Monthly Archives: December 2017

I Must Admit…



It’s cold. And we have plenty of snow. Winter has, undoubtedly, settled in. I’ve been hearing all of the grumbles. My mind has been going in that direction, too.

The cold is that severe, face-numbing cold – often accompanied by wind – that chills to the bone, and makes outdoor activities difficult. It’s difficult to even navigate, with all the layers I’ve been piling on! The snow has been falling faster than I can keep up with it. The paths that I shovel from doors to driveway have been filling back in overnight. The young man that usually plows my driveway has not been here since the last big snowfall. That probably means that his plow is broken…and I am left to trudge to and from the car through a foot of snow. Under the snow, there is ice, which makes travel – whether by car or on foot – a cautionary experience.

Still…the landscape is breathtaking! The fence posts that surround my garden spot are topped with round balls of snow. The gazing ball in the front flower bed often gets a “dunce cap” of snow; this year, it’s a hefty turban topper! The clotheslines have become spontaneous winter sculpture; the grape arbor looks as if someone purposely arranged it, for the holiday. Fox Lake Road has taken on the appearance of a winter wonderland!

I’m as chilly as anyone. My boots drip snow and ice beyond the entry rug and onto the floor; my socks are soggy. Still, I must admit, this is beautiful!



Studio Time



I was home sick yesterday. Nothing serious: a bit of an upset stomach, chills, and a headache that would not ease up. Though I wondered if it was a lead-in to the flu, I am just fine today. Yesterday, mostly, was spent doing nothing. I felt too lousy to start a project; the headache made reading or working on the computer impossible. I draped myself in robes and blankets, moved from bed to chair and back again, and every now and then roused myself for another round of ibuprofen and a cup of tea.

By evening, feeling somewhat like myself again, I wandered in to the studio. I had a small painting on a panel (24″ x 24″) that had been through several incarnations and was still a displeasing mess. There was nothing to lose; I started laying collage elements on the surface. I moved them around until they seemed right. I dug through my stores of scraps for the right additional touches. Finally, I used heavy gel medium to fasten everything in place, and set it aside to dry. The medium is opaque white when wet (but dries clear), so the “reveal” has to wait.

This morning, I ventured upstairs to see the results. Of course, I always hope for glory, where everything works together beyond my wildest expectations and I wonder how I managed to pull off something so remarkable. That rarely happens, and it didn’t happen today. There is work yet to be done. The underlying image is still visible in spots, and a distraction. Washes and stains of color are needed to take the starkness out of areas of white. Additional, selective collage elements will help to balance composition and color.

Still, I like what’s going on. This is a tough surface that shows wear, and reflects its history. There are some areas that are so precious they make me sigh. Colors cause the eye to move from one area to another. There is hope here. Time in the studio is never wasted, but when it leads to something good – or something with promise – it feels especially worthwhile.




Travel to and from this small island I call home is such a trial, I’m surprised I ever do it. I’ve heard stories about cruises…the paperwork and preparation; the check-in process; long lines to get on the ship…and it doesn’t sound like fun. I wonder how many good days I would need – on calm waters – to make up for the stress of getting there. I can pretty much guarantee that will never be a vacation I would choose. And yet, three or four times a year, for the reward of time with family or friends, I arrange to leave my home here.

First, the plans and arrangements: Can I get time off work? Can I afford it? Travel should fall near the payday that is not near the first of the month. The mortgage payment comes out of that one, and little is left over. Is there room for my dogs at the kennel? Where will I stay? Will I have a car to use? Reservations have to be made for kennel, flights, and lodging.

Then the worries. Will the dogs be okay? They get so nervous, lately when they know I’m leaving. What if the power fails while I’m away? What about the weather? No matter how well I plan, there are always surprises. Will the planes be flying? Will the roads be clear? Will I be able to get where I’m going?

Then, there are many steps to take before the actual travel. I imagine the house I’d like to come home to, and set my sights on getting it to that level of cleanliness and organization before I go. I admit this is the area where I usually cut corners. Dog food has to be packed – in meal-sized portions – into labelled, zip-lock bags. Leashes have to be found, treats bagged and labelled, and don’t forget the special dish for Rosa Parks! For myself, clothes have to be tried on to assure that they still fit and are without stains, tears or missing buttons before being stacked for possible inclusion. Camera, lap-top, books, journal, medicine, make-up, deodorant, toothbrush…the long list of non-wearables involves at least one extra bag. If it’s holiday time, there are gifts to wrap and pack.

