Monthly Archives: March 2017

Timeout for Art: Life as Art



IMG_0407This is not to suggest that MY life is art, though I love the idea. My life is mostly common. I can’t seem to even get the flamboyant signature and creative swagger that would identify me as an artist. Now and then, though, I come upon someone who, through and through, lives their life as art. This morning, while procrastinating about some writing I have to get done, and contemplating what half-finished piece of art to try to talk about, I was reading through some of the other blogs I follow. Martha Marshall, An Artist’s Journal, had wonderful visuals of studio and works -in-progress, and wise words about showing up. From comments on her essay, I was led to the writings of Valorie Grace Hallinan. Oh, my! First, her writing, which is lovely.  Her concerns for the earth resonated with me, and the reminder of the wonderful essays of Wendell Berry was much appreciated. Finally, this video clip of an interview Berry did with Bill Moyers…wonderful! Some people truly live their lives as art! This made my day! I’m sharing the whole thing!


“I can tell you confidently that the many owners of small farms, shops, and stores, and the self-employed craftspeople who were thriving in my county in 1945, did not think of their work as ‘a job.’ Most of these people, along with most skilled employees who worked in their home county or home town, have […]

via Wendell Berry’s Our Only World — Books Can Save A Life

Artifacts to Memories: Incidentals



While sorting through books recently, in my continuing effort to pare down, I came upon one with an inscription that said, “Christmas 1994, to Cindy with Love, Mom.” I sat down, then,  and paged through the book: flower descriptions and photographs. It may have been the first time I looked at it since 1994. Then I returned it to the shelf.

Some things keep a place in my home because they contribute to my idea of this person I am. Books, baskets, beach stones, candles and houseplants fit this category. Other things justify their continued occupation in my small home because they keep a place in my heart. Not because of what they mean to me, exactly, but because of the stories, and the memories they seem to hold.

When my sister, Sheila, died, I took her partially-used jar of anti-age cream. “Since she won’t ever need it, ” I quipped, while grieving her premature death. Every time I picked up the jar, I thought of her. When I finally emptied it, I cried as if the loss were fresh. I could hardly bring myself to throw the empty jar away!

In my studio, where the walls reflect whatever I’m working on and the scene changes frequently, two things are steadfast. The first is a picture of Elvis painted in day-glow colors on black velvet, mounted in a cheap and gaudy drop-in frame. The second is a low-relief still-life of apples in soft copper.

Elvis was a tongue-in-cheek gift from my friend, Linda. Many times, as we struggled our way through art school, we kidded each other, “At least we’re not forced to be painting Elvis on black velvet!” It was our shorthand reference to selling out: giving up our artistic visions and ideals just to make a quick profit. In my small campus apartment, Elvis was displayed right in the living space. As guests, by turns, registered awe or disgust at the painting, my daughters would clarify, often in unison, “It’s ironic!” For all of those memories, I hold on to Elvis.

I made the copper apples in ninth grade art class. I can’t remember the teacher’s name, but I remember generally using that classroom to make trouble. I rarely took an assignment seriously. I liked working with the soft copper, though, and was happy with the finished project. So was my mother, when I presented it to her. She hung it in the hallway just outside the kitchen and near the stairs. It held that position for the next forty-five years! After my mother died, the piece was discreetly moved to the garage, where it stayed until my sister, Brenda, suggested I might like to take it home. She was right!

For the memory of my fourteen-year-old self, crude though it is, I like it. For my mother’s encouragement and loyalty in hanging it prominently and leaving it on display for all those years, I love it.




What’s in a Name?



My mother was a master at the subtle art of wrapping an admonishment up with a little guilt, a dash of shame and a good deal of keeping-a-child-in-her-place, and delivering it all in one concise phrase:

“Well, aren’t you the Smartypants!”

“Look at you, Miss Lazybones!”

“Here’s Little Miss Know-It-All.”

