Category Archives: Art

Sound

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Darla and Rosa Parks

First, it’s the dogs that I hear: the deep rumbling growl and strong voiced bark from Darla accompanied by the shrill, explosive cry coming from Rosa Parks. Then I hear what they heard.

Usually, it’s the big orange road truck. It plows the road down to my driveway, then turns around right out in front. It arrives at unexpected times; it loiters around the mouth of the driveway. It grumbles through the snow-covered gravel, and beeps when it backs up. It is the mortal enemy of not only the two dogs I have now, but of every dog I have ever had out here on the Fox Lake Road.

Sometimes it’s the young man that brings his truck fitted with a snow plow over to clear my driveway. That truck isn’t loud, either, but the dogs always hear it, and they always protest. The audacity, to pull right in! To change the landscape that way! And, the nerve of him, he sometimes brings his own dog! Then, the ultimate case of adding insult to injury, he comes right to the back door, in order for me to give him a check. Though he does a fine job, and I’m happy with him, he is not appreciated by my four-legged companions!

Now and then, what they hear is simply a car going by, or a person walking up the driveway. Those things happen rarely enough that I have few training opportunities. It’s also the case, though, that their barking is rarely an issue for me, because it so seldom happens. Without the barking dogs letting me know that something is going on outside, with my lesser hearing, I might spend the whole day oblivious to it!

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A Memory of My Aunt

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October Tree

I remember my Aunt Katie, with a can of beer in her hand, one leg up on a chair as she stood in conversation with the men around her. She wore slacks, almost always, which allowed for her stance, and , in general, more freedom of movement. Later, after her retirement, and when norms had relaxed enough to make it more acceptable, blue jeans replaced the slacks. Simple blouses, sweaters or sweatshirts completed the outfit. Her hair was neatly trimmed and arranged; her face free of make-up.

Aunt Katie deferred to men, as was so common in her generation, but in her own way she stood her ground with them, too. “After all,” she said, “I grew up with a bunch of stubborn brothers.” She told me, once, how to better get along with my father:


Raise your arms, then drop them to your sides. Say, “You are absolutely right!” Do not say, “You might have a point,” or “You could be right,” or the argument will continue. Say “You are absolutely right!” Then, just go on and do what you were planning to to begin with.

She demonstrated this tactic frequently. My Dad would rail on about the foolishness of the game of golf: “Only an idiot would go out there and chase a little ball around for hours at a time!” “Robert, you’re absolutely right,” she’d say. But whenever she got the opportunity, my aunt would load her nice clubs into the car and head for the golf course. “If you can’t eat it, it’s a waste of time to grow it,” Dad would voice his scorn for flowers. “You’re absolutely right,” Aunt Katie would tell her brother, but she’d continue to string twine along the front porch for her morning glories to climb.

Aunt Katie worked with men in the mail room at Pontiac Motors. She trained them, then watched as they were promoted ahead of her. The unfairness did not escape her, though to fight it seemed futile in her world view. She questioned it only once. The explanation? “Well, that young man will need enough income to make a house payment, buy a car…maybe support a family someday.”

At that time, my aunt was making mortgage payments on her own home, as well as taking care of all the other expenses of owning and maintaining a home. She was buying a car. She had taken in her elderly uncle, and often helped her nieces and nephews with temporary lodging, or a loan. With all of this in mind, in the telling of this story Aunt Katie would just sigh, and give a little smile. “That’s just the way the world was,” she’d say.

I Remember…

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Rosa Parks

I remember when I first encountered the little dog named Rosa Parks. In the early spring of 2011, my daughter, Jen, and I had traveled to South Carolina for a visit with my daughter, Kate, and her family. Kate’s house was abounding in small dogs, the result of an unintended mingling of two rescue dogs she had fostered. Every morning, my son-in-law would release them into the back yard, where they would run in every direction, sniffing, exploring and playing. We were charmed! When we left for home a week later, Jen brought two of the puppies along: Archie Bunker and Rosa Parks.

It was later that same spring that my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My sister, Sheila moved into the house to help care for her. I made many trips down to visit Mom through that summer, regretting every wasted or missed opportunity to spend time with her in my whole adult life. We all watched her decline with great sadness. On the second day in August, when a call came in at work, I was sure it was to tell of her death.