Finally, the day. Rosa Parks is fitted into her bright pink harness (because she can slide right out of a collar, when she chooses to). The car is loaded: two leashes tucked between the front seats; the tote of dog food and dishes on the front passenger-side floor along with my purse; my luggage in the back seat, driver’s side; Darla, front passenger seat; Rosa sits on my lap – quivering all the way, as she has by now realized where she is going – behind the wheel.

To the kennel. Both dogs are hooked up with leashes, and I hold the other ends. I put Rosa Parks down, let Darla out, then reach in to retrieve their tote bag. We walk the length of the driveway, as they check out the sights and smells. They are greeted at the door by the smiling attendant and – with sad eyes – led into the kennel where I unhook leashes and give hugs and reassurances that “I’ll be back soon.”

At the airport, I park close to the terminal, carry in my luggage and place it on the scale. I pay for my passage, then go to park the car. Because of holiday travel, for this latest trip I had to park in the way-back lot usually used for long-term parking. It was a long, cold walk back to the building, where I had about a half-hour wait for my flight. Luggage is stowed by the airport employees, so then it’s just a matter of climbing up into the small plane when instructed, and buckling in for the flight. I’m a nervous flyer, but I’m used to it. If the weather is good so that we aren’t bouncing around, I can relax and enjoy the view. When the plane is twisted and tossed by the winds, I keep a white-knuckled grip on the seat ahead. In either case, it’s over in about twenty minutes.

That is followed, sometimes, by finding the car in the parking lot, digging it out, clearing the windows and defrosting it for travel, then getting on the road for perhaps a four-hour drive. Not this last trip: my friend met me at the airport. Her truck was warm, and we were staying nearby. Still, the weather complicated things, as it often does.

A storm came through on Christmas Eve night and threatened to continue through the next day. Afraid of the storm, and needing to be back at work on Wednesday, my friend left a day early, on Christmas afternoon. It wasn’t the holiday we’d planned, but we had a good time while it lasted.

Yesterday, I checked out of the room and got a taxi to the airport. Then, I basically reversed the “exit procedure” for coming back home. Last night, with a new book and a cup of hot cider, with both dogs happy to settle in at home, I relished being cozy inside, and finished – for a while, at least – with travel!

Best of the Season, to You!



I’m travelling tomorrow, so I won’t be writing then. I’m only going across the water to the mainland: no hours of driving downstate after my twenty-minute airplane ride across Lake Michigan. In fact, I won’t have access to a car when I get there. My friend, Linda, is going to meet me at the airport – she’s the one with the long drive from her home on the east side of the state – so that we can enjoy a short visit over the holiday.

Still, any travel takes planning and preparation. Today, after working all day, my evening is filled with a long list of “to-do”s. I have to measure food into labelled zip-lock bags – in meal-sized portions – for both dogs. I have dishes to do and laundry to fold. I have to finish some gift-wrapping; I still have to pack. Most importantly, I have to set aside time to give each dog some extra attention, because tomorrow they go to the kennel.

Tomorrow is busy, too, right up until I step foot on the mainland. I have to load the car, then drop the dogs off before 9:30. Then, I open the hardware for any last-minute shoppers. If the weather turns lousy, I may have to get on an earlier flight. Having, at other times, spent long hours at the airport, several days in a row, waiting for a fog to lift or a weather system to ease, I’ll be nervous until the plane gets in the air! Once I’m there, I’m sure I’ll have a jolly time!

With these few moments snatched from all I should be doing, I wish the very best of the season to all of you. Blessed Holiday! Happy Christmas! Peace! Joy! Love! Merry…Merry…Merry!




In the Dark



This is the time of year, working down to the winter solstice, when my life is lived in the dark. This morning, I woke up before 5 AM. It is now almost 7:30. There’s still not even the slightest glow in the sky to hint at the possibility of sunrise out there. Pure dark. The sun is not slated to show itself until 8:19 this morning.

When I leave work at 5:30 in the afternoon, the sun is already below the treeline. The headlights come on automatically when I turn on the car; by the time I get to the King’s Highway, I’ve adjusted them to the bright setting. Home, I turn on the outdoor lights, which illuminates the driveway. To take a walk down the tree-lined road, I need the lantern.

On the best days, customers come into the hardware and comment, “At least the sun is out today!” Sometimes, business is slow enough that I can step out onto the porch to appreciate it. Most days, though, we don’t see the sun. Lake Michigan is still open water. This time of year, the water temperature is warmer than the air, so the big lake releases steam, and we live in an almost constant haze.