It was very effective. I tried it myself, with my own children, with less success. As usual, I talked too much:

“Well, Miss I-Should-Be-Able-To-Keep-My-Room-How-I-Want, if what you want is to keep your room messy, than what I want is for you to keep your door closed!

“Okay, Miss Can’t-Stand-Mixed-Food, here is your casserole…separated.”

“Well, if it isn’t Little Miss I’m-too-sick-to-go-to-school-in-the-morning-but-well-enough-to-be-up-playing-with-dolls-and-now-jumping-on-the-bed!”

It’s even less effective with the dogs, mainly because they don’t understand sarcasm. I forge on, anyway:

For Darla, there’s “Miss Garbage Breath” when she’s gotten in the trash, “Miss Growl” for the way she lets me know she wants to go out, and “Miss Bunny Rabbit” for the stuffed animal she loves to carry around in her mouth.

Miss Rosa Parks is “Little Miss Pee-Pee On The Floor” – for obvious reasons. “Miss Boy” is short for Miss Boy who Cried Wolf, when she goes to the door without really needing outside, in hopes that I’ll – in my distracted state – still give her a treat. “Miss Butt-In-The-Air” is for the position she assumes when she wants me to drop everything and go play with her. “Miss Bark,” is for when she torments my ears with her shrill, sharp bark. It always causes her to give me a raised eyebrow, wondering if I have simply mispronounced “Parks.”

They both have other names,that are not laced with sarcasm or ridicule. Baby-doll, Sweet Girl, Good Girl, Honey-Bunch and Sweetheart are ways I address each of them. Now that I think of it, those are also terms I used for my daughters…and that my mother used for her children, too!


Timeout for Art: the Long Way



Sometimes things come together effortlessly.

Sometimes they don’t.

After a struggle to find time for the studio, and long lapses between sessions, I was pleased to finally have a piece underway. Last week, I had everything glued in place, and had it sandwiched between layers of plastic and two sturdy boards, tucked in between my mattress and box spring to dry flat.

Last night, I pulled it out and unwrapped it. I was prepared for the grand “reveal:” that heart-thumping Christmas morning moment when I see what I’ve created through fresh eyes. Often, I think, “Wow. Where did that come from?” It’s often a pleasant surprise.

Not always, though.

Last night was…well…underwhelming. The surface was not quite flat, and had even rippled in places. The medium was still tacky, and there were patches that were still opaque. The bright blue that seemed so necessary – and so divine – when I placed it, now looked a bit contrived and considerably over the top. Too bright, too centered, too demanding of all the attention so that subtle nuances of color and surface fell away in its wake.  I could write another entire chapter about the complications I then ran into when trying to photograph it!

But, it’s evening now, and I don’t have the energy to go into a long diatribe about what went wrong. All is not lost. I finally managed a reasonable photo. I will make adjustments to the composition. it will be fine. That’s just how it goes.

Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s not.

Artifacts to Memories: My Old Wood Stove



Yesterday, on the first day of spring, I took both of my dogs for a walk.

I’d left Rosa Parks home the day before, with her medicine stirred into a little wet food, a suggestion that she take care of things, and an apology. Her bum knee has been acting up, and her allergies have gone wild with the warmer temperatures. She was better off at home.

Darla and I walked down the – very muddy and sometimes downright wet – Fox Lake Road until we came to the trail that leads through my Grandpa’s wood lot. We followed the trail through the woods until we came to Randy’s house. Randy keeps chickens; I wasn’t sure if they were penned, and I didn’t know how Darla would react. We turned back there, and retraced our route for home.

My little dog let me know that she was not pleased. When I went out later in the day to pick up windfall and rake a few leaves, Rosa Parks wandered far out of the yard, over banks of snow and blackberry brambles, into the tall grass of the field. From that distant vantage point, she looked back with a stern expression. “I am perfectly capable of going for a walk,” she seemed to be telling me. Up, then, she marched to the top of the big snow drift, where she paused again, to give me a guilt-inducing look. An energetic run around the yard, finished by beating both Darla and me to the door, completed her demonstration.

