Monthly Archives: January 2020

It’s Okay to Rest

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On work days, I have to stay on track. Out of bed by 6AM, start the coffee brewing, turn on the heater in the bathroom, and drink one large glass of water with two doctor-prescribed pills while checking the morning news.

With coffee in hand, I sit down to write in my journal. I always start with gratitude these days, and sometimes that’s as far as I get. On good days, I continue on with “Morning Pages,” which is simply stream-of-consciousness, no filter writing. Then, I move on to my bullet journal to plot out my “necessaries” for the day ahead.

I take my second glass of water and third cup of coffee upstairs to the exercise room. There, I listen to a short meditation tape, then do a daily yoga warm-up sequence. On odd-numbered days, I do strength training; on even-numbered days, I do a longer yoga routine, Pilates, or any other exercise I choose. Next I shower, and get ready for work. Dressed, the dogs and I head out for our morning walk.

In the warm weather, when I walk farther and faster, and often throw in a few sprints as well, I walk the dogs before I shower. In the winter, on slippery roads and paths deep with snow, our pace is slower. We walk a mile, sometimes farther, but I don’t work up a sweat.

Home, I grind up the various dog-medicines, and distribute them into their dishes. I add one tablespoon of canned food to each, and mix it up. Until this moment, the dogs all thought they’d hate to see me leave; now they wag their tails in anticipation. I pack my lunch bag with a thermos of coffee, and soup or leftovers already packaged up for that purpose. I blend my morning smoothie of greens, fiber, fat and protein, and pour it into a lidded glass.

I rinse the blender, and put the dishes down for the dogs, admonishing each of them to “Take good care of things.” I gather up my purse, lunch bag and smoothie, and leave the house. If all has gone well, I make it out the door by 9:30.

My days off are different. I don’t set the alarm, and wake up when sunlight through the window, or a dog needing to go outside, alerts me to the day. On work days, I choose my coffee cup from a selection of sturdy or chipped mugs that can withstand being knocked around in the car and the hardware store. On my day off, I use a small, delicate cup with an image of blackberries that makes me think of summer.

On days off, though I still try to fit in all of my daily habits plus a dozen other plans for personal growth, home and studio, I’m much more lax about my timetable. Today, for instance: at noon, I made oatmeal for my breakfast. I have not yet gotten in a walk or even climbed stairs to the exercise room. I checked the news, at length, then watched a Ted talk, listened to a podcast, read a couple blogs that I subscribe to, talked on the phone with a friend, and now am writing this. I have almost finished a pot of coffee, and have hardly moved from this chair. And, I don’t feel guilty! It’s okay to rest!

What About L.Y.?

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Our community lost another friend last week, with the passing of Jack Gallagher. This has been a rough winter so far, here on Beaver Island.

First Tom, who died right after Christmas of a rare disease that took him quickly and left us all shaking our heads. He was so young! Only fifty-six years old, with a memorable laugh and a ready smile, Tom did cement and masonry work, and always seemed the picture of good health.

Next Skip, who was the matriarch of a large island family and a good friend to all. Then Jean, an active and respected business woman. Both of these ladies, though in their eighties, were so full of energy one would think they would keep going for years to come. Now, Jack: the third octogenarian we have lost this year.

This I know: no matter that every single person will meet their end, no matter the age, the level of health or all the warnings, death always takes us by surprise. It always seems too soon, and that we’re not quite prepared for it. Sometimes the dying are more prepared than those of us left behind.

After work on Friday, I walked down to our Community Center, where family and friends were gathering to honor Jack’s life. We talked about his diligence and devotion, his head often bent over account books. There were several examples of his wry sense of humor, his kindness, and his devotion to family and community. There were tears, but also laughter. There was agreement that he’d lived a good life. And that he was ready to go.

The “good death” seems to come up in conversation quite a bit anymore. Maybe it was always so, and I just hadn’t paid attention. Having lost three community members all in their eighties in just a couple weeks, I mentioned a quote I’d seen recently: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” We commiserated a little about all the oral history that is lost, with a death.

That was on my mind after I got home, as I was walking the dogs in the near dark. When Aunt Katie, who had always been willing to answer questions and elaborate on her history, died, it seemed like there were a million questions I wished I had asked, and another million things I should have written down. If I could talk to her again, I’d pay better attention, and I’d have pen and paper ready!

If I could have another conversation with my Dad, I’d beg him to repeat all the stories he tried to tell us when we were young, as he drove us around the island. Then, we rolled our eyes and let his words flow on without notice. I’d do better now. If I had another opportunity, I’d encourage him with the names I can remember, and the portions of the tales that I can recall.

