Monthly Archives: January 2017

Artifacts to Memories: Baskets



It started with one sturdy willow basket. My husband and I received it, filled with fruit, as a Christmas gift from his employers at the Western-Southern Life Insurance Company. I kept it in the center of our dining room table. When the fruit was gone, I bought more to replace it. A bag of apples looked more inviting when spilled out into a nice basket. Oranges, too, made an attractive centerpiece. Sometimes, it was a mixture of apples, oranges and bananas.

Out on a walk with my young daughters one day, I came upon a garage sale. There was little that I wanted, and even less that I could afford. One item caught my eye, though. A simple round basket, in perfect condition, woven of fine reeds in two shades of brown. On the bottom, a tiny rectangle of red fabric had a row of Chinese characters and one printed word: CHINA. It seemed so exotic! And it was only twenty-five cents!

Slowly, over the years, I added to my collection. Sometimes I bought them new. Pier One Imports was a treasure trove! I never bought more than one at a time, though, and I always made sure it was unique or special, and that I thoroughly loved it.

Sometimes they were given to me. A large six-sided basket that Catherine White gave me hangs on the end of the cabinet, just inside the kitchen door. Sometimes, when the dogs rush out in a flurry, it gets knocked to the floor. I pick it up and rehang it, and think, again, of the dear woman – gone now many years – that gave it to me.

A few are hand-made. A rectangular, two color handled basket, made by my friend Judi, has a place of honor on top of the refrigerator. Next to it is the dark woven round handled basket that my daughter Jen made in art class, and the squat rustic basket decorated with ribbons and dried flowers that my daughter Kate made. Keeping them company is the cherry wood, rope handled “pie bucket” that Bill Freese made for me, with the condition that I should use it to deliver a homemade pie to him now and then.

I use every single basket that I own. Some are permanent receptacles for small items in drawers or on shelves.Larger ones hold magazines, correspondence and palm-sized books. CDs, DVDs and cassette tapes are contained each in their own basket. Yarn, crochet hooks and on-going hat or slippers projects keep company in another one. Others are pulled in to duty to hold bread or rolls. I still like to keep fruit on display in a basket. Some are good for gathering vegetables from the garden.

Sometimes I think I have too many baskets. It’s one of those things, though, that feels like an integral part of who I am. I am comfortable with it. I could quit being a basket collector, and get rid of them all…but I’m afraid I’d always miss them. So, I have baskets…and all the memories that come with them.

Sunday Snowfall


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There’s a gentle snow falling, as I sit down to write. It’s covering the mud, ice and sodden leaves that – with a week of rain and warmer temperatures – had been my view. It offers a feeling of calm, this morning.

Once, on a flight off the island with my Aunt Katie, I was totally wrapped up in my own terror. I’m not particularly afraid of flying, but I’m always relieved to land safely. This was an especially bumpy flight, and the small plane was buffeted in the wind. Adding to my unease, one seat had been removed. Instead of having a seat back that I could white-knuckle latch on to as the plane was tossed around, there was just a big open space. I know all the statistics; I understand how very safe those little airplanes are. Still, I was terrified. At one point, my aunt leaned toward me to explain the grocery list. Barely able to move my jaw to speak, I said, “I can’t talk now, Aunt Katie. I’m trying to keep this plane in the air!”

Of course, there was nothing I could do, really, but I felt, still, that it needed my full attention.

I’ve been experiencing similar feelings of terror during this first week with a new administration. I know…it may appear that it’s just sour grapes, poor sportsmanship, or the inability to gracefully accept a loss. I assure you, it goes much deeper than that. It’s not just offense at an unsavory personality in the White House. It’s much more than simply his allies or his positions – though both speak volumes of the character we have put in power. This is real fear. Just like on that airplane ride, I feel like it needs my full attention. I can’t look away. Whenever I get a moment, I type “news” onto my computer screen. I select the most trusted sources. I wait, with dread, to see what has happened since I last looked away.