Yesterday, Rosa Parks came with us. We avoided the Fox Lake Road that had soaked my feet the day before. We walked through the back field – ducking under the branches of pine and choke cherry trees, and skirting drifts of wet snow – until we came to the woods. The path was dry there, and we followed it back to the hunt camp that Bobby Graves built in a clearing far back in the woods.

Darla hadn’t been this way before, so she was happy to explore the sights and smells on either side of the trail. Rosa plodded along, always behind, but never out of my sight. I set my pace to her speed. There were a few trees down. One, we had to leave the trail and wind through the brush and trees to get around. Two, we were able to climb over, and the last one I had to duck under. I mistakenly thought that would be the hardest part of the walk.

We came, finally, to the clearing. The hunt camp is used by another group of guys these days. Stones placed in a circle, with chairs gathered around it, mark the location of the campfire. Between the little cabin and the outhouse, in a little cluster of empty beer bottles, buckets and an old cooler, sits my old wood stove. I don’t know how it ended up here, but it has stood in this clearing, slowing rusting, exposed to the elements, for at least two years.


The stove was purchased new by my husband’s Uncle Don. He and his wife had moved into an old schoolhouse, and were converting it into a home. The wood stove was cast iron, tall and roundish in shape, supported with sturdy legs. In their home, the stove pipe was of shiny stainless steel.

Don and his wife separated; they each moved to different homes. When my husband and I were building our little house on Beaver Island, we bought the wood stove. I was always very proud of the way that it looked, with its big round knobs for draft, and double doors with bright wood handles that could stand open to appreciate the fire. There was a wood-knobbed screen that snapped in, to shield against flying sparks.

The stove never did heat very well, though. It should have. It was designed for it; it had a good rating, and could hold a big knot of wood. When all conditions were right, we could certainly get the house warm. We never could get it to stay warm, though. Through every possible combination of draft and damper settings, through wood that ranged from windfall and slab wood to the hardest maple logs, through experiments with different locations and different chimneys, that fire needed to be fed.

Most winters, I worked very hard to stay barely comfortable. I woke up in the morning to a house that was generally 42 degrees (though there were days that water was frozen in the dish!). I’d work the coals into flame with kindling and dry wood, then retreat to the bathroom with its electric heater. There, sitting on the side of the tub, I’d drink coffee and write in my journal while the house warmed up. When I came home from work, the house was, again, 42 degrees. Again, I’d stoke the fire, then take a long walk while the house got to a temperature that I could relax in.

After twenty years of struggling with that stove (one winter, my water pipes froze fourteen times…and burst three times!), and all the additional work that heating with wood entails, I switched over to propane for my heat. Unable to justify – in my small house – having both a propane heater and a wood stove, one had to go. I gave the wood stove to my friend Bill, who lived on the West Side Drive. Later, he and his family moved off the island. The house changed hands. I don’t know how my old wood stove ended up in the yard of the hunt camp, but that’s where it sits today.

That sums up the story of the old wood stove. The story of the walk with my dogs is not done.

First, both Darla and Rosa Parks marched right out onto the frozen pond just as if it were a big open field, with no idea of the danger, should the ice give way. I coaxed them back to shore and headed back for home. Rosa Parks did not come with us. She had found the hoof and foreleg of a deer, with enough (probably rotten!) meat and fur attached to make it interesting. She let me know without a doubt that she was willing to fight, if need be, to keep it.

After several attempts at scolding or shaming her into submission – all to no avail – I tried walking away, calling to Rosa Parks, in hopes that she would follow me and Darla, if we got far enough away. It didn’t work. Then Darla, too, found a deer leg! What kind of a ghoulish place was this?! I put on my gloves, wishing they were rubber, or leather – something sturdier and more “gross-proof” than the simple knit that they are. I got a long stick and used it to pull the animal parts away from the jaws of my dogs, then flung each deer leg as far into the woods as I could.