Mary grabbed my hand in sympathy, as I picked up the phone. It was my sister, Amy, but the news was not of my mother. My sister, Sheila, had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in the night. I left work in a daze, left the island that same day, and once again traveled downstate, this time to stay for as long as necessary.

In my mother’s house, the house that we all grew up in, my brother and sisters were gathered. As we mourned one loss and prepared for another, we relived the past with laughter and tears. Friends and family came and went daily, adding to the conversation. It was during this time that Jen arrived, with Rosa Parks.

The little dogs were not allowed in her apartment, under her current lease, and she was struggling to find homes for them. Archie Bunker had gone to live with Jen’s ex-husband. Rosa Parks still had no place to go. In that awful time, broken-hearted, reeling with loss, and stretched to my emotional limits, there were few things I could fix…but I could solve this problem. With hardly a second thought, I adopted Rosa Parks.

She became a lively distraction to all of us over the next few days. My brother, Ted, could often be seen carrying her in his arms through the house and yard. At night, Rosa Parks slept on the sofa with me, ten feet from my mother’s bed. She seemed to know when I was having a particularly hard time, and would snuggle in close. She accompanied me through all the highs and lows of those last days of my mother’s life.

By the time I headed back to my home on Beaver Island, after all the services, rituals and good-byes, Rosa Parks was a part of my family, and had a special place in my heart. She still does!

New Year: Resolutions, Remembering, and Resolve

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the view down my driveway

“Instead of wasting all day grooming superficial stuff on social media, pour your energy into mastering a difficult skill…The solution, rather than trying to endlessly spruce up your website and social media posts, is to put in the hard work. Get up early, or stay up late honing your skills.”
~John P. Weiss

Since I have not yet made my usual concrete plans for the new year, everything is still up in the air. Resolutions, undertaken normally with enthusiasm on January 1st, and tossed aside in failure before the end of February, have not been written. Changes in lifestyle, artistic work and blogging schedule are still only floating around in my mind. Now, one week into 2019, it’s time to set some guidelines.

This morning, having slept until I woke without an alarm, I moved through my normal morning routine: coffee; news; social media. When I finally picked up my notebook to write “Morning Pages,” I noticed that it was almost noon. A day half gone, with little to show for it! If I’d made my usual promises for more exercise, better organization and regular studio time, I would have already blown it. Seven days in.

With that in mind, I drafted my very first – and possibly my only – new year’s resolution for 2019: No morning computer time. Right off the top, I can see where it will make getting to work on time much more likely. It will open up time for a morning walk before work, or an exercise routine before I get in the shower. So, there it is.

That decision prompted another. A blog post scheduled for Tuesday should be written the day before. That led me to the question, “what to write about?” I have finished my second book of lists, that was the basis of one weekly post, and haven’t found another that piqued my interest. I’ve pretty much abandoned my Thursday “Timeout for Art” posts, and have been struggling for material to write about on Tuesdays. Sometimes I feel that I’ve exhausted all of my material.

In times of desperation, I have turned to the bookshelf behind me, where I have no less than a dozen books on writing, with suggestions and prompts. With so many to choose from, it was easy to spend an hour paging through various tomes until I found just exactly the right inspiration. More time wasted! This year, instead, I am going to work my way through one book: Old Friend from Far Away (the Practice of Writing Memoir) by Natalie Goldberg.

I’ve used her prompts before, but always just randomly and never on a regular basis. This year, I am starting at the beginning, and taking whatever assignment is given. I’d love it if some of you other writers out there would do it along with me. As many of her instructions include a ten-minute structure, this is not a huge time commitment. It would be fun to see how many varied responses could come out of her open-ended writing prompts!

At this time, I am going to plan on posting a blog twice a week, Tuesday and one other day. I’m hoping my new morning routine will open up many new possibilities and successes. I may have to add a post just to tell you all about it!

Ends and Beginnings

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a section of the model train and miniature village at the Redford Theater

Here we are, once again, at the brink of a new year. Though this blog won’t “go live” until tomorrow, January 1st, I am writing on New Year’s Eve. That’s because I don’t seem to have the energy to move out of the desk chair I am sitting in. Surrounded by a hundred other things that I should be doing, this has, at least, the semblance of productivity.

On the morning I was scheduled to leave my sister’s house in lower Michigan, I had a bit of a scratchy throat. I thought nothing of it as I stripped the bed, packed up clothes, gifts and other acquisitions. It didn’t stop me from a lovely lunch with my daughter and granddaughter, or from an enjoyable wander through an antique shop afterward.

