Monthly Archives: July 2017

A Garden is Hope

Standard

IMG_0983

From the garden last week, I harvested two perfect little patty pan squash, and a small bouquet of radishes.  Just enough radishes to inspire a nice potato salad. Today, I plucked one slightly misshapen but lovely tomato from the vine, encouraged two pole bean runners on their way up the garden fence, and noticed the peas are in blossom. Some are even beginning to form pods! The smaller garden, and my weed-free tactics, are working well this year.

Though we’ve had several days of high heat and humidity, we’ve also had plenty of rain this summer. On top of that, nights have been cool. That combination may be just what is needed.

The radishes – even though it’s late in the season for radishes – have not yet become tough or woody. Their flavor is still perfect. They have not gone to seed.

Peas like cool weather and tend to dry up quickly when the summer gets hot. My Dad used to plant peas on Mother’s Day, and we had generally harvested them all before the end of July.

I love peas, but only when they’re raw. I can hardly tolerate cooked peas. They are bearable in Chinese food – especially if still in their pods – and okay (but just barely) in a chicken pot pie. I understand that Creamed Peas and Tuna Fish on Toast needs peas, if for nothing but to legitimize the name of the dish…but still. Raw is the way I love them, and the only way to get good, fresh raw peas is to grow them.

I was so late in getting my garden ready to plant, I asked Aunt Katie if I should just forget about peas this year. “What will it cost you? A few pea seeds! You’d might as well try,” was her good advice. Thanks to her, on the thirtieth day of July, I have a large bed of thriving pea plants, covered with blossoms and the beginnings of pods. I’m looking forward to that harvest!

 

What I Remember

Standard

IMG_0986

On my mother’s birthday, my thoughts go to memories of her. Mom would have turned eight-five years old today. If we were still blessed with her presence, I can imagine a lively, strong woman with a twinkle in her eye, who would probably still enjoy going out for a nice dinner. Maybe followed by a night of “Bingo.” Finished off with a cup of tea and a good book. Unfortunately, she died nearly six years ago.

Mom’s seventy-ninth birthday was the last one she celebrated. Though she was gravely ill, she did celebrate. Many of her children and grandchildren were with her; her walker was decorated with balloons, tied on with curling ribbon. Photos show her smiling as she opened presents and marveled over each one.

She was my own very special mother, and it’s nearly impossible to separate that from everything else I know about her. With her own large brood, and many other children welcome to participate in our crazy family activities, with grandchildren adding to the flock, motherhood and nurturing was a big part of Mom’s identity. Not all, though. She had an eventful and challenging life before she had children, and plenty of exciting adventures after we were grown. Today I am remembering the things that made her the unique and wonderful person that she was.

Red was her favorite color. With her dark hair and fair skin, she could wear it well, too. As a young woman, bright red lipstick accented her perfect smile. That, and a touch of rouge on her cheeks was all the adornment she needed. Her strong brows and long, dark eyelashes stood on their own. As her hair changed to salt and pepper and finally silver, the reds in her wardrobe gave way to softer tones of rose and pink.

Mom loved to read, and she raised a family of readers. As a child, she read adventure stories about animals: Black Beauty, White Fang, Lassie Come Home, My Friend, Flicka. Later, she favored good mysteries. After working her way through all the works of Agatha Christie, she found others she liked. Mom favored gritty, tough-guy, detectives with a soft heart.

Shopping was one of mom’s passions. Weekly trips to the grocery store were prepared for with lists, clipped coupons and meal plans, and anticipated with pleasure. Outings with girlfriends to visit the shopping malls in Flint, or to wander through the shops downtown were highlights for Mom.

She’d come home with bags and packages to be hidden away for Christmas, or revealed to us children as new school clothes or the fabric for sewing them. She’d draw us in to her thought processes and her excitement:

“When I saw this color, I just knew I had to get it…imagine how pretty this will look on Cheryl!”

“Cindy, this is almost just exactly like the dress you picked out from the J.C.Penney catalog…and look at this price!”

“I loved this flannel as soon as I saw it. I bought enough to make nightgowns for all the little girls.”