I grabbed up Rosa Parks before she had time to object and, yelling for Darla to follow, headed back down the trail. With one heavy – and stubborn – little dog in my arms, I ducked under one tree, climbed over the next two and detoured through the brush to skirt the last one before I was confident that I could put the little dog down without her going back to retrieve her treasure. I was all the way home before I had caught my breath! By the time we got to our own back yard, both dogs had forgotten all about our disagreement, and were wagging tails and grinning in their “what a good time that was” manner. Hmmmph.


Beginnings of the Day



A day off opens like a gift. Possibilities seem endless. Then decisions, right from the start, work to take the shine off.

Do I stay up when I get up at 6AM to let the little dog out? Or shall I sleep in? Should I set the alarm, then, before I go back to sleep, so that I don’t sleep too long? Or count on the dogs to wake me up again?

As I go back to sleep, my plans for the day are vying for position in my mind. By the time I get up – at 7:30 – I am fully aware of the push-pull that’s been playing at the edge of my subconscious. Already, I feel the pressure of too many directions.

First, though, the dogs. They bring so much joy to my life, and get little in return. Two things I do for them. When I get up in the morning, I take time to give each dog one hundred strokes: a good belly rub and scratches behind the ears while telling them “Good Girl,” and “What a nice dog you are!”

When I come home – from work or another outing – after taking them outside, I sit on the couch, with one dog on either side of me. Darla sprawls out, with her big head in my lap, inviting more belly rubs. Rosa Parks nuzzles me and encourages ear scratches and back rubs. Sometimes I try to look at a magazine, or fill in my day-planner, but mostly the dogs keep my attention. We sit for one-half hour.

On days when the weather – or my energy level – doesn’t allow for a good walk, or when work, meetings and other necessary activities keep me away from home for long hours, these simple commitments help to allay my guilt. They also add a regimen of quiet and calm to my life. For that, I probably gain more from the routine than the dogs do!

After the dogs each get their morning rub-down, I take a couple pills with a big glass of water while the coffee is brewing, then pour my first cup. By that time, every thing I need to do is jostling for position with the things I could do, should do, and want to do. I pull out my planner to try to begin making sense of it all.

Sunday is my day for writing. After posting this blog, I have a list of articles to write today. Also for the Beacon, I have a few updates in subscriptions to add to the database, and several “second notices” to be prepared to be sent out to delinquent advertisers.

Sunday is one of the days I try to get a good walk in. I told Darla that she could count on it today. This is also the day I promised myself I’d start that new workout.

I have laundry and other weekly chores to give some attention to. In addition, the windows could all use a good cleaning.

I have work underway in the studio, and would love to spend some time there. After making some progress there last week, it would be great to keep the momentum going.

I have big changes in mind for my garden this year. I want to get out the graph paper and the garden books to start fleshing out my ideas.

I still have a long list of home improvements on my “master list.” Some are decidedly “in the future,” waiting for money or materials, but a few things could be accomplished today, with a little time.

As the snow melts, the yard needs to be raked. I could work on that a little bit each day – from now through infinity – and still never be finished.

I’m in the middle of a good book.

The most recent movie arrival from Netflix has been sitting unopened for more than a week now.

Finally, I have an invitation for dinner at Aunt Katie’s this evening.

So, if there is to be hope of a productive day, I’d better “get crackin’!”

Timeout for Art: A Little Time



Well, I don’t have a photograph to prove it, but I did happily manage a few hours in the studio this week. Six, to be exact, over the course of two days. I did some shuffling and rearranging, to make space to work among all the disparate items stored in that small room. I did some tidying, just to make it more pleasant. Finally, I worked on some art.

Not the finding-flow/following-the-muse/wild-inspiration type of art-making. No, this was a necessary – but not as glorious – aspect of the process.

I dismantled one large collage that I’d assembled a couple weeks ago, spread the elements out so that I could recall their positioning, and – one-by-one – glued them into place. I tweaked the  design a bit before calling it done. Then, I  coated  both sides of the heavy paper collage with gel medium, wrapped it in thin plastic, layered it between two sturdy plywood boards, and tucked in between my mattress and box spring to dry.

