Monthly Archives: May 2018

Quick, Write Something!

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Some days, I have all the time I want to figure out what I want to write about, and how I want to say it. This week, numerous events from frustrating to joyous have conspired to take my time and my ability to post a blog.

Today, on Wednesday, with my sweet daughter and her husband asleep upstairs, if I forego yoga and “morning pages,” and if I can keep the dogs from waking my guests (“SHHH…no barking!” are the whispered words of the day!), I may have time to get a few words down. No time to think about it; no planning. This is “just write something” mode.

The internet has been sketchy for the last several days, here on the west side of Beaver Island. There has been lots of discussion about it. It could be a problem with our band width, and the large influx of visitors to the island for the long Memorial Day weekend. It could be a problem with the telephone service or phone lines. I have determined that it is not a problem with my own computer or wireless modem. Still, Each time I’ve turned on the computer, I have been frustrated with the internet connection going out. With this computer, and the programs that I use, I can’t do much of anything without that connection.

Monday, my daughter, Kate called. “What’s your schedule like?” she asked. I told her, and asked why. “Jeremy and I were thinking about driving up to bring you your composter.” We had discussed the composter, and I’d warned them they’d better let me know when they were bringing it to Charlevoix, so that I could at least fly over to have lunch with them, and give them hugs. Kate surprised me by saying that no, they would bring it all the way across to Beaver Island, if that was okay with me.

Okay? I was thrilled! A surprise visit from some of my favorite people! I was ecstatic! However, If I was going to have time to visit, I had to adjust my work schedule. And if this house was going to accommodate company, there was work to be done!

First, I contacted a co-worker, to see if she could work for me Wednesday. We tossed around a couple ideas, and determined that she could at least work the morning. Then, I tackled the house.

A general spiffing up was fine for the downstairs, but the upstairs bedroom was a different story. Sheets had to be washed and dried, and the bed made up. The stacks of clothes being sorted for summer storage, donation or disposal, that covered the bed and the dresser, had to be dealt with right away. The books, in stacks on the trunk and on the floor ever since I moved them out of the bookcase on the landing to make space for my art books, had to be placed on the bookshelves in the corner of the bedroom. That involved more thought and rearranging of CDs, photos and knick-knacks than I care to elaborate on. It’s always a shock to see the clutter and disarray that I live with, when I imagine seeing it through the eyes of visitors!

Of course, once they arrived on the morning ferry boat, there was no time to write. We had much to catch up on, things to do, and people to see. Having quality time to spend with my daughters is such a rarity, I wouldn’t consider taking any time away from a good visit! And it has been a wonderful visit!

So…Tuesday’s blog comes out on Wednesday, written in a rush, and I don’t care!

 

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The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #22

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List the things you prioritize before doing what really makes you happy:

I imagine a life of rising to coffee, then yoga, then writing, that would then give way to a long walk with my dogs and a spin around the yard and garden before going to the studio. There, I would have time to fully develop concepts, try out guesses and whims and ideas that come to me in dreams, read, explore and grow. Another run through the garden, to gather vegetables for an evening meal, then a shower to signal the end of my work day. Dinner, then, mindfully prepared and enjoyed. Cleaning time next, then the rest of the evening for relaxing activity. I think a life like that would make me happy. But…