It doesn’t seem healthy, to be this fearfully focused, for such an extended time. When I got off that small plane – after a seemingly endless twenty-minute flight – I was jittery for hours. This has to be taking a toll. There are people in the world who know nothing else, whose days and nights are filled with unease, uncertainty, fear. Sometimes it all seems too much to bear.

There is little I can do, really. I write letters, sign petitions and make phone calls. I joined the ACLU, for what little help my small donation might offer. It all seems like a pretty measly effort…still, I can’t look away. At least, I need to be aware.

I watch the snow falling gently down over the landscape. I breathe a sigh.

Timeout for Art: No Art?



I’ve been busy with work and other obligations. I admit, too, I’ve been spending far too much time watching and listening to wild claims of voter fraud and inauguration attendance, mixed with some genuinely scary and disheartening policy changes and directives. I have no art to show. I almost forgot it was Thursday. Then I opened my browser to WordPress. There was my dear and loyal friend Lisa, from her little earthquake-ravaged town in Ecuador, in her tiny, make-shift studio, watching world events and worrying, as we all should, about what a world without art would be like. She looked for an inspirational site that she follows:

” This week featured a black rectangle to illustrate a more-serious post.     Please take time to read Charley Parker’s  Lines & Colors Is On Strike Today –”

As she suggested, I followed the link, where I read the reasons that the site was “on strike.”

Yes, it’s a small, mostly symbolic gesture, but so are the recently announced plans by the incoming administration to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Never one to dwell on worst-case scenarios, Lisa instead posted many glorious photographs of art bringing people together in her part of the world. I encourage you to have a look.

Taking my cue from her, I am sharing photos of art bringing people together (and making a positive difference!) in this little part of the world. How does art make a difference where you live?




Artifacts to Memories: One Photograph



There’s a photo of my daughter, Jen, that hangs, right now, in my kitchen. Above it is the round kitchen clock, with its sweeping second hand to mark precise time. Below it is a wood-framed photo of my other daughter, Kate, in profile, that I took for a photography class. In other homes, at other times, Jen’s picture has been displayed in living room or bedroom, but it always has a place of distinction.

The photo was taken when Jen  was four years old. My husband’s uncle was visiting us in our townhouse apartment in Lapeer, Michigan. He had an impressive new camera, and fancied himself to be quite a capable photographer. He snapped the picture as Jen stood in front of the sliding glass doors, looking out onto our little patio. Later, he presented it to us, simply framed, as a Christmas gift. It was not my favorite.

Jen had beautiful big eyes and a bright smile. Her dark hair framed her little face perfectly, and her expressions were wonderful.  This picture, taken from the back, shows none of that. She was wearing hand-me-down, elastic-waist denim pants that had a black and brown snakeskin pattern. They were a little long, and bunched awkwardly around her ankles. Her turtleneck top looks rumpled, too. The light from the window emphasizes her uncombed hair. Lost in her own thoughts, the thumbs of both hands, double-jointed, are poking out in odd directions.

Because it was a thoughtful gift, I held onto it, though it wasn’t the best picture of my daughter. As the years went by, it gained nostalgic value.  Oddly, as Jen grew older, this image seemed to capture her true nature more than any other. By the time she was an adult, this photograph was a treasure!

Forward Steps



It’s another wet, gray day here on Beaver Island. One more in a long week of them. The temperatures have risen, hovering just above freezing. That allows the snow to melt, giving us surfaces that are slippery slush, cold water over ice, mush ice or – rarely – clear, depending on where you are. The King’s Highway, being a wide, paved road, is mostly clear. The Fox Lake Road, my driveway and the paths and trails around it, are a raucous combination of the other choices. I’m drinking my third cup of coffee, debating whether walking conditions will improve if I wait.

Snow melt puts moisture in the air, which gives us gray skies, cloud cover, mist and fog. All of that has been accompanied by intermittent rain. The sun came out – just briefly – over the harbor three days ago, and people stopped in their tracks to stare, admire, and comment. It has been a gloomy week. My mood follows the weather.

