Monthly Archives: June 2019

Long Night


The hours from dusk to dawn seem interminable when I can’t fall asleep.

When I was much younger, a sleepless night was like a bonus. I simply got out of bed and filled the nighttime hours with things I was behind on, or things I didn’t otherwise have time for. Nights were filled with rearranging, sorting or deep-cleaning projects, with art-making, and with reading or writing. I’d be tired the next day, but knew that I could hammer through.

Now, when I am too wide awake to sleep, I’m also too sleepy to tackle anything productive. I’m often too tired to even get out of bed. If I do manage to get up, I don’t do much beyond sitting at the computer, watching the news and drinking tea. I know that, without a good night’s rest, I’ll be miserable the next day.

Last night, I lay wide awake in bed. There was no particular problem or worry that kept me from slumber, but sleep evaded me anyway. I filled the time with an assortment of mindful deliberation.

First, the book I am currently reading: 1588, A Calendar of Crime, by Shirley McKay. Should I put on the lamp and read for a while? Set in Scotland in the year 1588, the Plague is recent history and war with Spain looms on the horizon. Witches are persecuted; doctors practice bloodletting. The language is a bit hard to follow. I grasped right away that “kirk” means “church,” “bairn” is a baby, and “neb” is “nose.” Verbs are a bit more difficult, but, in context, I get the gist. Still, it’s not the best choice for middle-of-the-night reading.

Next, a rundown of my physical condition. My back was a little achy, but not bad. I had a stitch in my side that welcomed in all kinds of morbid midnight diagnoses. Likewise, the sore throat that has been hanging on since early spring. I stretched as much as possible while sandwiched in between two chihuahuas, and changed position. Was I too warm? Too cold? Did I have to pee?

I plotted out a few drawing workshops. I compiled to-do lists in my head for the next day, and the next week. They included housework, yard work, gardening and studio work. I thought of all the things I need to do before my sisters come to the island…before my trip in August…before cold weather comes again. I made a mental note to remember to write down the dimensions for replacement windows for the kitchen.

I experimented with several relaxation techniques, and a few mind-quieting tricks. I tried to move into a meditative state. I attempted to just embrace my sleepless state. “Just lay here,” I told myself, “eyes wide open, mind racing…just be one with it.” Ugh! Finally, I got up and made coffee.

If I’m going to “be one” with something, I’d just as soon be up, and choosing how to fill the time. So, briefly, I appreciated the extra time for writing, news-watching and coffee-drinking before I had to go to work. Then I remembered, long sleepless nights make for extremely long, exhaustion-filled days!

Smell the Coffee


There are people here on Beaver Island who travel regularly – even daily – to places where land meets the big water of Lake Michigan. They go to experience the glorious display as the sun rises in the morning, or sets in the evening. Every day unique; every day spectacular. It’s not always easy. Especially at this time of year, when our days are longest, it requires quite a commitment!

I admire those people. Like my friend, Donna, who has set an alarm in order to move from her cozy bed out, with a blanket, to her lawn chair in the middle of the night in order to see the northern lights, these folks are determined to relish every single day. They make me want to recite Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, that ends with the question “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I admire those people. Alas, I am not one of them. I see the sun hours after it has lifted over the horizon, when it finally shows itself above the treetops. In the evening, it dips behind those same trees long before its illustrious exit on the shoreline. I live in the center of the island, far from water in every direction. I’m busy. I’m tired. Gasoline is expensive. And though my excuses ring hollow even to my own ears, the fact remains that I rarely get to the shore for sunrise or sunset.

I do pay attention, though. As I walk the dogs, morning and evening, I notice the way the light filters through the trees, leaving patterns on the gravel road. I note the movement of the earth through the year in the woods on either side of my path. Snow melt gives way to spring blossoms, to yellow grasses, to ripe berries, to russet fall colors, to gray, to snow. Birdsong, the buzz of insects, and the startling rustle of a surprised partridge. The bright smell of wild leeks gives way to the heady perfume of milkweed flowers. There is something new every single day.

The other day, as I poured my first cup, I was aware of a burnt-coffee smell. It was probably caused by a stray coffee ground on the burner, but it caused me to dip my nose to the freshly prepared cup, and take a deep sniff. Aaah! There was the deep, rich scent of roasted beans, mingled with the smell of warm cream. Right there along with it came my mother, in the form of an old memory.