  • I prioritize things I have to do. Because my life falls apart if I don’t. Things like laundry, and dishes, and sweeping the floor. My life is so much better – and happier – when these things are done, I even incorporated “cleaning time” in my imagined ideal life. Then there are the seasonal “have-to”s. Like planting the garden or mowing the lawn. When it’s time, other things have to be put aside to make time.
  • I prioritize things I ought to do. I go to funerals. I make an appearance at benefits, showers and retirement parties. I attend the annual meetings of the Beaver Island Boat Company. I am a sitting member of the Amik Circle Society, and serve as secretary at their meetings. I occasionally attend township meetings. I vote. These are obligations. Still, there is satisfaction in fulfilling them.
  • I prioritize the things I need to do. I need to have a job with a paycheck I can count on. Though art sales and art classes have supplemented my income for the past thirty-five years, and I have imagined a hundred different scenarios (and tried out more than a couple) where art-related activities could support me, realistically, I need a job. I will probably have to hold a job for the rest of my life. I call it the “work until death” track. For more than twenty years, I worked as the morning waitress at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant; I have been working at Powers Hardware for the last sixteen. Though I work because I need to work, I am fortunate that it makes me happy, too. I saved a few lines – I can’t remember the author, but have that written down somewhere, too – that would be perfect for my eulogy: “I slept, and dreamt that life was joy. I woke, and found that life was service. I acted, and found that service was joy.”
  • I prioritize joyous things that come along. Sometimes, it’s a grandchild or two, coming for a visit. Sometimes, it’s a day when I’m simply too exhausted after work to walk the dogs, so I load them into the car – along with a camera, a beer and a book – and we go to Fox Lake. We have the place all to ourselves, the dogs are happy and the water is beautiful, so I stay, ignoring all the things I should be doing. Most recently, it was last week, when two of my sisters and one cousin arrived, to open the farmhouse for the season. I didn’t get into the studio, even for a minute. I didn’t get my lawn mowed. I didn’t get my windows washed. I didn’t continue any of my organizing or deep cleaning. The trade-off was an entire week of family time: dinners around Aunt Katie’s farmhouse table with people that I love; good conversations; evenings of euchre, Bingo and Scrabble; laughter; good hugs; wonderful companionship. Worth every bit of time I could give!

Though my imagined “happy life” is a far cry from my life as it is, I am happy, and my priorities contribute to my contentedness. So!

What’s Happening

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After a lot of wavering on the issue, it seems spring has finally arrived here on Beaver Island. Though frost was threatened for last night, I don’t think the temperature dipped that low. Even if it had – a frost in May is not unheard of here – I stand by my assertion: spring is here. The proof is everywhere.

Our Beaver Island ferry boats are making daily trips, now, back and forth to Charlevoix. It has been a month since they’ve needed the assistance of the Coast Guard’s ice breaker. The shops and stores in town have restocked their shelves. There are cars – more than winter’s one or two – parked along the street; there are people – more than one or two – going in and out of the businesses.

Lately, I’ve encountered other vehicles on the roads, on my way to and from town. Sometimes, there’s a car ahead of me, kicking up a cloud of dust. Now and then, I’ve had to wait for a couple vehicles before pulling out onto the King’s Highway. In the winter, I am usually alone on the road for my seven-mile trek into town. Now, we have traffic!

In the woods, every view offers a hundred shades of green and yellow. Some trees are in bud; others are in various stages of unfurling their leaves. The forest floor is blanketed with wildflowers, mosses, grasses, piney ground-covers and wild leeks. I’m sure there are edible mushrooms there, too, though they escape my vision.

In my yard, the forsythia and service berry bushes are in full flower. Lilacs, hummingbird vine and snowball bush are just showing buds. The rhododendron by the back door is covered with magenta-colored blooms. I’ve been daily breaking off the drooping blooms of daffodils while welcoming other varieties as they open. Tulips are still blooming.

The peonies are pushing up their red leaves; poppies are showing their fuzzy, fern-like foliage. Day lilies and iris are displaying their sharp green leaves, to make their presence known, and remind me of what’s yet to come. The lawn, after a recent rain, is suddenly desperately in need of mowing. In the garden, one pea plant has just barely pushed a leaf out of the ground and, if I were to bring a magnifying glass, I think I could honestly report that the spinach is up.

After two weeks of spring-like weather without bugs to contend with, now the mosquitoes have hatched. I noticed them yesterday morning, while working out in the yard, but they were not a distraction. By the time I walked the dogs in the evening, they were impossible to ignore. I pin-wheeled my arms all the way down the road. This morning, every time the big dog comes in, she brings a swarm of them with her, all hungry for blood. This is the down-side of spring, here in the woods off the Fox Lake Road.