By the time all the “good-byes” were said, though, and I was on the freeway headed north, my symptoms had increased. I had a miserable headache, a painful cough and a seriously sore throat. My ears ached. I was too hot, then too cold, and had occasional wild bouts of sneezing. No denying it, I had caught a cold.

I arrived late, driving in the dark and through freezing rain, to the small town where I was meeting my friend Donna for an overnight visit. She greeted me warmly, welcomed me into her charming home, and did her best to make me comfortable. I’m afraid I was not the best company.

The next day, I set off on the second half of my trip, which ended with a plane ride back home to Beaver Island. I could have cried with relief – and kissed the young man who’d retrieved it – when I saw that my car had already been brought from the back lot, and was right there waiting for me. With help, I loaded it with all my belongings, and headed down the road to pick up the dogs.

With Rosa Parks and Darla sharing the front seat with me, we pulled in to my own driveway after more than a week away. I unloaded the car while the dogs sniffed around to determine what wildlife had visited while we were gone. I shoved boxes, bags, totes and suitcases unceremoniously into the house before collapsing into bed. Two days later, they are still there.

I have barely begun unpacking. I still feel miserable. This, at the time when the calendar tells me I should be making my usual big plans for a fresh start. I have a new sketchbook, which begs a new commitment to daily drawing. I have a brand new bullet journal to set up for 2019. I have plans, of course, as always, for a new start on diet and exercise. My enthusiasm is absent. I have no energy for any of it.

And that, I am thinking, may be the biggest change that is happening in this new year. This may be the first time in my life when I simply let one year end and another begin. I think it’s going to happen, too! Even without my big agenda, and my active participation in it. Even as I sit here, coughing and sniffling, one year ends and another begins. Let’s just see how it goes.

Happy New Year!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #52

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one of the historic sconces at the Redford Theater

List the happiest moments of your year:

To respond to this without simply putting down the moments I remember, which would be current or at least very recent, I read through my 2018 bullet journal. There, I jotted down schedules and events. I made note of things I was grateful for. I placed a heart near things that made me especially happy. I am glad to report that I have had many happy moments this year.

  • “Sunshine” followed by an exclamation point was often entered as something I was thankful for. Surrounded by water, gray, sunless days are common on Beaver Island, especially in the wintertime. It seems we had plenty of sunshiny days in 2018; I was happy for every single one!
  • “A good talk…” was another regular entry. Whether it was a conversation with one of my daughters (which would be followed by a heart), a sister or a friend, it was always worthwhile.
  • “A good day at work.” It looks like I had several.
  • “Long walk with the dogs.” Not often enough, for the joy it brings to me as well as the dogs!
  • A trip to Florida with my sisters in April yielded many happy moments. From quiet times in mornings and evenings, to fun adventures out and about, it was a joy spending time with these wonderful women!
  • A visit from my friend, Donna, was a welcome and happy time.
  • The annual visit to the island, in August, of my sisters and their families was, as always, great fun.
  • In August, my daughter Kate treated me to a trip to Chicago to see the musical, Hamilton, along with her husband and two of my grandchildren. The entire trip was wonder-filled and joyous. From the excellent company my family offers, to walks through parks and museums, rides on the water taxi, wonderful meals, exciting sites and the glorious musical itself, the whole thing made me feel extremely lucky and very, very happy!
  • An excursion this fall to meet my best friend, Linda, was another happy time. We enjoyed the fall colors, shopping, talking and visiting the farmer’s market.
  • Sisters, Brenda and Cheryl, my nephew, Bob, and my cousin, Keith, came to the island in the fall of the year, to close up the farmhouse for the winter. Though they were busy, and so was I, we happily managed to have time to spend together, and had a good time.
  • This year, I decorated for Christmas. I also traveled downstate to spend the holiday with my family. My daughter Kate added to the joy by including me in a trip to Detroit on December 22nd, to the historic Redford Theater, to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It was so special to view it on a big screen, with a theater full of people reacting together as the story unfolded. At one point, someone cried out, “Is there a doctor?” My daughter, the nurse, stood up, and moved to the area where a woman had collapsed. In all, four nurses, two paramedics and an EMT responded to the call for help. The woman, who had fainted, and was going to be fine, was transported by ambulance to the hospital. The film continued, after a short intermission. And I was proud as could be of my daughter!
  • There were many simple, joyful moments throughout 2018, that came from just appreciating my accomplishments and surroundings. There was the day I finished planting the garden, and the day the peas first pushed out of the ground. There was rhubarb crisp in the springtime, tomatoes and blackberries in summer, and beautiful color in the fall. Then there was the first snow, a Christmas tree, and an end-of-year trip to see family and friends, yielding presents and the greater gift of spending time, once again, with those that I love.

