Category Archives: Books

High Hopes

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I don’t want to draw too much attention to my lapsed blogging of late, for fear it will become one other negative thing I identify with, like chronic lateness, procrastination, and a dependence on coffee. Then, it becomes even harder to do better.

That’s why, though I no longer walk every single day, rarely go farther than two miles and almost never at a pace that would qualify as exercise, I still label myself a walker. Though time spent in the studio is limited, and good, productive, art-making days are even more scarce, I continue to call myself an artist. I am still a gardener, though I’ve done little beyond watching the weeds crowd into my perennial beds and overtake my vegetable plot for two years now. And, even though I have neglected this blog for more than ten days and haven’t written much of anything else of any consequence either, I am still a writer.

We’ve had several cold, damp, windy and rainy that are my absolute least favorite kind of day, when it comes to weather. To add to the chill and discomfort, the thermostat on the propane stove that heats my house has quit working. As it’s almost summer, and I won’t be needing to have the heat on then, I decided the repair could wait. I manually turn on the stove when I get up in the morning, and turn it off when the house has warmed up. I do the same thing when I get home from work. It’s a fine system until three days of wind and rain come along to throw a monkey wrench into it. Then, I find myself grumbling around in a damp and cold space, morning and evening.

I spent the Easter weekend on the mainland, catching up with my dear friend, Linda. In grade school, when we first became friends, we’d take our lunches over to Crampton Park. There, under the bridge, on the narrow concrete ledge beside the water of the Flint River, we ate while we talked about boys and bras and the things we could see in the murky water. We’d share stories, laughs and big plans for the future. The many years that have passed since then were evident last weekend. We spent one long day shopping for and visiting with my elderly aunt. Another, we spent wandering through the cemetery. Still, there was lots to talk about, and plenty of laughs.

On days when it isn’t raining and cold, there is a definite scent of spring in the air. My snowdrops and narcissus are already blooming, and early tulips are in bud. The forsythia is starting to show yellow; trees and shrubs have leaves ready to unfurl. I’ve been working around the yard, and in the smaller flower beds. When the sun is out, I grab the trowel and pull the wheelbarrow out as soon as I get home from work. While the dogs entertain themselves with springtime smells and chasing snakes, I work at moving fallen leaves and pulling weeds. There’s an awful lot yet to do, but I’m seeing progress.

I have a couple new venues for my artwork this summer, so am even more determined to get some fresh work to show. I think of it in the afternoon, when I’m stocking shelves and tidying the aisles at work. I imagine going straight to the studio when I get home; I picture the projects I’ll tackle and the work I’ll get done. But, then, by the time I pull into my driveway, my energy is flagging. The dogs need to go out. The yard needs work. Then there’s dinner to think about. And clean-up. By that time, my thoughts have turned to my book, and bed.

But, here is Sunday. A new week is always filled with possibility. The sun was out, but while I’ve been sitting here, it has ducked back behind the clouds. Still, a nice day for a walk. If it’s warm enough, I’m going to open the windows to the breeze, and give the house a good cleaning. Then, I’ll let the weather dictate whether the balance of the day is spent outside in the garden, or upstairs in the studio. Either way, I have high hopes.

Artifacts to Memories: This Pig

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I found her among the ads in the back of a gardening magazine: a cast iron piggy bank. She is different than most piggy banks, with their cartoon-like, gender-less countenance and big fat bellies designed for holding many coins. This is a realistic depiction of a pig, reminiscent of a character in an E.B.White story, with full udder pronouncing her gender and an expression that reminds me of Rodin’s “Thinker.” A noble pig.

I placed my order, with the intention of giving the bank to my father-in-law, Jack, for Christmas. When it arrived, I was so enchanted with it, I couldn’t bring myself to give it away! Jack got homemade slippers for Christmas, and the story of the pig, which made him laugh out loud and tease me with mock offense that I had kept his gift. The pig became a treasured object in my home: useful for coin collecting, heavy enough to act as a bookend, a reminder of the pigs we’d raised as children, and a beacon of hope for the small farm I hoped to someday have. It was also the first of what turned out to be quite a collection of pigs.

