Category Archives: Art

Not Quite

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This is the season, it seems, for qualifiers. My birthday is almost here; I am not quite sixty-five years old. Summer is nearly over; fall is coming soon. It’s that “in-between” stage that begs for evaluation and invites plans. That’s where I’m at right now.

Summer. It came in slowly, with cold, rainy days through most of June. Even when it warmed up, it seems the hot summer days were often balanced by chilly nights or cool, windy or rainy days. Mosquitoes were never unbearable. I almost always slept under a light comforter.

I spent the early part of the summer getting my back yard reconfigured and my garden planted. Though it was a lot of work, it has pretty much taken care of itself since then, and has been a source of satisfaction and fresh vegetables for weeks now.

Most of my flowers are finished blooming, though the ones that are still offering their bright faces are more appreciated than ever. The low hedge of  “Autumn Joy” Sedum is healthy and bright green. Before long, its flat flower heads will be glorious bronze tones.

Aunt Katie’s illness dominated the summer season. When she was home, the goal was to buoy her spirits; the wish was to see her improve. “How are you today?” I’d ask whenever I stopped. “Not good,” she’d answer, discouraged. “I wish I had a different answer,” she once said, vehemently.

I brought her a large potted tomato plant, to grow on her kitchen porch. My cousin Bob planted a tub of salad greens just outside the door. His sheep grazed just behind the farmhouse. She watched them from her kitchen stool as he did her breathing treatment.

Morning Glories came up from seeds dropped in other years. Aunt Katie was never well enough to put up the rows of string for the flowers to climb; I never thought to do it for her. Now, in August, the vigorous  vines have tumbled over and formed a thick mound, reminding me of my neglect.

When she was getting care on the mainland – between two hospitals and a rehabilitation facility – telephone calls became a focus. There were calls to Aunt Katie’s room and to her cell phone. There were calls to the keyboard and to the nurse’s station. Because she was often out of her room, away from her phone, or unable to talk because something else was going on, and because the nurse’s station was poorly staffed in the evenings when I was able to call, I was usually frustrated. When I was able to get updates, I called family members downstate to spread the word. My cousin Keith changed his route to be able to visit with Aunt Katie on the way to and from his cabin. His phone calls were highly anticipated and welcome for the good information on her spirits and her progress.

When Aunt Katie finally came home, she knew – as we did – that she was coming home to die. Friends started calling, and stopping by. Dishes of food were dropped off. Family members altered their summer plans to get to the island. Though she was clearly weak, struggling, and in decline, I thought she’d be with us for a while. I packed a week’s worth of clothes, to bring to her house, and anticipated being there a month or more. That was not the way it worked out.

On, then to the services to honor my aunt. Bringing together many of her nieces and nephews and their families, islanders who knew and respected her and the contributions she made in her long life, and friends who wept openly at the dear heart we had lost. It was exhausting…and wonderful…as many events like this are, but a fitting send-off to a wonderful woman who has been a big part of my life.

The funeral was a sad start to the planned, week-long vacation on Beaver Island for my sisters and their families. Still, good company, fine weather, and lots of little children helped to bring perspective and joy to a transitional time. For me, especially this year, their presence was a blessing.

Work was the second major focus of my summer. Extended hours at the hardware store made for long, busy days. In addition, there was writing, event-covering and business to be taken care of for the news-magazine. Getting artwork where it needed to be – and myself where I was supposed to be to promote it – was another pull in yet another direction.

Though my diet and exercise plan went out the window less than two months into the New Year, I have somehow managed to lose about eight pounds. Walks with the dogs went from daily – as promised – to a couple times a week, as time and weather allowed. Our rides down to the Fox Lake were often foiled by other people and dogs on the shore. I only made it to the Lake Michigan beach a couple times this summer, and I never went swimming. That should be considered at least a venial sin in the evaluation of both my summer and my 65th year. I live on an island, for God’s sake!

So, as I look back over the year, and the summer season, I’d have to say it was not quite as successful as I would have liked. That’s okay. There was joy, and progress, and change. It was not quite a failure, either!

 

Looking Ahead

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Events of the past couple weeks – some joyful, some tragic – have served to open up large blocks of time in my life. Now, with the last of my visiting family and friends waved off on the ferry boat to get back to their own lives, and with my birthday just around the corner, it’s time to start looking ahead.

My birthday competes with the New Year as a time to assess accomplishments and failures (including failed New Year’s resolutions!), and to resolve to do better. Saying good-bye to my Aunt Katie, whose long life was an inspiration and an outstanding example of living well, has directed my thought process. In setting my goals for the next year, I look to joy.