Mom and Dad shared a love of dogs. They would tolerate cats, but dogs were a beloved part of the family. Mom could name her childhood pets, and every dog we’d had growing up, where we got them, and how they died. Her last dog was terribly spoiled with bits of cheese and meat chunks for treats.

Mom liked games and puzzles, and taught us all to like them, too. After we grew up, she often bowed out of participating, though. I think it wasn’t the games, but her raucous family that deterred her. She still enjoyed putting together a jig-saw puzzle, and often had one going on a card table on the porch. When I was young, Mom and Dad occasionally had friends over to play Pinochle or Michigan Rummy. Later, Mom took to the Bingo halls, and even went to the casino once or twice each year.

My mother liked the World War II era movie stars; Judy Garland was one of her favorites. Katherine Hepburn, too. She was crazy about Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Paul Anka. One of her favorite songs was “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” Mom and I shared a love of Danny Kaye. Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and Kenny Rogers all gained Mom’s approval, too.

Mom loved roses. She would usually receive a bouquet or two for birthdays and other special occasions. As children, we’d call Perkin’s Flower Shop to order them, and have them billed to the family account. Seems that bill never came due, as Mom quietly paid it when it came in the mail. That never dulled her enthusiasm over the next bouquet to arrive that way!

This is just a small sample of the many characteristics that made Mom special. If she were here today, I’d deliver flowers. Since she’s not, I’m letting memories of her enrich my day.

Right Here, Right Now

Standard

 

IMG_0979

I started a new book that promises to be a life-changer: Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. I feel like it was written just for me:

“…this is how it feels to live my life: scattered, fragmented, and exhausting. I am always doing more than one thing at a time and feel I never do any one particularly well. I am always behind and always late, with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing to do before rushing out the door. Entire hours evaporate while I’m doing stuff that needs to get done. But once I’m done, I can’t tell you what it was I did or why it seemed so important. “

Because the author has me pegged so accurately, in describing her own situation, and because she managed to find her way out of it to an extent where she felt she could write about it, I have hope.

I have tended to fill my time the way the ancient Greeks filled their vases with pictures: no open space. It wasn’t always like that. Growing up, I was known in my family as “the lazy one.” I would sit for hours playing with dolls or reading a book. I would lay out in the grass watching the clouds form patterns in the sky. I rode my bicycle around and around the same path. I wandered the fields. I didn’t get bored, with almost nothing to do.

As a young mother, I would sit calmly just watching my baby sleep, or reading or singing to my little ones. I didn’t seem to always need to have ten projects going at once. I don’t know quite when that changed, but sometime between then and now, it changed in a big way.

Now, on a day devoted to housekeeping, I will probably also plan to write a blog. I’ll tell myself the time is right to start that new exercise program or – at least – take the dogs for a long walk. As long as I’ll be at home, I may as well bake bread, too…and if I’m going to have fresh bread, well I’d better make soup. In the midst of all that, I might decide to start or continue an art project, or do some yard work, or paint a room. It isn’t fun, being this person.

Two and a half years ago, when I was approached about taking on the Beaver Beacon, I had a full-time job at the hardware store. I held the part-time position of Phragmites Administrator on Beaver Island. I was teaching art to children one day each week. I was putting in a few hours a month cleaning my aunt’s house. I was producing art in my studio for the four or five galleries that carry my work. I was single-handedly taking care of my home and yard. And I – for some reason – didn’t hesitate to take on the writing, editing and publishing of a bi-monthly news-magazine. That’s just the kind of crazy I am!

At sixty-four years old, retirement is somewhere in the not-too-distant future. In the past, I have thought that, when I retired, I would like to travel. I’d also like to spend more time with cooking, sewing and crafts. I’d like to expand the size of my garden and get a few chickens, in addition to expanding my artistic career and teaching a few classes. In my retirement! I’m tired of the frantic pace, though. I want some calm. I’m counting on this book to teach me how to achieve that!

 

Off-Track

Standard

IMG_0939

Clearly, my writing practice has gotten off track. Sometimes that happens when I’m focused on getting other areas of my life in order. Sometimes it’s just one more thing in my life that has fallen into disarray. That’s how it is right now. Chaos.