There was one about a wake. Somebody, I think it was Patsy Doney, was taking his turn sitting with the body, while others were congregating in the other rooms. There was plenty of drinking going on. Somebody had the idea to pull a joke on Patsy (or whoever it was), and somehow made the corpse move, causing Patsy (or whoever) to jump (or nearly jump) out of the second story window. By this point in the story, my Dad would be laughing so hard, he could barely get the words out. Not knowing any of the characters, none of us children cared. I’d love a another chance to hear that one, and many others!

I’m sure there is wisdom and history my mother could impart, as well. If I were given a chance to talk to her, though, I’m afraid I’d waste the visit on getting the facts about L.Y. I’ve been puzzling over that for years, and it drives me crazy that I never thought about it when Mom was around to ask!

Gladys and L.Y. Crandall were friends of my mother, but mostly friends of her mother. They lived on the lake where I grew up, and were around quite a bit while my grandmother was alive. What kind of name is L.Y., for heaven’s sake? I always thought it was Elwye, and maybe it was. I never thought about it much, or questioned it at all, until after Mom was gone, and tthere was no one to ask. Now, I think about it a lot.

If the name is Elwye, how is it spelled, and what kind of name is that? If it is initials, more likely, I have concluded, what on earth does L.Y. stand for? The L could be anything: Lloyd, Laurence, Lancelot…but what about the Y? There are few choices, and none seem very likely: Yasir, Yoel, Yanni, Yuri, Yale. With a surname like Crandall, I wouldn’t expect such exotic-sounding choices. Whatever the answer, I know there’s a story there. I just wish Mom were around to tell it!

Timeout for Art: Making Room

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Blackie Chan and Rosa Parks.
This image has nothing to do with the essay, but aren’t these dogs CUTE?!?

As I struggle to advance in the excavation-in-progress that is my studio, I encourage myself with plans for the future. There are new directions I want to explore, and old, familiar areas I want to spend time with. So, I continue the long, slow process of clearing and cleaning. It truly is an “excavation,” with layers that spark memories and reveal history.

Yesterday, I cleared shelves for a fresh and more current arrangement of supplies. Behind the watercolors, pencils and paints that I’d crowded in where they’d fit, were remnants of the sweet arrangement my granddaughter had made several years ago. Crayons, colored pencils, markers and stacks of paper strips were set up for her bookmark-making production, along with several samples. I scooped it all into an old suitcase I keep filled with art-making supplies for children. Had I allowed time for reminiscing, I’d still be standing there.

Tucked under the printing press, there was a large box filled with kitchen paraphernalia: holiday napkins, coffee filters suitable for a coffee pot I no longer own, wine corks saved for a long-forgotten project, staples, flashlight, batteries….That box was filled, I’m sure, several years ago when I cleared out a large, many-drawered apothecary cabinet that I was giving away because it took up too much space in my kitchen. The contents were loaded into that box and tucked out of the way. Until, I’m sure I told myself, I had time to go through them.

Yesterday, if I was going to continue my forward momentum, was not that time. I shifted the contents, other than a few ragged items that I was content to throw away, from the cardboard box into a sturdy lidded tote. I tucked it into an unused corner under the stairs, beside canning jars and other sorely neglected and nearly forgotten items. To further delay dealing with it, I know.

Another layer of history are the papers, drawing materials and reference books, gathered together thoughtfully each week for last summer’s drawing classes, then left in piles on any horizontal surface when the class was done. There are cans of house paint stacked behind the door, waiting for the project it was purchased for, or leftover from a completed job. Then there are the abandoned artworks, the works-in-progress and the works waiting to be framed.

Cleaning the studio is a tremendous, tedious and often overwhelming job. But I’m getting it done. Yesterday, with a marathon of old Barbra Streisand movies to keep me company, and ideas for future work to keep me inspired, there was good progress.

I Am This Old

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Many years ago, when I was in my mid-thirties, I was with a man who had a habit of announcing his age. Vehemently. With conviction. As if it meant a great deal to the conversation at hand.

“I am a forty-two year old man,” he would say, as if it gave credence to his opinion, or discredited mine. “I am forty-two years old,” he’d grumble in answer to a request. “I am forty-two years old,” he would declare in a loud voice, as if it could render void any argument or complaint presented to him.

I didn’t see the logic. He was older than me, but only by six or seven years. He was healthy and fit. I saw no reason for his age to be a part of any discussion, unless the discussion was about his birthday, or his age. I tried a couple times to respond with, “…and what does that have to do with anything?” It didn’t go over well, though. My fallback strategy was to give him a blank look, and wait for more information. Sometimes forthcoming, sometimes not.