The next pig was a wooden cutout, varnished to shine, with an inch of twine for a tail. Then I found a pair of silly pink pig salt and pepper shakers, and a little china sow attached by short lengths of fine chain to three little piglets. I purchased a small David Bigelow intaglio print of a pig strapped into a pair of broad wings, prepared to step off the edge of a cliff. “Moment of Truth” is the title. My husband bought me a larger print by the same artist, titled “Escape from the Cycle,” that has hundreds of pigs rising up out of the grid of plowed fields and pig pens.

By that time, I was officially a “collector of pigs.” That led to gifts of swine in every form, from buttons to pot holders to throw pillows. When I spent my winters in a tiny apartment on the campus of Michigan State University, the pigs dominated the small kitchen. Three dimensional versions marched and wallowed along the top of my bookshelf. Pig towels hung from the oven door, and pig pot holders sat in a basket near the stove. It eventually became just too much pork.

When I graduated, and cleared out that apartment to move back to my home on Beaver Island, I wrapped all the little statues and packed them into a sturdy box, labelled “PIGS.” It sat in my attic here for several years as I contemplated where to display them. Life here tends more toward natural treasures. My windowsills are laden with ever-changing displays of pine cones, driftwood, shells, beach stones, and the occasional bird’s nest.  No place for pigs. Finally, I went through the box, gave several pigs away and donated others to our re-sale shop. The rest, I brought back out for use or display.

I kept the two intaglio prints; the small one always hangs above my desk. I kept a small green tin with a pig painted on the sliding lid. I kept three little squeaky rubber pigs, that my grandchildren used to play with; my big dog likes to carry them around now. I kept the jump rope with carved and painted wooden pig handles, though I doubt I’ll be starting a jump rope routine…ever.

Of course, I held onto my original cast iron piggy bank. It still has a dignified appearance; it is a good place for stray coins and continues to work well as a bookend. It makes me want to re-read the essays of E.B.White. It reminds me of hopes and dreams I’ve grown out of or abandoned. When I think about it, I am transported to a long-ago Christmas, in a much different life. I can still here Jack’s laugh, and picture his expression of mock horror as he asked, “You kept my present??” For all of that, I keep the pig.

 

 

Artifacts to Memories: Cabinet Hangers

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img_0036First, and for many years, my kitchen storage consisted of plywood shelves, hammered together and mounted to the walls. They were open to dust, cobwebs and any insects that might wander through. They showed off my penchant for hoarding reusable lidded plastic containers, my mis-matched pans, and my disorganization.

When I finally replaced them with actual kitchen cabinets, I spent an inordinate amount of time planning their size and arrangement. I bought bottom-of-the-line cabinets, because that’s all I could afford. Drawers have to be reassembled and glued back together every few months; there are gaps where the cabinets are pulling away from their backs. Still, I take them seriously.Though kitchen cabinets are fairly stationary features, I have – with the help of my always-game-for-another-crazy-undertaking friend, Chris  – rearranged them twice, and have another major readjustment planned. Alas, Chris has moved away.

The last time we moved the cabinets – two not-young women armed with more determination than either muscle or know-how – it was an all day adventure. We placed a kitchen chair on the counter top, to help “catch” the cabinet when the screws holding it to the wall were removed. Another chair on the floor nearby was what I stood on while I removed the screws. Then, with intermittent  giggling and terror, we lowered the cabinet to the chair and then down to the floor. Then on to the next one. We repeated the process to hang them back up. The lower cabinets were easier, except for the sink. Since then, I’ve added formica counter top, which complicates everything.

I miss Chris. It takes a special person to help with a project like that. First, a devil-may-care attitude about whether we have the proper tools, plan or ability. Second, the willingness to listen to my crazy ideas, and understand that – at that moment – I truly believe a rearrangement of kitchen cupboards will improve all aspects of my life. Third, and most important, one must be prepared for anything we might find in dark corners behind the fixtures. In the past, we have encountered massive spider webs, mouse nest, snake skin, and mushrooms growing from a damp spot of floor. A helper needs to be able to work through it, without showing too much shock or disgust, and without making it the talk of the town. Chris added to her value by keeping me entertained with family stories while we worked.

