  • A dog sleeping in my lap.
  • A warm beverage.
  • A glider. My grandmother used to have one, and I’ve always found that gentle, back and forth movement soothing.
  • A rocking chair. Ideally, gentle rocking while singing a lullaby, with a sleeping baby in arms.

Oh, Brother…

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I received word yesterday that my brother, Ted, is in the hospital, and has been moved to Intensive Care. We’re all sending good thoughts his way, and hoping for the best outcome.

The boys in my family were raised in a kind of parallel universe; our paths rarely crossed.

They seemed, on the one hand, to live a life of privilege, with few, seasonal, chores to do while the girls were usually elbow deep in dirty diapers, dishes or laundry. On the other hand, they were expected to know how to troubleshoot, maintain and repair any machinery they used, and to help with things – like roofing and butchering – that the girls were, for the most part, spared.

The seven girls in our family had two upstairs bedrooms. We had to be careful of heavy footfalls, but if we kept the flashlight under the covers and kept our voices low, we could talk, play games or read long into the night. We shared secrets, made plans and forged bonds that would carry us through a lifetime, in those nighttime hours.

Though ten years apart, the two boys shared a bedroom on the first floor of our house, right next to the bedroom my parents shared. There was little opportunity for play or camaraderie there!

When I look at Ted’s life, I worry that it has not been a fulfilling one. I remind myself, my vision is limited. I see my brother Ted through my own filter, and mainly at family gatherings. As I write, I realize that he could look at my life with the same concerns!

Ted has a wonderful wife and two strong, intelligent children that we are all proud of, and that he has a great relationship with. He has friends and associations that reach well beyond the family circle. He’s a hunter and a fisherman. Ted is a reader, with an interest in history and current events. He has other hobbies and interests that keep him entertained. He makes the best of the life he’s been given.

This morning, I’m sending out lots of healing energy and all my best wishes that he has plenty more opportunity for doing just that!

Sick Day

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Well, what I have is probably not some dreaded, awful, deadly flu. It’s not ebola, typhus or the bubonic plague. I think what I have is probably just a common cold. I so rarely get sick, I’m never prepared for it. I tend to over think every symptom, until I’m sure I’m on death’s door. I woke up yesterday with the same headache, body aches and stuffy head that I’d had the day before. I called in sick to work.

After almost two weeks, with my new commitments and snazzy new chart for marking each day’s accomplishments, a couple days of not feeling good and I’ve lost all of my momentum. My daily cleaning time and  exercise time, my promise to never go to bed with a single dirty dish in the sink, even my healthy eating and water drinking went right out the window at the first sniffle. All of my good habits were replaced – for 24 hours – with sitting wrapped in blankets, sipping tea.

Yesterday, my sick day, I would do better…I thought. I remember sick days that felt like bonuses, when amazing feats were accomplished to ward off the guilt of cutting class or work. I guess that only holds true if you’re not really sick. Yesterday, though I managed to be upright most of the day, I felt lousy. I managed to get some writing done, answered a few phone calls and wrote a couple necessary letters. I washed two loads of clothes. I simmered a pot of tomatoes, made sauce and put three quarts in the freezer. I made soup. I forced myself to clean up the mess I had made of the kitchen, before collapsing in bed at nine o’clock.

Enough! Today, it’s back to work, and back on track. I don’t have time for self-indulgent misery! Especially when it’s just the common cold!

 

Timeout for Art: Sentinels

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Three of these large coiled sculptures sit on the north side of my house. This area of the yard grows wild – a low stone wall separates it from the part that I mow – so the sculptures rest among wild lily of the valley, maple seedlings and blackberry canes. They look like something that might spring up in nature, though they are created from my imagination, and interaction with the soft clay. As they have been fired in the reduction kiln to at least cone 10, they are stoneware: as hard and durable as stone. They stay outside in all weather, through winter and summer. Although they appear to be grayish in these photos, the colors are rich shades of brown. They range from 39 to 48 inches in height.

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Not a Good Morning

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I had a good, productive day yesterday.

I put in a good eight hours of writing, editing, and bookkeeping. Rounded out by necessary phone calls and Emails. I took the dogs and myself for a one-hour walk. I picked up a few groceries, then met three of my cousins for “Happy Hour.” On m way home, I stopped at Aunt Katie’s for a final “good-bye” to my cousin, Keith, who is leaving this morning, and to pick up some tomatoes, to process for the freezer. I was home before eight o’clock, in bed before ten.

This morning, I am miserable. My back hurts; my head hurts; my stomach is roiling. Though I arranged to have this morning off to finish up a few last minute items, I have yet to accomplish anything. I’ve taken three ibuprofen tablets, and am now nibbling on a piece of bread to try to settle my stomach. I don’t want to be sick!

I can’t afford to be sick. I need to get in all the work for pay that I can. I don’t have time to be sick. I have put off, delayed and procrastinated on other responsibilities until the eleventh hour. That hour is here. There is no pleasure in illness. I remember, in the ancient archives of my life, being tucked under covers, given a warm, soothing drink and having my forehead rubbed. No matter how miserable I felt, there was comfort there. In my life today, misery is just that, nothing more.

I refuse to be sick!