Summer is a busy time here on Beaver Island. Things are going on all the time. It starts with Memorial Day, and special events for the Beaver Island Birding Trail. There’s a Bike Festival. When we get through the Fourth of July parade and festivities, we are faced with, in quick succession and sometimes simultaneously, Baroque on Beaver, Museum Week, the Beaver Island Music Festival, the Beaver Island Jazz Festival, several art events, Home-Coming, and the August Dinner. There are art classes, movies, yoga classes, and special events at the library.

Work is exhausting, with longer days filled with heightened business. “How is business,” people often ask. “Really busy!” is my reply. Invariably, the response to that is something like, “Well, that’s good!” Yes. It is good. We need the busy summers to sustain us through the slower seasons. Still, I bite my tongue to prevent saying how tired I am, and how much my feet hurt. “Good, my ass,” I think to myself.

Yesterday, I painted and framed, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show. I worked several hours on the next issue of the Beacon. I pulled some weeds from the flower beds. I did some very necessary cleaning. I spent, I admit, at least a couple hours in lazy self-indulgent relaxation, recuperating from the past week.

Today, I made two trips to town to deliver nine pieces to the Gregg Fellowship Hall for inclusion in the art show. I stopped at the marina to make the final payment on my car repair. Post Office, gas station and grocery store completed my list of errands. I stopped at Aunt Katie’s to tidy up. She is still convalescing on the mainland, but I like to keep an eye on things.

My cousin, who was cutting and bailing hay across the road from Aunt Katie’s, told me there was a broken bail I could have, if I’d get it out of his way. So, I drove onto the field and, armful-by-armful, loaded the bail of hay into the back seat and onto the front passenger seat of my car.

Home, I unloaded the hay onto the pallet near the garden shed, on top of the few remaining bails of straw. Unloaded the twenty-pound bag of dog food. Went back for the toothpaste, bottle of wine and “Iron Out” rust remover, and the stack of papers that came in the mail.  Laundry next. I put in a load of towels with the rust remover, then gave the toilet, tub and sink a shot of it, too. I tossed all of the rugs outside for shaking, and swept through the whole house. Shook the rugs and brought them back in. When the washer was done, I put the wet things in the laundry basket, and started a load of dark clothes. I took the towels out to the clothesline. I fed the dogs.

Finally, I sit down to write. It is after eight o’clock in the evening. It has just started to rain (of course…with laundry on the line!). I haven’t started dinner yet. Tomorrow, it’s back to work. I think it’s time to open that bottle of wine.

 

 

Friendly Visitation

Standard

IMG_0898

Last night, my father visited. He’s been gone from this world for almost twenty years. He lives happily, though, in my thoughts and memories, and those of others who knew him well.

Dad’s work ethic is a constant influence in my life. I’ve told these stories before. No one could keep up. Beyond the long hours at General Motors where he worked as an electrician, Dad always had a dozen projects going. He was filling in the swampy areas, in the empty lot next door, to help to keep the mosquitoes down. He was adding a shoulder to the narrow paved road we lived on, so that the children that lived down the road would have an easier time walking to the bus stop.  He was raising pigs… chickens….an ever expanding garden…and – at any given time – keeping his own and a dozen or more other children busy and entertained.

I have joked that Dad often treated us like his own crew of migrant workers. Up in the morning early to pull weeds in the garden, at dusk we’d haul hoses and buckets to water the plants. In between there was plenty more to fill the time from helping with housework, taking care of little brothers and sisters, meal preparation, harvesting and canning, feeding the animals…and on and on. Mom was involved in all of this, too, as well as being the one to defend us, or answer to Dad if our work wasn’t done to his expectations.

His stubborn cantankerousness was legend, too. There was a particular way to make a bed, or wipe a table, or weed a row of beans. Dad didn’t just want us busy, he wanted things done right. Arguing in defense of cut corners was futile. He was rock solid in his opinions, and would hold his ground, picking up anger and momentum as the discussion continued. His sharp temper affects the way I deal with conflict, still. No matter how sure I am of my position, a contrary opinion spoken in a sharp tone will bring tears to my eyes and silence me every time. It’s humiliating, but I am unable to react in any way but the way I reacted as a child, to that tone of voice.