Though heartened by yesterday’s activities world-wide, I’m still frightened and discouraged by the political weather. I have always had trust in the strength of our democratic process, and the underlying good in people, no matter what their politics. This election, I have to say, has caused that trust to waver. I’m tired of hearing that genuine concerns are simply a matter of poor sportsmanship  or of being a “sore loser.” I’m weary of being told to wait, that everything will work out. I think I’ve heard all the same rhetoric that the people giving that advice heard, and I don’t have any idea what good things I am supposed to be waiting for.

I have friends and relatives (whose kindness, humanity and intelligence I am certain of) who back our elected president. He also has, as supporters, some of the cruelest, most degenerate and despicable people around, who spout hatred, lies and racism freely, and who believe they have an ally in Donald Trump. His cabinet picks do not encourage me. His inaugural address did not give me hope or soothe my fears. His reelection campaign – already in progress – gives me a sick feeling. Regarding his “Keep America Great” slogan, in his own words:

“I never thought I’d be giving my expression for four years, but I am so confident that we are going to be, it is going to be so amazing. It’s the only reason I give it to you. If I was, like, ambiguous about it, if I wasn’t sure about what is going to happen — the country is going to be great… Honestly, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait till you see what happens, starting next Monday. A lot of things are going to happen. Great things.”

Again, we are told to wait. I don’t like waiting, especially when the wait is for undefined – and thus frightening – steps to “great”ness. I don’t see greatness in the cabinet choices thus far. I don’t see greatness in the plans for “the first 100 days.”  I don’t see greatness in the rise of blatant and forceful bigotry. I don’t see greatness in the many disparaging comments and attacks caused by any show of dissent or disagreement. Even the arguments, which go right back to comparisons to other candidates or the last administration, lack substance. The election is over. Being “better than…” or “different than…” is no longer enough. Now, it’s time to hold our elected officials to a standard.

Yesterday, in news reports of peaceful protest worldwide, to express support for kindness and consideration of all people, I saw greatness. That, I don’t have to wait for. What I feel like I’m waiting for, on this gloomy Sunday, are all the unknowns. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.






















Thoughts on Inauguration Day


These are not my words, not my thoughts, but the ponderings of Mark Pontoni, a northern Michigan teacher that I admire. His words resonated with me today.


Eight years ago today, I was in my first year of teaching at Gaylord High School. I was teaching an American Government class, and it had been a very eventful first semester. The historic election of Barack Obama, I was told by a student, was due to his being “half-white” since black people are […]

via These are the times; Paine and Trump — The Grumblings

Timeout for Art: Studio Time



Yesterday, I came home from work filled with determination. I would not look at the dust or clutter that begs for my time. I would not respond to the stacks of papers on my desk that demand my attention. I would not even turn on the computer, for fear that I’d be drawn in to the latest firestorm of tweets and the legions indignant responses.

First, I took the dogs out for a good wander. No matter what my plans, they need fresh air and exercise. Next, I started supper. This new diet takes more time and thought than I am accustomed to. Bachelor living has made me content with meals that dirty no more than one pan, and can be served in one dish. Hot, buttered noodles, cold cereal with milk or fried potatoes and onions are my old stand-bys. Now, they are all off limits. Last night I mixed ground beef with chopped celery, onion and a grated carrot, and mounded it into two halved bell peppers, covered it with stewed tomatoes, and popped it in the oven. It would be dinner, plus lunches for the next three days. I fed the dogs. While they were eating, I changed out of my work clothes and into the baggy sweats that are stiff with old paint.

Then, up the stairs to the studio! I transferred one large and four small framed painting to the closet in my bedroom, so I would have room to move. I pulled out painted papers. I sifted through bins and bowls full of scraps. I started shuffling things around. I felt myself grinning. The time flew by.

After dinner, I went back upstairs, to make a few adjustments and take a couple pictures. Nothing is attached, at this point. This is not finished work. What it is – and it’s important – are results of the first day in months that I have taken time to work in the studio. That, alone, is a gift!

Artifacts to Memories: Mom’s Old Typewriter


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[This is a re-post of a blog I wrote several years ago. It feels like cheating, but it suits the category perfectly. And I’m so, so busy with other writing today. My apologies.]