Mom brewed her coffee in a percolator on the stove top. it was a strong, familiar smell in our kitchen. When it was ready, she’d pour a half-cup, then add lots of milk and sugar. As a small child, I would dip my face close to the cup in order to smell my mother’s coffee, milky and syrupy sweet. She’d sometimes allow a small child to take the first sip from her full-to-the-rim cup. Until I paused to smell my own cup of coffee, that memory had escaped me.

Likewise, my snowball bush brings gifts that span time. I remember the snowball bush that grew between house and driveway in my grandparent’s yard. It’s branches tipped down to the ground all around, and we – tiny children – crawled inside. The earth was soft and powdery in that dome-shaped space. It was mostly shade, but the sun came through in some places. Overhead, ball shaped blossoms bobbled as we played.

Fifty years later, having heard me tell about my grandparent’s snowball bush, my friend Wendy bought one for me. It was an unexpected surprise, and that has added to the sweetness of having it. Now, ten years later, that is the same snowball bush that blooms right now in my front flower bed. Its bouncy white blossoms make me smile every time I pass by.

So, I advocate for the ordinary. The simple, everyday experience. We can’t all get to the shoreline to experience sunrise and sunset. We can’t all get to the mountaintop. If we pay attention, though, as we move daily through our days, we’ll see that it’s all pretty wonderful. Watch. Listen. Smell the coffee.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Mosquito Season


It’s barely eight o’clock in the morning; I’ve just poured my first cup of coffee. Already, I have killed six mosquitoes. They came in with my big dog after her morning constitutional. They bounced around the surface of the sliding glass door as I singled them out and killed them. One by one. I feel no regret.

Every day, the big dog goes on the prowl, searching out garter snakes in the flower beds around my house. She’s pretty good at finding them, and shaking the life out of them. I can’t stop her, not for the sake of the snakes nor for my poor, battered flower beds. But I do feel badly for the snakes. Sometimes, when I find one blatantly sunning himself out in the open, I move him into the surrounding field. Better to have less sunshine, and another day to live, I tell him.

A few years ago, Beaver Island – maybe all of North America – had a severe infestation of Japanese beetles. They look like ladybugs, and did little damage that I could see. Still, they moved into spaces by the millions. People told of entering houses in the spring, only to be showered with masses of the speckled, hard-shelled insects.

At my house, the beetles found a cozy home in the open spaces under my vinyl siding, and continuously migrated into the house. They found cracks around doors and windows, and daily filled every window in the house. I used the vacuum to get rid of them. I’d start at the upstairs windows, then do the windows and doors downstairs. By that time, the upstairs windows would be full again.

Through the course of that year, I filled thirteen vacuum cleaner bags! They were stacked like cord wood along the side of my compost bin, evidence of my daily killing spree. It had to be done. The idea, though, of those insects crowded together inside of those bags still makes me shudder.

Because I live in the country, mice frequently find their way into my house. I keep traps set for them, all year ’round. I use snap traps, which kill them quickly (and most humanely, because, yes, somebody has researched the most humane methods of killing mice!), and I’m fairly accustomed to disposing of their little dead bodies. Still, I often feel a twinge of sadness for the plump little rodent as I take it out to toss it away.

With mosquitoes, I have no shame. I’ll swat mosquitoes all day. I wear mosquito netting, plus a spray that contains 30% deet to keep them away from me. I put mosquito dunks in any open water, to prevent it from becoming a mosquito nursery. I do not wonder about the lives I’m snuffing out; I don’t feel remorse at the one million mosquito eggs that will, now, never have a chance. I have a kind heart. I am not good at the killing or death of almost any living thing. When it comes to mosquitoes, though, I am merciless!

Drawing Classes


When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw.

She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?”

-Howard Ikemoto

It’s true that you rarely hear a small child state that they have no ability to draw, though I often hear statements like that from adults. The fact is, drawing uses many of the same basic skills that we incorporate when we learn to drive. Those who choose not to drive do not attribute their choice to a “lack of talent.”

I boldly assert that anyone can draw. And, with practice and a desire to learn, anyone can be really good at it. Like most acquired skills, though, drawing ability can become rusty with neglect. I’ve designed summer drawing classes that address both of these scenarios. Whether you would like to develop or improve drawing skills, keep skills intact with designated practice, or simply join others to work in a group setting, this two-hour class might be just what you’re looking for.

The first hour will be spent in exercises that hone the perceptual skills basic to drawing. We’ll work on timed gesture drawing and various types of contour line drawing, as well as activities to gain familiarity with materials, loosen up, and train the eye and hand to work together. I’ll provide the simple materials needed.