These are the days to light candles, make cocoa, and sit under the reading lamp with a good book. It feels good to have the stove on, so homemade breads and cookies go regularly into the oven, while soups and sauces simmer on the range. The sweaters have all come out of storage, along with boots and scarves and gloves.

It will all change, soon. As the temperatures drop, and the nights stay colder, the lake will form ice, and the skies will clear. Before long, the daylight will start to stretch out, too. Right now, I’m enjoying the quiet moodiness of these dark days.

I Remember Christmas



I remember untainted holidays, when Christmas was pure, giddy anticipation, music, decorations and joy. That was before I realized that “baby Jesus” and “Jesus-on-the-cross” were the same guy…and before loss had touched my own life.

I was eight or nine years old when I put all the stories together. I realized then, that the sad-faced man with the beard and long hair (who never seemed to laugh, though he was always with his friends, and who spent so much time lecturing them, I thought he was lucky to have friends at all) was the same hero who wore the thorny crown and bravely endured all the other tortures until he died on the cross.

I was very familiar with the look of horrible anguish on his face, the puncture in his side, his tortured countenance. We wore those images around our necks; variations hung in our classrooms, church and home. When I finally deduced that those stories were about the same person, and the little baby at Christmas was the same person, too, I asked a child’s version of the question,

Why are we so happy about his birth, when we know how sadly this story ends?

The answer, of course, was that it was his choice to die for our sins, that if he hadn’t been born that wouldn’t have happened, that he saved us all from suffering…and remember Easter, so everything turned out, after all.

I was not keen on the idea that I would have – without his grisly death – been paying for sins I didn’t commit (that was not fair!) or that a good father would make his own son go through all of that to make up for things he didn’t even do. I didn’t see “sitting at the right hand of the father,” (the same father that let him be killed?) for eternity (boring!), while leaving all of his friends behind, a truly happy ending.

I was taught, though, to accept the answers given. One question was the sign of a thoughtful child, a second was a bit cheeky, and a third was downright insubordinate. So, at Christmastime, I focused on only the baby-person, and didn’t think ahead (and hoped he didn’t know, either!) to the way it all worked out. At about that same time, I was learning to reconcile – in my own life – the joy of Christmas, in spite of loss.

My Grandpa Ted – who had lived next door – died when I was six years old; Grandma Thelma died when I was ten. When I was twelve, the flame from a candle caused Grandpa Ted’s old roll-top desk to catch fire in our back room on Christmas Eve, and it had to be dragged out into the snow. My baby sister, Darla, died in the spring of that same year. Somehow, we always still had Christmas, and we still found reason to celebrate.

Over the years, the list of heartache continues to accumulate. Death, disaster, divorce, and detachment from those we’d once held close…the holiday could be ruined, if we allowed it. We don’t, though. Christmas is changed, through every loss. It’s celebration becomes more poignant, remembering the people no longer here, and the sweet memories, long past. In many ways, it becomes more precious and dear, savoring the memories we are making, and knowing that nothing is forever.

Celebrate, no matter what the future holds. Maybe that’s the best message behind the Christmas story.

Grandpa Ted



Though he died when I was only six years old, my Grandpa Ted has been a big presence in my life.

First the memories: holding his hand as we walked around the big yard our house shared with his; the teasing grin and “I’m gonna give you a pop right in the kisser,” as he’d lean in to kiss my cheek. He sat with us – me, my sister Brenda and brother Teddy – on the white bench under the huge elm trees in the front yard, or on the low bench in the cool shade of the grape arbor in the back yard. I can almost picture his face; I can almost hear his voice.

Next, his influence. He taught me about plants: the sweetness at the heart of a clover blossom; the nut-like flavor of the buds from cheese weed; the bitter taste of dandelion greens. I think of him, still, when I taste those wild flavors. He chronicled our little lives in film. Though he was usually behind the camera, thanks to Grandpa Ted I can still watch my parents with their young family in all seasons of the year.

Then, there are stories. Because I was only six-years-old when Grandpa Ted died, these are not things I knew, but only that I learned as I got older, when my Mom or Dad would reveal things about him. Grandpa Ted was an alcoholic. He would admit himself to a facility once or twice a year to “dry out.” In those days, it was a dangerous process, often involving delirium tremens (DTs), and no medication to ease the transition. Grandpa was a jealous man, and he and my grandmother had terrible, violent fights that would send my mother, when she was a child, running from the house. When they cleared out Grandpa Ted’s garage after his death, they found a whiskey bottle hidden in every cubbyhole.