Art is one of those activities that sometimes brings great excitement, at other times just soothes. Sometimes decisions have to be made every moment; other times it is just going through the necessary motions.

I like all  aspects of the process.


Artifacts to Memories: Metal Bed Frame



My bed frame consists of a headboard and footboard formed to resemble bent wood and dowels, and two metal side rails that hold everything together. I can set it up or tear it down by myself and, when disassembled – not counting mattress and box spring – it is easily stored in a small space.

That’s good, because, it seems, my little house is often in flux. Over the years that I’ve lived here, I have converted this small bedroom, by turns, to studio, guest room, storage space and office. Now, it is back to its original purpose of being my bedroom. And the double bed is back to being the bed that I sleep in.

My husband and I picked this bed frame up in Imlay City, from an older couple who had it outside leaning against the garage. Prior to this acquisition, our bed was just a cheap metal frame  to hold the mattress and box spring. It pushed up against an unattached headboard that was just for show. It was a bookcase style, covered in white vinyl. I loved the bookcase aspect of it; I hated the vinyl.

We found this one advertised in the newspaper. It was either twenty dollars, or free, I can’t remember which. We got an enormous old clothes dryer the same year, also used. One item we paid for, the other we didn’t. Both were good investments.

I used the dryer for thirty years, replacing the belt twice. I finally replaced it with a new model for the improvements in energy efficiency, not because it had ever failed me. The bed frame is still in use today.

When we got it, the frame was missing the caster on one leg. My husband cut a chunk of 2 x 4 lumber to level it out, until we could buy a replacement caster. Though forty years have gone by (and I work in a hardware store…that sells casters!), one leg is still held up by that same old chunk of wood. I still plan to replace it with a proper caster…someday.



I Don’t Get It



I consider myself to be a generally thoughtful, intelligent person, but some things befuddle me. Simple things. Things that cause others to roll their eyes in disbelief that I can’t seem to “get it,” or to think that I’m feigning ignorance for some unknown reason. I promise you, that is not the case. No matter how hard I try to overcome, the problems persist. It’s like math anxiety only with a wider scope.

Some examples:

Directions. Yes, many people – including most of my siblings – are challenged by directions on a large scale. When people say “west,” do they mean “left?” Or “right?” And, unless the sun is actually setting, how do some people, without a compass, just know which way west is? And, undoubtedly, retracing a complex series of directions in reverse is always baffling. I have never had a good sense of direction.

I get particularly frustrated with myself, though, simply trying to navigate the small town of Charlevoix. It’s the mainland town where the Beaver Island ferry boat docks, and where our planes fly into. I’ve been there a hundred times. The town has one main street. The water – with the boat dock – is on one side.  The airport is at the south end of town. If you go north, the road leads to Petoskey. That is enough obvious information so that I should always know where I am. Yet, I’m always lost.

I’ll come out of a shop and walk four blocks in the wrong direction, heading for a shop that I’ve visited dozens of times before.  In my car, I am constantly having to turn around. I’m often headed for the airport when I’m trying to go to Petoskey, or vise versa. Last week, I was trying – over the telephone – to tell a friend how to get to the book store. Was it on the water side…or not? Was it on the airport end of town? Maybe it was in the center of town. Finally, in frustration, my directions consisted of, “It’s somewhere on the main street!”

Forms. I don’t care if it’s a simple questionnaire or a complicated application, when a form is placed in front of me, I freeze. I can almost see the wall going up; I am immediately tense. I can’t figure out the simplest things. Do I write my name on the line above the place where it says “name” or in the box below it? I never know.

Last week, my sister, Brenda, helped me with my taxes. I had two years worth to do, and had been stymied by all the considerations having to do with the news magazine that I acquired at the beginning of 2015. Though she’s a C.P.A., Brenda is retired. She does taxes for a few friends and relatives, but neither of us wanted her to be taking on my mess as an additional annual obligation. I wanted to learn, so that I could do it myself next year. So…we worked through it together.