The second hour will be an open drawing class. I’ll have a still-life set up to work with, but you are welcome to start or continue your own drawing project if you prefer. I’ll be drawing right along with you, but will be happy to offer advice or instruction as needed. Handouts offering “homework” suggestions, inspiration and a review of the day’s exercises will be available at the end of each class.

For the second hour, you should have your own sketchbook (11″ x 14″ is a good size) and drawing materials. A hard-back sketchbook or sturdy support board will allow more freedom of movement. We may want to work outdoors on some nice days! Sketchbooks and drawing materials are available to purchase on site.

Oh, yes, about me! Though many of you may know me as a friendly face at the local hardware store, or as a waitress at several of the island restaurants over the years, I’m actually quite qualified to teach this class. I have a Master of Fine Arts Degree from Michigan State University. I taught drawing classes to all ages through community education, and on campus as a graduate student. I am a working artist concentrating on painting, printmaking and collage. I have a strong background in drawing.

Classes will be held each Tuesday, from 2~4 PM, at the Beaver Island Studio and Gallery, across from the library on Donegal Bay Road. Each class stands on its own, so if you cannot commit to several weeks in a row (or even more than just one or two classes), you will still benefit. The cost is $15.00 for each two-hour class, or $10.00 if you choose to just participate in the open drawing session. Pre-registration is necessary, and can be done by contacting Lois at the gallery, or though her website at

I’m looking forward to a summer of creative pursuit!

I Talk to Dogs; Dogs Talk to Me


I talk to dogs. I’m not ashamed; it doesn’t embarrass me. I find them to be pretty good listeners. I often ramble on about a project I’m working on. The chatter helps me sort through the process. The dogs may not understand, and they probably don’t care, but they listen intently. Sometimes they offer a slight nod in response.

The other day, on one of our walks, I redirected the dogs off the Fox Lake Road and onto Cotter’s Trail, which is a mostly unused private drive:

“We’re going this way today, guys. I know, I know, it’s muddy. But I’m nervous about cars on the road at this time of day. Blackie Chan goes too fast and Rosa Parks goes too slow. I can’t catch all the little dogs if a car comes! Besides, just look at the way I’m dressed; you would all be so embarrassed if somebody came along!”

Actually, that wasn’t completely true. I not only talk to dogs, I lie to them! My dogs do not embarrass easily, and my appearance never bothers them. The way I was dressed (pajama bottoms and a Tshirt, bulky socks, slippers and a straw hat, all covered with a massive hooded shirt made of mosquito netting complete with face-mask) would have definitely been an embarrassment to me, though. Still, the part about catching dogs was factual. Darla is the only one of the three dogs that walks at about my speed, and she stubbornly refuses to yield the road to other traffic!

Mostly, when talking to my dogs, I offer simple observations and lavish compliments. “You’re so fast,” I note, when one breaks into a run. “So smart,” I offer, at any sign of intelligence. “Good girl, number two outside,” I say to Rosa Parks as encouragement, as she occasionally forgets the “outside” component. I give the same praise to Darla and Blackie Chan, though neither needs the reminder. Their look says, “Could I just have some privacy, please?”

Once, I woke in the night with the feeling that I was being watched. I opened my eyes to find Darla staring at me. Telepathically, she told me, “Get up! Rosa Parks is in trouble!” In the same instant, I realized that what, in my dream, was waves crashing against a rocky shore, was actually my little dog’s labored breathing. Rosa Parks gets severe headaches, and she was definitely in distress. Though we haven’t yet figured out cause or cure, there are things I can do to help. Luckily, Darla knew that.

It is mostly through their expressions, combined with my imagination, that my dogs talk to me. Darla was adopted, then returned to the shelter several times in her first six years. Though I reassure her that this is her home forever, she always begins a car ride with a look that wonders, “Is this it? What did I do wrong?” And when we reach our destination (which at worst is the veterinarian’s office; at best, Fox Lake for a swim), her wide smile shouts, “Hooray!”

After three times asking to go outside, then just sniffing the air and accepting a treat, Rosa’s small smile clearly says, “Sucker!” When I first presented Blackie Chan with his new “slow-feeder” dish, the look on his face asked, “What manner of fresh hell is this??” When Rosa Parks joins Blackie Chan in the seat beside me, his long, low growl clearly says, “I hate that she loves that other dog as much as me!”