After several years of use, I painted the cabinets, and added knobs and drawer pulls. I went through quite a bit of angst about whether to get pulls that matched the chrome of faucet and refrigerator handle, or antique brass to match the cabinet hinges. My daughter, Kate, solved the problem. She haunted  flea markets, garage sales and junk shops; she brought me a collection of old knobs and pulls. All different sizes and shapes, some are metal; others are wood. Two filigree knobs are identical except for finish, and are placed side-by-side on a double cabinet: one is chrome; the other is antique brass. I love it!

As a finishing touch in my funky little kitchen, I have baubles and trinkets hanging from the knobs of each upper cabinet. Every item has a story. There is the copper bird, cut from heavy metal and painted by my friend, Sue. The metal came from the old roof of our Post Office. There is the blue and white woven paper ornament that my daughter, Jen, made, in a class taught by my friend, Larry. A short string of red glass beads, each in the shape of a heart, hangs from another knob.

The fat, beaded star ornament that hangs from a red wooden knob over the stove was sewn by my friend, Mary. She is genius in combining striped fabrics to form patterns! On the back, in her own handwriting, “Beaver Island ’96” is written in puff paint. Twenty years ago it was, when Mary had her little bookstore here…when we shared coffee and conversation on an almost daily basis. When we walked together on the beach, sharing secrets, sobbing through heartache and shoring each other up through our struggles. When we shared meals, and talked about writing and art and men.  Though I have to take this fabric ornament down on occasion, and give it a gentle bath in warm water laced with strong de-greaser, I always return it to its place, for all the good memories it brings to me, of a good friend, far away.

Artifacts to Memories: Mom’s Old Typewriter

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[This is a re-post of a blog I wrote several years ago. It feels like cheating, but it suits the category perfectly. And I’m so, so busy with other writing today. My apologies.]

I don’t know when Mom got the old Royal Typewriter. It was new – or nearly new – in my earliest memories of it. Perhaps it had belonged to her mother, and came into our home around the time Grandma Thelma died. Maybe Mom invested in it – as she did the large set of encyclopedias – to enhance the scholastic ability of her children. I don’t think Mom knew how to type, but I guess I’m not sure about that, either. I think it originally had a hard case that fit over the top and fastened on the bottom, to protect the keys and keep it dust-free. The typewriter was an important, revered object in our house.

As I think about it, very few objects in our chaotic household were given that status. Mom raised nine children of her own, and always had many more around. She fully expected that “kids will be kids.” That meant that dishes will get broken, toys will be destroyed, clothes will get stained and furniture will take a beating. Expect it, and learn to live with it. Except for those things that Mom set aside as precious, that were to be handled more cautiously, and treated with love.

Mom’s list was not long: the cedar chest that she’d received from her parents at the occasion of her high school graduation…along with the treasures and memories she kept inside it; books in general, and especially the encyclopedias, which had to be handled carefully, dusted regularly, and always kept in alphabetical order; the good china, which was never used, and the frosted iced tea glasses that had belonged to her mother; the nativity set that was put out at Christmastime and handled so carefully that the straw was still intact on top of the stable and the music box still worked for her great-grandchildren to hear. And the typewriter.

When we came home from school with a “really big research assignment”, we could use the typewriter for the final draft. If we had an important letter to write, the typewriter could be brought to the desk. If we had absolutely run out of options for keeping small children entertained, we could sometimes pull out the typewriter to show them the “magic” of their names appearing on the paper, the sound of the bell alerting them that it was time for their job: using the silver arm to push the carriage back over to the left. Always, the typewriter eraser was close at hand. By the time we got to high school and actually took typing classes, the biggest problem was forgetting the “hunt and peck” method of typing we’d grown so familiar with.

My mother gave me the typewriter when I was a graduate student at Michigan State University. By that time – the late ’80’s – her children were all adults, and the machine sat idle. Though a manual typewriter seemed pretty archaic, it was a godsend to me! The only word processor available  for my use – for the multitude of papers that had to be typed – was at the library, a mile from our apartment, with – often – a long list of students in line to use it. I was a single mother with a full load of classes, and no car. Having the typewriter allowed me to be at home with my daughters in the evenings. Many nights they fell asleep to the sound of me pounding on the typewriter keys, cursing as I reached for the Wite-Out. I still have several papers written during that time, with the characteristic shading from many corrections.