Brenda printed out all the forms. She’d slide a page over to me. Seeing the panic in my eyes, she’d start gently, “Put your name here…” Like the good teacher she is, she asked the right questions, offered good advice, and made me do it myself. Depending on the hour, there was always coffee or wine at the ready, to keep me plodding along. When we finally finished, I felt like we deserved champagne!

Daylight Saving Time.  Finally, after some genius came up with the catchy, “Spring forward…Fall back,” I can at least remember which direction the clocks get changed to, depending on the season. That’s good, because it’s confusing enough without that issue to worry about. I dutifully set all my clocks forward before I went to bed last night. Then, when the dogs wanted out at six-thirty this morning (on my day off, and the one day this week I planned to sleep in), I thought, “Oh, if it weren’t for Daylight Saving Time, it would be seven-thirty, and these poor dogs must really have to pee!”  I jumped out of bed, let them outside, started coffee, brushed my teeth and made the bed before it came to me. If it weren’t for Daylight Saving Time, it would be five-thirty!! Aargh!

Wednesday, for Example



Sometimes, a day not spent making art is full of progress-making in other directions. Lately, I have been cleaning, sorting, weeding out excess, and rearranging. It feels creative. Then, there are days where simple busy-ness dictates the entire day.

Wednesday, for example.

My day started at two in the morning when the dogs wanted out. The wind was howling. The electricity had gone out. The moon was muted, under a cover of clouds. The dogs came in, but would not settle. Upstairs and down, from one window to the next, Darla roamed the house, barking. When she stopped, Rosa Parks would take up the charge, sharply yipping from her spot beside me. Neither were calmed by my reassuring tone of voice; nor were they quieted by my scolding. A series of hums, beeps and whirs told me the electricity came back on, just after four o’clock. Wide awake by that time, I got up to reset the clocks.

I made coffee and wrote a couple letters, cleaned the bathroom, then turned on the computer. Email, news, social media (several birthdays to acknowledge, another photo of my brand-new grand niece, and my oldest grandson would like my Lemon Chicken recipe) and one game of Scrabble. Next, a little bookkeeping for my news-magazine. Dogs out, in, out, in. Pack a lunch. Shower and dress. Grind up Rosa’s pill and mix it with a tablespoon of wet food in her tiny blue and white china bowl. Prepare the same amount of wet food for Darla, sans the medicine, and serve it up in her clear, heart-shaped glass dish. Boots, coat, thermos, lunch, handbag, coffee cup, six letters to mail, two movies to return, a final good-bye to the dogs, admonishing each of them to “take care of things,” and I am out the door…just a little late.

Work. A fairly normal, not-too-busy day at the hardware store. Some customers, some phone calls. I hauled a ladder up from the basement and made price stickers for the new windshield wipers. I dressed the large beaver in festive green, and arranged hats and trinkets for St. Patrick’s Day in the front of the store. I took time in the middle of the day to go to the Post Office, and stopped at the gas station to return movies on my way home.

Home. Greet the dogs, and take them outside. It’s cold and I’m tired, so just a wander around the yard. Unload the car, then, of letters and catalogs, purse, thermos and lunch bag. I invite the dogs to sit with me on the couch while I go through the mail. They both think a belly rub is more important than anything to be found in those papers! I get up to start dinner. Macaroni and cheese for my dinner, but I also put together a vegetable soup for my lunch through the rest of the week, and a crust-less spinach and cheddar quiche for breakfasts. In between dicing vegetables, grating cheese and arranging pans in the oven and on the stove, I feed the dogs. I eat at the table with a catalog for company. While I’m cleaning up, the dogs go out and in a few more times.

There is work to be done, still. I have a list of articles to write for the Beacon, and the database – again – needs to be updated. I could start a load of towels in the washer. I need to find that recipe for my grandson. It will all have to wait. Nine-thirty, and I can’t keep my eyes open. Bedtime.

That was the extent of my ordinary Wednesday.