As one final testament that spring has arrived, I have family here! Yesterday, my cousin Keith and my sisters, Cheryl and Brenda, came to open up the family farmhouse for the season. They dug right in to projects, clearing and sweeping and freshening. I pitched in a little, while relishing their company. Last night it was red wine, pretzels and euchre around Aunt Katie’s kitchen table. The season is upon us!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 21

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List the best opportunities that others have given you throughout your life:

  • When I was in the first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Daly, walked me down the hall to the fourth grade room. There, I was made to stand in the front of the classroom, filled with all of those big kids, and read to them. The fourth grade teacher, a Dominican nun, introduced me. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something like, “This is what a good reader sounds like. This is what you should be aiming for. Pay attention!” I was a shy child, and it was a terrifying experience. Still, I was given, that day, an identity that I would treasure:  “I am a reader.” Not only that, “I am a very good reader.” That self-knowledge, instilled in me at six-years-old, has been a strong foundation through my whole life.
  • My parents gave each of their children the opportunity to become an integral part of the family. We were not “accessories” or “bonuses,” but absolutely necessary to the smooth running of the whole operation. From basic housekeeping, helping with the babies, taking care of the lawn, planting and harvesting, to caring for the livestock, there was work for everyone. It wasn’t always fair (there is a story I tell about walking through the living room with a giant pile of clothes to be put away. My brother, lounging on the couch watching The Three Stooges, threw out a leg to try to trip me. When I yelled, he said, “Oh, come on, Cindy…make me a grilled cheese sandwich.” All of which was perfectly acceptable behavior in our house…for a boy), and it didn’t always work as well as it should have. We had arguments constantly about who was working harder, or who’s turn it was to dry dishes. There were charts and lists and allowances to try to smooth out the rough edges. It seemed like some kids managed to avoid all the worst jobs anyway.  But it was still a good opportunity. Though I was a lazy child, and one of the biggest “shirkers,” by the time I left home, I knew these things: I could take care of mountains of laundry from start to finish; I was great at folding clothes; the babies loved me, and I could get them to settle down and go to sleep when no one else could; I was a master at picking peas and beans; I was good at cleaning out and organizing drawers; I could  plan meals, shop for groceries and put a dinner together, plus dessert. Beyond that, there were many jobs I hated, but still knew how to do. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the chance to be a part of a large working family was one of the best opportunities I’ve had!
  • When I was thirteen, I was given a full-time babysitting job for the Leschuk family that lived across the road from us. I worked five days a week, from 7:45 AM until 5:30 PM, taking care of two young school-age children. I fed them breakfast and lunch, entertained them with books and games, and kept them safe. I was expected to do a little light housekeeping, too. The job paid fifteen dollars a week, which seems, today, like a shockingly small amount, but was a good wage for a thirteen-year-old in 1966. I raided their cupboards and refrigerator for tasty treats and unusual foods never found at home. I scoured their bookshelves for literature that wouldn’t make it through the censors in the Catholic bulletin. Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls were each bonuses of that summer job. I bought all of my own school clothes that year, and gained pride in my own self-sufficiency.

There have been a thousand other opportunities in my long life that I am thankful for, and far too many people to credit for them in this one list. They range from the good fortune of having my own family to the ability to go to college (thanks to my sister, Brenda, for encouraging me, and the Pell Grant and various student loans for helping to finance it!) to the chance to work as a waitress though I had no experience and was known as a klutz (thank you, Barb Beckers!) Most of the benefits, though, are variations on the knowledge and experience I gained from just these three first, early opportunities.

 

 

 

 

On Into Spring

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Two days ago, with my Dad in mind, I planted peas on Mother’s Day, just as he had always done. Usually, my Mother’s Day garden is not even close to being ready for seeds. Last year, though, following the precepts laid out in Ruth Stout’s No-Work Garden Book, I covered my garden with a heavy layer of straw. Then, through the season, I neither fertilized nor weeded. Rarely, I gave the tomatoes and squashes some water.

Though I was late in getting the garden planted last year (because it took a month of hard work to turn over the sod, lay out the beds, transplant the berries and asparagus, fence in the space and  move the straw), I was satisfied with how it produced. My biggest worry this spring was that the garden soil was perhaps too well insulated from the sun.  I thought I might have to move all the straw away, to let the ground thaw out. That would be a daunting job, with my rickety old wheel barrow. That turned out to not be the case.