When my own children – and later my grandchildren – were young, I’d take comfort in how well I remembered Grandpa Ted. If an ache or a bump caused my hypochondriac self to start thinking death was imminent, I’d be consoled by the idea that I would perhaps be remembered, too. As I neared the age of fifty, Grandpa Ted – who died in his early fifties, without warning, of a heart attack – was often on my mind. Did I inherit his faulty heart, along with his bushy eyebrows?

Once, after my dear old friend, Ernie, died, I had a memorable dream. It was one of those that seem real, and every voice is so clear that I’m sure it could be picked up by a tape recorder. There was a noisy throng of people, crowding around a person that I couldn’t see. There, on the outskirts of the throng, was my Grandpa Ted. He spotted me at the same time that I saw him.

His eyebrows raised in recognition, and his face crinkled into a big smile. I made my way toward him. “Look at you…look at you,” he said as he wrapped his arms around me in a big hug. His voice was exactly as I remembered it! He stepped back, patting my shoulders, “Just a second, Sweetheart,” he said, “I want to say hello to this guy…” The crowd opened up, at that moment, so that I could see the person at the center. There was my friend, Ernie, with a little shy, crooked grin, being welcomed with handshakes and pats on the back from all the folks standing there to greet him!

I have never believed in an afterlife as much or as sincerely as I did right after waking from that dream. Most times, I wonder. I fall into the “I don’t know” category. I like the idea of reincarnation. I feel certain I’ve had profound and real visits from the spirit world. Heaven sounds nice, too, though I could do without hell. There is some sense behind the idea of “when you’re dead, you’re dead,” also…though it’s not as much fun to think about as the others. I live a good life, so like to think I’m prepared, whatever.

If the last is true, and we are done when we are finished here, we live on, then, only in the memories and dreams of the living. That’s what has brought Grandpa Ted into my thoughts today. It occurred to me that there are few of us left on this earth – and all of us are pretty old – that have any memory of Grandpa Ted. That makes my simple memories seem even more important.

A Fresh Snow



Finally, snow. It was a long time in coming this year, but it’s here now. Suddenly, all of the plants that I didn’t cut back, the grass I didn’t mow and the leaves I didn’t rake are politely hidden under a nice blanket of white. The dreary landscape that is characteristic of fall once the leaves have dropped from the trees is now transformed into a beautiful study in black and white. A welcome change.

Change has been on my mind an awful lot lately. The new year is just around the corner; that is always a time of fresh commitments for me. I have a brand new journal to begin 2018 with, and I’m putting some serious consideration into a new format to organize my thoughts and my days. I’m reading a good book about changing habits: Mini Habits: Smaller Habits; Bigger Results by Stephen Guise. It might just alter my annual failure at maintaining resolutions!

I tape this blog for our local radio station, where it is broadcast three times a day, five days a week. I often have kind people telling me they enjoy it, or that I made them laugh. Recently, two people – separately – told me how much they identified with me, based on my “Island Reflections.” In explanation, one said, “I never get anything done, either…always overwhelmed.” The other said, “Your complaints are the same as my complaints!” Yikes!

The last couple weeks have been busy at work, with holiday sales and a big end-of-year order, so I’ve been going in earlier than usual (meaning “on time”). That means I am more often able to hear my radio broadcast. It does seem that – even if I disregard the self-consciousness of hearing my voice on the radio, and the embarrassment of my personal thoughts going out over the airwaves to friends, neighbors and strangers listening to the radio – I have gotten in a rut.  I tend to go on and on and on about all the things I need to do…all the time. I talk too much in terms of lists of chores undone and goals unmet. I complain about being overwhelmed.

I need to change that, too. Both the complaining, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Really. Because though the grumbling is annoying…even to me…the underlying causes are detrimental to my quality of life. So what if the house is not company-ready? I almost never have company. So what if the leaves don’t get raked or the flower beds aren’t pristine? I can always count on the snow to disguise my neglect. This is my one life. So, it’s not just a matter of choosing better topics to write about, but in actually living a better life. That’s a change worth working toward!



Big Wind



I went to bed at a reasonable time last night: comfortable, drowsy and ready for sleep. The wind, gusting audibly through the trees, was at first not a problem. Like waves crashing on a beach, or birdsong, natural sounds – even when quite loud – can, in the right circumstances, be soothing.