Listen to my ramblings for long, and one could be led to a particular image of my Dad. It would likely be inaccurate, because I’ve neglected the very best aspects of him. Beyond the firm belief in hard work and a job done correctly, and a stubborn insistence on his infinite rightness, my Dad had the heart of a young boy.

Dad was a tease. He had a twinkle in his eye and a little mischievous sideways grin that gave away his pleasure in the moment. Dad loved projects and adventures. He could turn work into play, or – when that was impossible – make the reward worth the effort. A  coca cola and a dime for the jukebox while Dad shot the breeze with the bartender was a fitting ending to a day spent in hard work. There were harvesting parties, corn-gathering parties and butchering parties, but also sledding parties – often involving the biggest hills, or specially-designed icy ramps. On Beaver Island, there were long days spent on the beach, and evenings of long drives filled with stories.

That was the person that visited last night. Driving home from a friend’s house after dinner and a movie, my Dad was suddenly with me. It wasn’t a ghost-like visitation; there was nothing mystic about it. It was only the definite feeling of Dad’s presence as I winded down the narrow roads toward home. I could picture him clearly: one hand casually slung over the bottom of the steering wheel, the other cradling a can of beer. I could imagine his voice as places led to stories, and hear his laugh as we rolled downhill toward Barney’s Lake.

The movie I’d watched was about an old man whose curmudgeon-like ways belied his big heart. The dinner was picnic fare, cooked over charcoal. I’d had two glasses of wine. The drive home, after dark and guided by the light from the head lamps, was alone a rarity for me. The route along Barney’s Lake was one of Dad’s favorite drives. I’m sure all of these things contributed to his presence last evening. Whatever the cause, it was a welcome visit!

 

 

 

A Morning of No Enthusiasm

Standard

 

IMG_0644

Sometimes, I wake up early and can’t fall back asleep with rampaging thoughts of all I need or want to do. Not today. I lay abed long after I woke up, trying to drum up a little incentive to get up.

There was a cool breeze coming in through the open window; I was cozy under the soft comforter. Darla, from her spot beside the bed, had rested her big head on my chest, to accept all the attention I could give her. She rewarded me for the petting with an occasional big lap of her tongue on my face. Rosa Parks, not to be left out, had nestled in to the space under my other shoulder, so that my second hand could scratch behind her ears. Her throaty murmurs – the closest thing to a purr I’ve ever heard coming from a dog – let me know she was enjoying the interlude, too.

Finally, I got up and made coffee. Last night before I went to sleep, I’d jotted some notes in my journal as reminders of what I wanted to accomplish today. There it was, if I needed a refresher. There is house work, yard work and garden work. There are bills to pay and bookkeeping to be done. I have a list of stories and articles to prepare for the next issue of the Beacon.

There is a long list for the studio, including cleaning and clearing space, preparing work for the Museum Week Art Show, and packaging a collagraph to be mailed out. There is old work to finish and plans for new work waiting. As I am wise to my wily ways of avoidance, procrastination and trade-offs, I rarely allow myself to go to the studio first. It is reward, for jobs well underway or tasks completed.

Sunday mornings used to be an exception to that rule. When I had television, my Sundays started in the studio, with the TV tuned to CBS Sunday Morning, coffee conveniently on the shelf beside me, and whatever I was currently involved in, on the drafting table in front of me. It was a lovely way to wake up, and made this day of the week stand out.

When television went digital, the only way to get a signal out here in the middle of Lake Michigan is to pay for satellite TV. I’ve never been much of a TV watcher. For the news, Jeopardy, and a handful of other programs, it hardly seemed worth the cost. I do miss that excuse to spend Sunday mornings in the studio, though!

Now, I get my news from the computer, where one link leads to another, and it’s easy to waste an entire morning following a single event. It’s also simple, from this spot at the desk, to click over to social media, to see what’s going on there, and comment on a status or two. Before I know it I’ve wasted half a day.