Looking back, there were many joyful times. I’m looking ahead to a new year filled with happiness, too, for me…and for all of you!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #49

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List the things you are ready to rid yourself of, things in your home, in your closet, and in your heart:

Let me point out, first, that this directive clearly asks for the things I am “ready” to rid myself of, not the things I “could,” “should” or “ought to.” That distinction alone makes for a much shorter list.

  • I am almost – but not quite – ready to get rid of the cheap candle holder that hangs in the back window. It consists of a glass barrel-shaped chimney sitting on a circle of metal. A loop of wire attached to the bottom plate allows the whole thing to hang by a chain. The chain is rusted. The glass that shields the flame used to be green, but the plastic coating peeled off the first time a candle was burned there, so now it’s clear. It has to be taken down to lift the chimney, in order to insert and light the candle. It only holds a votive candle, anyway, so for the trouble of lighting it, I get about an hour of glow. And yet, when I start thinking of getting rid of it, I remember that this particular candle holder was one that my sister, Sheila, and I carried, in our little “Seven Sisters” shop here on Beaver Island. It was  one of the items that Sheila picked out, and ordered for us. The shop has been closed for many years and, now, Sheila is gone, too. So, for now, the candle holder stays.

I have a hundred old, decrepit items that have stories like that. This one, that was an early gift from someone that loved me, way back when they loved me; that one, that my daughters used when they were small; another that reminds me of my childhood; this, that my mother gave to me; and those jeans that are proof positive of how skinny I used to be. I am not yet ready to be rid of any of them!

  • I do, to my credit, have a couple large boxes of things to be donated to the library or the re-sale shop. I am ready to get rid of books that I won’t read again. Someone else may as well enjoy them. I am ready to get rid of dishes and small appliances that I don’t use. I am ready to get rid of clothes that don’t fit, or that don’t fit my lifestyle.
  • In my studio, I have a stack of rejects to be recycled. I have a tendency to work a piece to death, in an effort to turn a failure into, maybe not a masterpiece but, something worthwhile. Sometimes a failure is simply that, and no amount of time or materials will redeem it. I am ready to be rid of it all.
  • Finally, happily, I am ready to throw away the concept that the past holds the key to the “ideal.” For my whole life, Christmas was my favorite holiday. I loved it when I was a child, and I loved it even more when I had children. Then, years went by, circumstances changed, and I found myself living alone on Beaver Island. Some years, I travel downstate to visit my family for Christmas; last year, I went to Charlevoix to meet up and hang out with my best girlfriend. Often, I just stay home. Long ago, I quit decorating for the holiday. “Why bother, just for me,” I asked myself and, “It will be so much trouble to have to take it all down again.” “If the kids were coming, I’d go all out for Christmas,” I’d tell myself, knowing full well that with the time and inconvenience (including the expense, the unpredictable Michigan weather, and the varied schedules of several working adults) of bringing children, gifts and holiday traditions to Beaver Island, my kids were never going to come here for Christmas. So, I let my own traditions go. I have not been sad and miserable, but the season has certainly not had the giddy, anticipatory joy of years past. This year, all of that changed. I cut down a tree, set it up and decorated it. I made hot cider, and put on the old holiday records as I pulled out the ornaments. Then I decorated the tiny artificial tree that I had in the Christmas tote. I set up the little nativity set that was a gift from my husband on the first Christmas after we were married. I pulled out all of the “Santa”s that I collected over the years, and lined them up on a shelf in front of my cookbooks. It doesn’t seem sad, that it’s not the same as when I was little, or as when my children were little. It’s only different. It’s still Christmas. This is what the holiday is like now, for me. It’s not about what is missing, or what is not the same. It’s about me, finding joy in my favorite holiday. It feels good to have the lights and sounds and smells of Christmas around me. And it doesn’t seem, now, like it will be such a terrible chore to take it down after the New Year. If it is, I assure you, it was worth it!