When I take a handful of kibble for a round of “Sit, Stay, Gimme Paw,” I tell the dogs what they’re already thinking. “You guys should be on the stage,” I say to three dogs sitting at attention as I dole out treats. “You ought to be in the circus,” I tell them as I shake one paw after another. When Rosa Parks actually manages to stay when told to stay, I look proudly at my fat little chihuahua with one cloudy eye and a crooked grin on her face. “Oh, Rosa Parks,” I tell her, “You could be in the Westminster Dog Show!” Rosa Parks beams in response.

Mornings Like This


I worked hard at my job yesterday, then came home and started the lawnmower. It was high time to start mowing. We’ve had a rainy spring. I was unable to mow before I left; when I got back from my trip to the mainland, the grass had grown to obscene heights.

We are in the thick of mosquito season here on Beaver Island. An unkempt lawn just acts as encouragement for them to hang around. Also, the vegetable garden is taking shape, the spring perennials are blooming, and the cherry trees are blossoming wildly. It’s hard for me to appreciate any of that when surrounded by an overgrown lawn.

I’ve been home since Tuesday afternoon, and mowing has been on my priority list. Wednesday, though, was for spending time with the dogs, unpacking, and laundry. I had dinner with my cousin, then called it a night. Thursday after work and walks with the dogs, I pulled the mower out of the shed, but didn’t start it. Too tired. Friday, the same. Yesterday, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Immediately on getting home, I put my lunch bag, purse and mail inside, donned my straw hat and mosquito net, and headed out.

The first step is to pace the yard, gather up the toys my big dog leaves outside, and remove any windfall. I checked the oil, put in fresh gas, and – without too many failed tries – started the mower. It’s a small push mower, not self-propelled, so the “push” really means it.

“Grass” is a term I use loosely. My lawn is actually a mowed field. When it goes without being mowed, it’s true nature comes out. There are huge swaths of quack grass that grow taller than everything else, in clumps that threaten to choke the mower at every pass. There are wide areas of field grass that bend rather than break. It takes three or four passes to get them down. Blackberry brambles, milkweed and other tough characters are plentiful enough to present a challenge.

An hour of mowing brought me to six-thirty, and exhaustion. Less than I hoped to get done, but enough for one day. A quick walk with the dogs, then dinnertime. By the time I fed the dogs, prepared my own simple meal, ate, cleaned up from dinner, and showered, it was ten o’clock and I was ready for sleep. With one job barely started and a half-dozen others that I hadn’t even addressed. Ugh!

This morning, I woke up early, without the alarm. I made a cup of herbal tea. That gives me the option of laying back down. If I brew coffee, I’m committed to being up for the whole day. As the sun is just barely brightening the landscape, the discouragement I felt at the end of yesterday is gone. I feel rested, and energized, and ready to give it another go. I love mornings like this!



I’ve been away. Not to far-off lands for big adventures. Not to new and unfamiliar places. This trip was much closer to the heart. I left my home…to go home.

Home, to the little town where I grew up. I spent the first twenty-five years of my life there, and several scattered years after that. Two-lane highways now boast four lanes or more; traffic lights have replaced stop signs. Shopping courts, restaurants and housing complexes have sprung up where farmer’s fields used to be. In spite of all that, I can get from one place to another there, even if I make a wrong turn along the way. The town has changed, but it still feels familiar.

Home, to see my youngest daughter and her family. Her four children are all grown-up now. The youngest boy is seventeen, and my granddaughter just graduated from high school. That was the reason for the trip. Though distance has prevented me from being the hands-on, involved and attentive grandparent that I imagined I would be, I still love them all dearly. Wherever they are, a piece of my heart is with them.

The graduation party gave me the chance to catch up with each of my grandchildren, and to see old friends, other family members, and friends that used to be family. My ex-husband was there, of course; so was his mother, his sister, and her children. I met my husband when I was sixteen and married him when I was only eighteen. It seems like I grew up with those people. Though I’ve been divorced now over thirty years, in many ways they still feel like family.

Home, to the place where I can gather with the people I was raised with. I had several good opportunities to visit with my sisters over the last several days. We played games; we shared meals and wine and good conversations. I love spending time with them! And, though I said I would not go out of my way to see my brother (since he didn’t go out of his way to see me), I stopped anyway, before heading back up north, for a quick chat and a hug. My brother lives in the house we grew up in, so a visit there is always heavy with memories, too.

So, from Saturday to Tuesday, I was “home.” Now, after a day of travel, I’m back in my own little house on Beaver Island. Home, again.