I don’t know when Mom got the old Royal Typewriter. It was new – or nearly new – in my earliest memories of it. Perhaps it had belonged to her mother, and came into our home around the time Grandma Thelma died. Maybe Mom invested in it – as she did the large set of encyclopedias – to enhance the scholastic ability of her children. I don’t think Mom knew how to type, but I guess I’m not sure about that, either. I think it originally had a hard case that fit over the top and fastened on the bottom, to protect the keys and keep it dust-free. The typewriter was an important, revered object in our house.

As I think about it, very few objects in our chaotic household were given that status. Mom raised nine children of her own, and always had many more around. She fully expected that “kids will be kids.” That meant that dishes will get broken, toys will be destroyed, clothes will get stained and furniture will take a beating. Expect it, and learn to live with it. Except for those things that Mom set aside as precious, that were to be handled more cautiously, and treated with love.

Mom’s list was not long: the cedar chest that she’d received from her parents at the occasion of her high school graduation…along with the treasures and memories she kept inside it; books in general, and especially the encyclopedias, which had to be handled carefully, dusted regularly, and always kept in alphabetical order; the good china, which was never used, and the frosted iced tea glasses that had belonged to her mother; the nativity set that was put out at Christmastime and handled so carefully that the straw was still intact on top of the stable and the music box still worked for her great-grandchildren to hear. And the typewriter.

When we came home from school with a “really big research assignment”, we could use the typewriter for the final draft. If we had an important letter to write, the typewriter could be brought to the desk. If we had absolutely run out of options for keeping small children entertained, we could sometimes pull out the typewriter to show them the “magic” of their names appearing on the paper, the sound of the bell alerting them that it was time for their job: using the silver arm to push the carriage back over to the left. Always, the typewriter eraser was close at hand. By the time we got to high school and actually took typing classes, the biggest problem was forgetting the “hunt and peck” method of typing we’d grown so familiar with.

My mother gave me the typewriter when I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. By that time – the late ’80’s – her children were all adults, and the machine sat idle. Though a manual typewriter seemed pretty archaic, it was a godsend to me! The only word processor available  for my use – for the multitude of papers that had to be typed – was at the library, a mile from our apartment, with – often – a long list of students in line to use it. I was a single mother with a full load of classes, and no car. Having the typewriter allowed me to be at home with my daughters in the evenings. Many nights they fell asleep to the sound of me pounding on the typewriter keys, cursing as I reached for the Wite-Out. I still have several papers written during that time, with the characteristic shading from many corrections.

I made cookbooks for my daughters one Christmas many years ago. The opening page says “so that Jenny and Katey can have the food they grew up with, even when ‘Home’ is far from their Mom’s kitchen”. My methods were ancient by today’s standards. I gathered photographs and had them enlarged and/or cropped as needed. I used rub on Chartpak letters to make the chapter pages. I typed all the recipes on Mom’s old Royal Typewriter. A dozen hours over the course of several days and a couple hundred dollars at Kinko’s,and I was done. That was the last big job for the typewriter.

The machine sat unused after that. Over the years, I moved it from the shelf to the attic to the storage unit. I almost forgot about it. Then things changed:

First, my mother died. Which caused me to reassess everything. Caused me to look with new eyes at everyone and everything she loved. Caused me to cherish everything she had cared about, and everything she had given me.

Next, I saw a lovely room in an art magazine where a typewriter was used for making gift tags, and had a place of honor on the desk.Then, I saw a piece on a news program about a typewriter repair person who is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the old machines. Last, I reorganized shelves and books to accommodate a new drawer unit, and ended up with one empty shelf.

Now, Mom’s old typewriter sits with dignity among the cookbooks on my kitchen shelf.

Sunday, Sunday…



“Get right up and take a walk first thing,” I told myself, when I finally felt ready for sleep last night. Greeted with this icy landscape this morning, I decided to wait.  I’ve been struggling with lethargy and sadness for a week now; time to turn it around. I’ve tried to find the problem.