Rather than lay down plans and aspirations as if they are chores to be dutifully completed, I want to keep my eye on happiness. The list may look the same. To be better organized, healthier in habit and weight, to grow my food, take care of my dogs, expand my knowledge and spend quality time making art are constant self-improvement goals. It is the strategy that I am changing.

Rather than look forward to the time when I will be happier because I am better organized…or slimmer…or more on top of other duties and obligations, I intend to find joy in the process. Instead of keeping my eye on the “finish line,” and my distance from it determining my success or failure, I want to enjoy this walk through life, every step of it. I want to (even!!!) take note of flowers along the way. Maybe it will feel the same. Right now, looking ahead, it seems like just the attitude-shift I need.

 

Let Me Say This…

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How well do we ever know each other? How well do others know me?

I can tell you this:

  • I am not nearly as nice as you think I am. Most everyone who knows me casually would tell you what a “sweetheart” I am. Trouble is, I’m not. I have a bad temper. I have dark moods. I indulge in self-centered rants and have days where I just want to “pick.” I notice every slight, hold a grudge for too long and feel sorry for myself way beyond what is normal or justified. I am very, very nice…right up until I’m not. So if you think I’ll always go along…”nicely…” you may one day be surprised.
  • I am way more fun than I am perceived to be. Really. True, I am serious. I am the poster child of the Virgo personality: there is a particular way to do things, and upholding that pattern is what keeps the world on track. I work at that to the point of being a royal pain in the ass. Just ask my daughters! I abide by the rules. I get nervous at the idea of losing control. And yet…I can laugh at myself about it. I laugh about a lot of things. I have laughed until my cheeks hurt, until my sides ached, until I [almost] peed my pants. I enjoy humor in others, and work at displaying it myself. I am often funny…and I can be a lot of fun. Contrary to popular opinion, I, too, enjoy a good time.

Why, now, am I making these observations? Because my family is here.

When surrounded by the people who have known you since birth, there is nothing to do but admit your true nature. My sisters are here and – though it may be hard to let down the facade of dignity and even-temper that I am able to maintain when they are far away – it’s okay. Because these are the girls that allow me to be my true self: to be silly and inappropriate, and to laugh until my cheeks hurt

 

 

Perfume Season

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The Fox Lake Road is carved out of the woods in the center of Beaver Island. Barely wide enough for two cars to pass, there are no shoulders or ditches. The countryside rises up on either side, higher than the road.

There are disadvantages. There are times, in the spring of the year, when the Fox Lake Road runs like a river, with twelve inches or more of icy water held within it’s banks. Grading the road is a constant and thankless job, as every rain creates more dips and puddles in the surface. The road trucks cut gouges – ugly, but necessary – intermittently into the road side, to allow the run-off of snow-melt and rainfall.

There are assets, too. As I look off into the woods while walking the Fox Lake Road, glorious and ever-changing views of the forest floor rise up on either side of me. From spring green ferns, to autumn leaves, to velvet blankets of snow, it’s always a good show. In late summer, blackberries growing along the roadside can be plucked from the vines from an open car window.

This time of year, the raggedy mop-heads of the aromatic milkweed plants are right at nose level. This is perfume season! I heard once that there is a famous French scent that is derived from the milkweed flower. That doesn’t surprise me. There are few flowers that could compete with the heady fragrance of milkweed.

Milkweed grows wild in the fields and open spaces here on Beaver Island. When it moves in to yards and gardens, it is pulled as a weed. The plant has thick, flat leaves and a fat stalk that oozes a gooey white substance when cut. After blooming, large rough-textured pods form on the stalks. Eventually, the pods burst open revealing a mass of seeds, each attached to a white feather to help carry it on the wind.

During World War II, school children here gathered milkweed pods “for the war effort.” The pods were sent off in huge bundles and bags, and used to make flotation devises for the soldiers. The children did such a good job, they almost wiped out a butterfly!

Beaver Island is one of the stops on the migratory path of the Monarch Butterfly, and milkweed is the primary food source for the Monarch caterpillar. As the plants declined, so did the butterflies. Thankfully, both recovered. Most folks are happier for the butterfly than they are for the plant.

I can’t help but think that if people only knew how good it smelled, they’d feel differently about milkweed. If it were a bit more attractive…a little less invasive…and perhaps had a better name, it would be the most popular flower in every garden. As for me, I’ll continue relishing every walk down the Fox Lake Road, now in the thick of perfume season!

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A Garden is Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Right Here, Right Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Off-Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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