My daughters noticed the behavior, of course. They’d find ways to try out the tactic for humorous effect. In a discussion about what program we were going to watch on television, one might state, with a grin, “I am sixteen years old!” If I called after work to let them know I’d be home soon, I might hear, “Hey, I’m fourteen years old.” Sometimes we’d catch each other’s attention and share a slight smirk or eye-roll at the poor man’s expense.

For quite a long time when I was a young adult, it seemed like every chat was remedial, with folks feeling like I needed to be told how things were, or how they should be. Perhaps it was because I was young, or small, or female, or so obviously lacking in life experience. Then, for a blessed long time, age, knowledge and experience gave me a certain credibility. Now, with advancing years, I seem to once again be relegated to the kindergarten class.

In defiance, I find myself reaching back into my memory, and starting conversations with that same idiosyncrasy that I mocked so many years ago. I don’t say it out loud, but the chatter in my head often begins with, “I am sixty-seven years old…”

The nurse practitioner at our Medical Center, in response to a question about a medicine that is no longer working, said, “Well you know, you do have to take these pills every day…” I held her gaze. Inside my head, the conversation went like this: “I am sixty-seven years old. I have been taking this medicine for almost twenty years. The prescription bottle clearly says to take it every day. What, for heaven’s sake, would make you think I don’t know that??” Out loud, I said, “Yes, I know. I take them every day.”

When a bit of well-meaning advice comes my way about how to interact with a troublesome person, or handle a personal failure, or deal with a loss, the silent dialogue begins: “I am sixty-seven years old. I have a little life experience under my belt. In addition, I am the queen of self-help books. It may not seem like I’m handling the situation well but, for the love of God, I know how to handle it!!!” Out loud, I say, “Good advise, thank you.”

A couple days ago, I stopped at the airport on my way to town, to pick up a couple deliveries for the hardware store, and a prescription for myself. I turned off the car, went in to the terminal building, gathered my packages and carried them out to the car. The car wouldn’t start. I turned off the radio and the fan that circulates the heat, so that I could hear what was going on. Nothing more than a “click” when I turned the key. I popped the hood, and stepped out of the car.

“What’s going on?” the mechanic asked. “I don’t know,” I replied, “My car won’t start.” “Did you push the clutch in all the way? Do you have it in neutral?” I greatly appreciated his willingness to help. I gave him a silent nod. Inside my brain, though, the diatribe was both long and sarcastic. And it started with the words, “I am sixty-seven years old…”

Continuing

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In the wintertime on this small island, we are a group of less than four hundred people. We all know each other. Every year that passes seems to make that bond stronger.

In the summer, our population swells to over a thousand residents. Vacationers, tourists and day-trippers add thousands more. We love to see the people come: friendly faces from past years, and new visitors happily discovering what the island has to offer. Our economy depends on the tourist trade, but it’s more than that. Summer’s busy-ness is the antithesis of winter’s quiet, and it brings balance to our lives. Still, when we look through the chaos and catch the eye of another “year-rounder,” there’s a feeling of camaraderie and understanding.

That feeling only grows in the “off-season.” When winter is harsh, we make our way to town through ice or deep snow, for church and school and jobs and necessities, and for necessary human contact. When the planes aren’t able to make their regular trips to transport us to the mainland for doctor visits or excursions, and to bring the mail, perishable groceries and mail-order packages, we only have each other. We exchange glances of quiet understanding; we inquire and worry about each other. “How’s your road?” “Did you have trouble getting in?” “Be careful out there!” We’re all in this together.

Not surprisingly, death hits this island hard. Everyone is a friend, and every death is a personal loss. In the last week, Beaver Island lost two long time island residents. Both ladies had long, productive lives, active in business, politics, church and community before a swift decline and a sudden end. It has left us all feeling off-balance and sad.

As often happens here, one funeral will be delayed until spring, when travel is easier for long-distance family and friends. The second funeral was held Monday. It was joyous and mournful at the same time, and the church was filled to over-flowing with people that loved her. “The island’s mother,” was one apt description of the lady who always greeted me with a smile and “Hi, honey…”

Together, in grief and understanding, we soldier on.

Mid-January Miscellany

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Yesterday was cold and windy. Overnight, the temperature dropped as the wind died down. Yesterday, it was the wind-chill that made it feel so frigid. Today, it’s just plain cold. I added snow pants and a heavy scarf to walk with the dogs.

No matter what, we walk every day. morning and night. This time of year, our evening walk is in the dark. Rain, wind, ice or extreme cold slow me down the most, but we still get out there. What with heavy boots and icy roads, I’m no longer attempting the “walk-to-run” program that I was doing in fairer weather, but we walk at a pretty good pace. Even on my worst days, we get a couple miles in.