It’s winter; the sun rarely shows itself through the mass of gray clouds that seem to have come to stay. It’s been bitter cold, and windy, making it impossible to spend much time outside. Inside, my house is drafty, too. Though I have a thick rug underfoot, I also put on heavy slippers and wrap in a fleece robe if I’m going to sit for more than just a minute at the desk. In fact, no matter where in the house I am, or what I am doing, I am generally trying to function while wrapped in many layers.

Politics, I can’t even begin. Every day, another bitter encounter, another strange and fearful turn of events. I can’t stop watching and listening, but I feel like it’s the same thing that makes it almost impossible to look away from a train wreck.

I’ve had a big project going at the hardware store, that has left me exhausted by the time I get home in the evening. I feel like I should be getting big applause for the positive changes in organization and cleaning that is going on in the electrical aisle. I spend too much energy trying to elicit notice, let alone a compliment!

One of my co-workers is still mad at me over a scheduling conflict, and that weighs on my mind. I fill out the schedule. I don’t get paid extra for doing it, and I don’t have a lot of control over it. I basically just fill it out as I’m told. Except that if we’re overstaffed or understaffed, I have to account for it. And, in trying to please everyone else, I usually end up with the least desirable hours. What other hardware employee works every single Saturday and Sunday, almost all year long?  Only me. The one who writes the schedule. Still, I hate it when people are mad at me. I tell myself I’m just doing my job, and it will all blow over. That doesn’t seem to be happening.

I have a pile of work to do for the Beacon, which seems to fill every single nook and cranny of my life with obligations, must-dos and should-dos, until I just shut down. Up-dating the database is a continual chore. I have bills to send out, and others to collect. There are phone calls to return, letters to answer and work to edit. There is always some event I should be attending, in order to cover the story. Right now, I have a full issue of articles to write, that should have been done two weeks ago. So, again, I am running late, with no one to blame but myself.

We are halfway through the month of January. There are all those pesky new resolutions to be assessed. I have managed to stick to my diet, though it takes a lot more thought and preparation than I’m used to. It seems that I spend way too much time planning meals and cooking. I always have a mound of dishes waiting at the end of day. I have lost a solid three pounds, though one day last week the scale showed I’d lost five. It hardly seems like enough, for all the trouble. Still, it’s one minor accomplishment in a field of disappointment. Studio time, daily walking, three times a week for strength training or stretching, organize…one failed promise after another.

I came home from work the other day, and immediately called a friend. I started to tell her about my mood. “I cried all the way home from work, too,” she told me. We commiserated about the stages of the moon, planetary alignments, losses we’ve suffered and all the “shit” going on in each of our lives. None of it really explained the sadness. It’s hard for me to tell if events caused my melancholy, or if those were just reasons I came up with to account for it. I sent her a message a few hours later. “It’s Friday the 13th,” I said. “Figures,” she replied.

I’ve walked this path, though, a few times before. I know what to do. I warm my clothes in the dryer before getting dressed. I  layer fleecy sweats over soft jersey long underwear. I choose the bright pink, soft and cozy socks with stars that were a gift from my friend, Bob. For my coffee, I select the delicate cup with blackberries on it that my friend Sue gave to me. I grab my journal and go to the couch. I invite both dogs to join me there. Only when the time is right, I move to the computer desk. Soon, we’ll get out for that walk. Everything will be okay.

Timeout for Art: Kate’s Work



My daughter, Kate, made a New Year’s resolution to spend some time with her art each day. A working nurse, a mother of four (two teenagers and two young adults), a devoted grandmother, and a tattoo artist who travels from Michigan to South Carolina regularly for work…this was a huge commitment! And yet, she is doing it. Every other day or so, I see a beautiful new drawing. She has covered, as you see here, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Gene Wilder as Young Frankenstein, and David Bowie at his sexiest. She has others, each one more precious than the last. I’m pleased to be able to show them off, for a couple reasons. First, because she’s very skilled, and I’m extremely proud of her. Second, because I still have nothing new of my own to show!