It’s afternoon, now, on this precious Sunday. It’s high time to get into gear, and find a little energy and enthusiasm for all the things that wait for me!

Nothing’s Lost In God’s Kingdom

Standard

IMG_6931

I have a co-worker who insists that, to find anything, one must state – out loud and with confidence – “There’s nothing lost in God’s kingdom.” I have to admit, it has proven to be a pretty reliable method when I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup or when one of us has misplaced the hand-held computer. It’s not working so well at my house.

Losing things is easy for me. I spend far too much time looking for stuff. To compensate, I try to have a place for everything, and stick to it. In an extra file drawer, there is a slot specifically for tape, another for tape measures, and a third for staples and staple guns. Pens and pencils always belong in a cup on the desk; the dogs leashes go in a basket by the back door; my purse always hangs on the back of my desk chair. Those designated spots have added hours to my life, that otherwise would be spent searching.

It’s a good system, but there are flaws. Sometimes, that’s because an item is unusual or new, and doesn’t have a designated place. Most often, it’s because I neglect to enforce my own rule about putting things where they belong…or, I get scatter-brained. Lately, I’ve been doing lots of talking out loud about nothing lost in God’s kingdom while tearing around looking whenever a new possibility crosses my mind…and – so far – to no avail.

First, I lost an envelope. A customer handed it to me while I was working at the hardware store. It was addressed to the Beaver Beacon, and I believe it held a check for three subscriptions. I didn’t open it, but folded it twice, and tucked it into the left front pocket of my blue jeans. Then, I continued my work day. When I got home, I worked out in the garden for a couple hours. Later, I showered, put on pajamas, and dropped my clothes into the laundry basket.

I woke up the next morning with a start, having remembered the envelope. It was not where I expected to find it, in the pocket of my jeans. Then the search began. Could it have fallen out in the garden? In the car on the way home? At work? Might I have shifted it to another pocket? In my jacket, maybe? Or tucked it into my purse? Could I have accidentally thrown it away, with stickers, tags and other detritus that I pick up at work and carefully only put in my right-hand pocket?

You can see where this is going. For three days now, I have been looking for the missing envelope. I have searched the house, yard, garden, car, and the hardware store. I have gone through all pockets and every trash receptacle. I have gone through every pile of papers, every nook and cranny. The envelope is lost.

Yesterday, in an amazingly productive day, I finished mulching the raspberries, put up tomato cages, fenced in the garden, and finally completed the mowing of the back yard. At one point I brought the camera out, to document my progress.

I photographed the lawnmower, nearly invisible in the last patch of really tall grass. I took pictures of the garden, the flowers, and the finished lawn, complete with towels hanging on the clothesline in the background. I photographed one hundred feet of deer fence rolled out over the grass in my front yard while I trimmed twelve inches off, so that it would be the right height. I documented the tangled snarl of deer fence after it was dragged to the back, and as I fought to wrangle it around the posts that border the garden. I took one final picture of the fence, finally in place.

In between pictures, I was careful to put the camera on the potter’s wheel, along with other necessities I had brought outside. When I was done for the day, I gathered up scissors, pruning shears, staple gun, two boxes of staples, graph paper tablet, pencil, camera and coffee cup, and carried it all inside.

It was after my shower, while the dogs were having their dinner and mine was cooking, when I went to download the pictures from my camera. Where was the camera?  Scissors and pruning shears were in the basket by the back door; the tablet and pencil had been deposited on the dining room table; staples and staple gun were in their proper file; my coffee cup was in the sink. No camera!

I checked outside. I retraced my steps inside. Then I did it again…and again. I tried bribing the dogs, “Find the camera, and I’ll give you a treat!” I chanted “There is nothing lost in God’s kingdom” while continuing to search. Is it sitting in plain sight, and I’m just overlooking it?

Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to post photos of my productive day, I decided, instead, to share photos of my “reward.” On the day that I got such a huge list of things accomplished, I was treating myself to a T-bone steak dinner with asparagus spears and sauteed mushrooms on the side. I’m not big on photographing food, but it would be compensation for not being able to show the other pictures. Then, it struck me. Without a camera, I can’t photograph my meal or anything else. The camera is lost!