Sunday, with a stubborn pile of snow still covering the grass in one shady corner of the front yard, I ventured into the back yard garden to check out the situation. I pulled the straw away from the bed nearest the front of the fence, and gently worked up the soil with the rake. Earthworms greeted me right below the surface.

Heartened by that, I pounded stakes in at either end of the bed, ran a piece of blue yarn from one end to the other, dug a little furrow, and put in one long row of peas. I left room to add another row next Sunday, and another the Sunday after that, to extend the pea-picking season a little. Then, I pulled the straw away from one more garden bed.

Yesterday, that was the spot I worked in. I loosened the soil, staked out several narrow rows, and planted two types of spinach, leaf lettuce, corn salad and arugula. I hooked up the hose and watered everything in. Then, I moved the straw from one more bed, to let the sun reach it. My plan for today is to plant radishes and kale there. So far, I’m loving Ruth Stout’s method!

After working at the hardware store and then planting peas, my Mother’s Day treat was to take the dogs to Fox Lake. I brought one novel, my sketchbook, camera, and one bottle of beer. We had barely gotten settled when someone else pulled in…with dogs. Darla was willing to make friends, but Rosa Parks clearly was not. Even from the safety of my arms, she refused to quit barking, which was putting a damper on the experience for all involved. We moved on.

Because I didn’t want our outing to be cut short, I stopped the car at Hannigan Road, a mile short of our home. There, the dogs and I had fresh areas to explore, to see what spring was offering. It seems like an area that would be good for morel mushrooms, and I’ve been told that others have found them there. I don’t have a good eye for morel hunting. I once found a huge cache of the brain-like false morels, that are called “beefsteaks” here. Though there are a few old-timers that still eat them, the word is that they are not edible. What a disappointment!

As expected, I didn’t see any mushrooms. There were plenty of wild ramps in the woods, though, and the early woodland flowers are coming out, too. The Trout Lilies, named for their speckled leaves, are showing off their yellow flowers now, and I saw the tiny Spring Beauties, whose color is determined by the soil, in shades of white, pink and blue. The Dutchman’s Breeches had not yet opened to reveal the yellow pantaloon-like flowers they are named for, but their lacy foliage was a treat, nonetheless.

Today, the last of the snow has finally disappeared. Though it was a long time in coming, spring is here!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #20

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List the Happiest People you know:

  • My friend, Mary. She owns a “Toy Museum,” for heaven’s sake! A narrow, winding path through wildflowers leads to the door. Above the door, old wooden children’s blocks spell out, “A little nonsense  works.” Inside, she displays antique and collectible toys, cards and campaign buttons amidst her “for sale” items that include her own creations along with toys and novelties. “Her own creations” consist of art (watercolor paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, and on and on; there is nothing she won’t try and everything she tries turns into something magical), photographs, jewelry, note cards, perfumes and crocheted bags. Other items are stored in old-fashioned drawers and bins, and priced so that you could give a child a quarter, and they’d have dozens of things to choose from. It’s easy to spend hours there, investigating all the nooks and crannies of wonderful treasures. Mary is generally humming a tune from her spot behind the counter. Out the back door, a little playhouse waits to entertain visiting children. Paths, lined with Mary’s ceramic sculptures and old shoes and dishes filled with the succulent “hens and chicks” plants, lead to a small gallery in one direction, and up the slope to her home in the other. The path to Mary’s house is a tunnel of vines and hanging flowers. The house, that she converted from an old horse barn, includes wonders like an indoor koi pond and a tiny studio at the top-most level. Mary has not had an easier life than anyone else, but she has found the magic and joy in every day.
  • My sister, Brenda, who insists on seeing the good in every single thing. Brenda always looks on “the bright side.” Which is, no doubt, a wonderful way to be. It is a great contrast to my “dark side” tendencies. Sometimes, though, when I just want to wallow in self-pity or grief, and choose Brenda to commiserate with, I have to admit, I have been aggravated by her cheery attitude. When I am wasting too much time on self-pity and need a good pep talk, Brenda is the one I call. When I’m afraid of a challenge and want to hear words of encouragement, I always know Brenda has them. I have to be selective, though. I once phoned her, heart-broken and sobbing over a break-up. “Aren’t you glad that happened?”, she asked, “Better now than after you invested any more time…” “I’ve gotta go,” I whimpered, thinking, “I’ve gotta call someone without such a good attitude!”
  • My old neighbor, Tom. Though he lived next door to me for more than ten years, I don’t really know Tom very well. What I do know is that he greets everyone with a smile, and often a hug, too, just for good measure. I know he greets every setback, no matter how great (a fire that destroyed his home, a fall, when scaffolding failed, that could have crippled him), with grace and good humor.
  • My new neighbor, Erin. Though she has lived next door to me for several months now, I don’t really know Erin that well. What I see, though, is an optimistic, enthusiastic young person who takes great joy in her family, her new home, and her life on Beaver Island, and who always greets me with a cheery smile.