When I didn’t fall readily asleep, though, the noise became worrisome. Were large branches going to come crashing out of my old maple trees? Would fallen trees once again take out the electricity? Then, the humming of the refrigerator joined in…and the single knock – that I’m still not used to – that indicates that my new freezer is about to go into its whiny cooling cycle…and the snoring of my big dog…and the whispery breath of my small dog…until of course I couldn’t fall asleep amidst the cacophony.

Awake, I let my mind wander to all the little worries and annoyances that wait – always – for any opening. I thought of projects waiting for my attention. I went over my Christmas gift list. I plotted out a strategy for what I wanted to accomplish today…and this week…and this month. I mulled over my finances, and revisited several ideas for supplementing my income. I worried over the general life satisfaction of each of my children…and grandchildren…and dogs.

For a while, I lay still, wondering if a stitch in my side was indicative of a major problem. Drawing from whatever medical knowledge I could muster in the middle of the night, I ruled out heart attack and stroke. I went ahead and gave myself a breast exam…since I was already laying there, and worried about my health. I did a couple leg lifts…until the little dog got annoyed…just for good measure.

Finally, I got out of bed. I folded a load of clothes, moved rugs from the washer to the dryer, and started a small load of towels. I put away the dishes I’d left to drain dry. I made a cup of Sleepy-Time tea. When that didn’t do the trick, I fried a potato. Not fried potatoes like I’d cook as a side dish; middle-of-the-night potatoes are special.

One potato, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, then sliced into “smiles,” fried in a single layer, in butter, in the cast iron pan…without turning…until they are golden brown but still “al dente.” The finished product: a not-quite-raw, hot and crisp bowl of sliced potato, slippery with butter. It’s just exactly the way we ate them as children, sneaking them from the pan before they were cooked through. I could almost imagine the swat of Mom’s hand if she caught us.

By the time I finished, I felt ready to try to go to bed again. This time, cozy and full and reminded of my childhood, the howling winds brought me to the Swiss Alps, with Heidi – which was my very first and always much-loved chapter book – and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the big wind in the trees, and thoughts of prancing goats and mountain views.


Big Moon



I have a friend – retired – who, when she knows a major astronomical event is going to happen (whether lunar eclipse, Aurora Borealis, or a simple meteor shower), will set her alarm for 2 AM. She gets up, wraps in a blanket, and goes outside to watch the phenomena from her lawn chair on the beach. That seems, to me, like the best sort of involvement in the world: to be aware, appreciative, and present for the event.

Personally, I don’t have the stamina. I could, for instance, know that it would be a good time for viewing the northern lights. I might have marked it on the calendar, and checked the forecast to see if the sky would be clear. I might even go so far as to set the alarm. When it goes off, though, at two o’clock in the morning, I will just turn it off and go back to sleep. If I am up out of bed to let the dogs out, I may venture on to the porch to have a look…if the weather is mild. If I happen – out of sheer luck – to catch a glimpse of something special, I’ll simply give it a nod of appreciation before going back inside.

It’s not that I don’t care. My daughter and I once spent four hours on Donegal Bay, waiting to view a lunar eclipse. On my fortieth birthday, on my way home after a long day, I happened to notice the sky: it was filled with ribbons of green and pink, the northern lights at their best. I went and got my sisters up, and we wandered the town, looking up at the night sky. Another time my friend Bob and I spent a couple hours lying on our backs in the sand, in the middle of the night at Iron Ore Bay, watching falling stars. I take note of the moon and stars, most anytime the opportunity arises. I’m just not very good at dragging out of bed for any of it.

Tonight, though, was the best night for viewing the super moon, and I was ready. It looks largest, they say, early in the evening when it is just rising, and closest to the horizon. It’s an optical illusion that makes it appear so big, when it is close to the earth. Because it’s Sunday, my work day was short, and I was home long before the moon was rising, even with the days so short.

I worked on clearing windfall from the yard, and took the dogs for a long walk. As we were coming back toward the house, there was the moon, visible through the trees. Just as predicted, it looked huge. I snapped a picture…then another. To my naked eye, it was an amazingly large moon; on the camera, it looked just average-size. I toggled back and forth for a bit, from the view through the camera (where the moon looked just normal) to the normal view (where the moon looked extraordinary). Then I decided, on this rarest of occasions when I am present for a special occurrence, that I would quit trying to analyze it, and simply relax and enjoy the view.