I’m working at being more serious about diet and exercise in 2020. I’m cutting back on sugars and refined carbohydrates; I’m eating more salads. In addition to walking and my little morning yoga routine, I’ve added weight-training every other day. On the days in-between, I do a longer yoga session, some Pilates, or another exercise program. Twelve days in to the new year, it’s going okay.

And that’s a good lead-in to my next topic: January 12th is my granddaughter Madeline’s birthday. It’s hard to believe she is already twenty years old! She’s good-hearted, smart, witty, kind, and beautiful; I couldn’t be more proud of her!

Madeline, in front of our hogan, at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Yesterday was my friend Susan’s birthday. Two days before that was my friend Ellen’s birthday. It was also the anniversary of the day I got married. I’ve been divorced for a long time, but I still take note of the date as it comes around, and spend a melancholy moment or two in thoughts of “if only…” or “what if…”

After all, none of us gets married with plans of the union going badly. I started out with stars in my eyes and plans for a long and happy future together, just like everybody else. It just didn’t work out that way. Still, it’s kind of shocking to note that, had we stayed married, we’d have been celebrating forty-nine years together!

At work, I’m continuing my plans to get the basement in order. This is a job that is long overdue. We’ve talked about it as a necessary winter activity for several years now, but when hours and employees are cut severely back, it’s nearly impossible. If you’re the only one running the store, you can’t be downstairs, away from the business.

This January, we still have two people working most days, and it has been slow enough to allow for one of us to be working in the basement. I took it on. I started by relocating the Christmas merchandise as I brought it downstairs. Then, I moved the plumbing aisle over to the old Christmas location, sorting and organizing as I went along.

That allowed me to put the builder’s supplies, plus the trash cans, in neat rows where plumbing had been. Then, I gathered the coils of well pipe, corrugated drainage pipe, and flexible perforated drainage pipe from the floor in several aisles where they had been stashed, and hung them all neatly in the aisle where the trash cans had been. It’s a huge improvement!

The basement is dusty, damp and chilly. The job involves lots of heavy lifting, setting up shelves and moving merchandise, and also lots of cleaning, sorting and organizing. I find it very gratifying, though, and enjoy seeing the progress.

At home, I’m still working at getting the studio thoroughly cleaned and organized. Every other room in the house has been purged of excess and deep-cleaned. The struggle, now, is to maintain what is done, while concentrating my energy on what remains to be done. The weather, though, is perfect for it. These cold winter days just cry out for a serious indoor project. Luckily, I still have one!

One Room

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It’s been a while since I moved my sleeping arrangements downstairs. My stairs are steep, and my little dog has a weak bladder that necessitates several trips outside each night. With my brittle bones, bum knees and unpredictable bouts of vertigo, it made sense to spend my nights on the ground floor. So, my narrow bed doubles as a sofa, and my lower story functions like a little studio apartment.

That opened up new possibilities for what had been my small bedroom in the upper level of my story-and-a-half house. The larger upstairs room, which had once been two tiny bedrooms for my daughters, has long been used as my art studio. The other room, I decided, would be a perfect place for exercise, meditation and journal-writing. I moved my Pilates chair up there. I gathered up all exercise books, tapes, CDs and DVDs, and arranged them on the shelves. The medicine ball and hand weights were given a corner spot.

Then, I got busy with other things. For several months now, I’ve been working my way through a whole-house, long overdue deep-cleaning and de-cluttering project. That, in tangent with painting the floor, dominated my spare time. It also generated a lot of excess. I brought bags to the Transfer Station, and boxes to the Re-Sale Shop. Still, there were plenty of things that no longer belonged wherever I’d pulled them from, but still did not have a “place.”

That nearly empty room at the top of the stairs became the depository for all of that “stuff.” Then, with the downstairs finished (for the most part) and the New Year looming, it was time to finish the Exercise Room. Which was now a much larger job, as it had become a storage room. Uncharacteristically, I took a few photos to document the mess.

In trying to hook up a strand of colored lights, I accidentally knocked out my telephone and internet service. With the holidays, it was going to be several days before a repair could be made. A perfect opportunity! Without the distractions of news, social media and computer games, without the ability to stall by chatting with family and friends, certainly I could accomplish something meaningful!

And I did!

I still managed to find several diversionary tactics. There were extra dog-walks and lots of coffee breaks. I set up my new bullet journal, finished a book, and played about one-hundred games of solitaire. Nevertheless, I got that one room done. Thoroughly done. From the attic spaces under the eaves to the dresser drawers and the curtains and plants in the window. One. Room. Done!