May Miscellany

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On this eighth day in May, out here on the Fox Lake Road, one big pile of snow remains in my yard. It is on the west side of the garden shed, so it misses the bright morning sun. A little more protection is contributed by the wild chokecherry tree on one side, and the field on the other. Unless we get a big rainstorm, I think it may last until June!

Not twenty feet away from the unseasonable snow mound, the forsythia is in bloom. Just across the side yard, at least four different types of narcissus are showing off their brightest yellows and oranges. Hyacinths perfume the air just outside the kitchen door. Snowdrops, which started flowering a month ago, right through the snow, are still putting forth their pale blue blossoms.

Last evening, I opened windows to let in some fresh air, along with the sounds and smells of spring. The air turned cool in the night, but I was toasty warm under the covers. This morning, I woke up when I heard the furnace come on. That drove me out of bed in a rush to close windows; I have no intention of trying to heat the outside!

The sun has come up bright and strong. The big dog is napping on the back porch, in a pool of sunshine. I stripped the bed first thing, with the intention of washing the sheets and hanging them outside on the clothesline to dry. Though it’s my day off, I have no other household projects planned for the day. There is plenty to do outside.

Through the last week, with so much yard work to catch up on, I’ve kept to a specific after-work ritual. I greet the dogs, and invite them outside. I stow my bags inside the door. I pick up my bucket and hand cultivator, then drop to my knees. Anywhere in the yard, as it all needs attention.

It is slow progress, but steady. One day it was the peony bed, another the long day lily bed. I spent several days weaving my fingers in between daffodils to pull out the grasses that have already moved in, and the fallen leaves that provided passage for them. At least one hour on my knees, every day, before I think about walking the dogs, making dinner, and all of the other things that fill an evening.

Today, with more time to at my disposal, I could tackle a bigger job. The lawn mower could be cleaned, oiled and put to good use in my yard, which never did get that last fall mowing before the snow came. Clearing the yard of leaves and windfall is another all-day job. I could plant peas and lettuce in the garden; they can stand the cool weather. Blackberry brambles need to be cut back from the side yard where I keep the compost bin. They moved in, and their sharp thorns have made emptying my bowl of kitchen scraps a hazardous affair. The garden shed still needs a coat of paint.

As I plot out all the things that need to be done, I waver. On the one hand, there is no time to waste: before I know it, the time for planting the garden will be past. It will only take one good rain to bring out the mosquitoes, and any work in my yard will be impossible without full armor of chemicals and netting. Soon, the summer season will be full upon us, and my energy will be sapped by the busy-ness of my work days. The time is now.

And yet…this is May. The forsythia is in bloom. The yard smells heavenly. This is the perfect time of year – before the bugs come out – to wander the woods with the dogs. There, the Dutchman’s Breeches, Spring Beauties and Trout Lilies are blooming. The wild ramps scent the air with the smell of onion, and will soon be ready to harvest. In moist areas, there is hope of finding morel mushrooms. If I’m going to take time to enjoy this season, the time is now.

So, what to do? For now, I think I’ll pour another cup of coffee and think about it.