I made cookbooks for my daughters one Christmas many years ago. The opening page says “so that Jenny and Katey can have the food they grew up with, even when ‘Home’ is far from their Mom’s kitchen”. My methods were ancient by today’s standards. I gathered photographs and had them enlarged and/or cropped as needed. I used rub on Chartpak letters to make the chapter pages. I typed all the recipes on Mom’s old Royal Typewriter. A dozen hours over the course of several days and a couple hundred dollars at Kinko’s,and I was done. That was the last big job for the typewriter.

The machine sat unused after that. Over the years, I moved it from the shelf to the attic to the storage unit. I almost forgot about it. Then things changed:

First, my mother died. Which caused me to reassess everything. Caused me to look with new eyes at everyone and everything she loved. Caused me to cherish everything she had cared about, and everything she had given me.

Next, I saw a lovely room in an art magazine where a typewriter was used for making gift tags, and had a place of honor on the desk.Then, I saw a piece on a news program about a typewriter repair person who is enjoying a resurgence of interest in the old machines. Last, I reorganized shelves and books to accommodate a new drawer unit, and ended up with one empty shelf.

Now, Mom’s old typewriter sits with dignity among the cookbooks on my kitchen shelf.

Artifacts to Memories: Books, Bookstores, and E.B.White

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My dear friend, Mary Blocksma, has started a year-long memoir-writing project, and has generously invited others to join in.

I admire Mary’s abilities as a writer. Her background of writing scholastic literature, as well as her sense of fun, make her children’s books some of the very best. An education in library science and research shows itself gracefully – alongside her love of nature – in books about the flora and fauna of forests and shorelines. Her ability to put words together – in poetry or creative writing – often takes my breath away. Mary is also a skilled teacher and editor. This was an opportunity I could not pass up!

The method Mary is using for pulling out and writing about a lifetime of memories is genius: she uses objects collected or saved throughout her life as a jumping-off point. As a fellow “saver” (I shy away from saying “hoarder”) I know that objects are saved for the life events and heart-strings attached to them. Why not use them, then, for the memories that they hold? So, that is the premise.

Mary is calling her excavation “My Life as a Dig,” and has already, in this new year, written several lovely essays. I am planning to devote one of my writing days each week to the project, under the title “Artifacts to Memories.” And here I go!

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I was a twenty-four year old “re-entry” college student, already a wife and the mother of two young daughters, when I first entered a good bookstore. My friend Linda and I had driven off the campus of Mott Community College during a break between classes. Downtown Flint, Michigan was an exciting and welcoming place in the mid-seventies. Interesting shops and little galleries were tucked in among novel restaurants and bars. We were on our way to Hat’s Pub for lunch. Their julienne salad was a lovely mound of matchstick sliced vegetables, meats and cheeses; vegetarian pizza was piled high with alfalfa sprouts; the bohemian atmosphere of the place was always fun.

Walking from the parking lot to the pub, we came upon a little corner bookstore: Young & Welchan’s. We might have missed it, if it weren’t for the stacks of books organized in neat piles and rows on tables on either side of the door. Beautiful books! Hardcover books! Brand new! With price tags that stunned me: $2.95; $4.95; ninety-nine cents! As a student, I was spending a great deal of money each semester on textbooks; I was haunting the campus library for other required reading. As a fairly new (proud) member of the Book-of-the-Month Club, I knew the value of a hardcover book! I had never come upon “remaindered” books before. This was amazing!

There, like a gift from the heavens, was E.B.White. My English teacher had just been reading excerpts of his work! She had been glorifying him as “comparible to Henry David Thoreau,” and “one of the finest essayists of the 20th century!” And right here, in front of me, were Poems and Sketches of E.B.White and Essays of E.B.White…priced at $3.99 each. Even with my meager budget, I could manage that! I bought both books. That was the beginning.

Those two books were the start of a lifetime of accumulating books. I have a section on my shelves for E.B.White, others for Maxine Hong Kingston, Evan S. Connell and Annie Dillard. They sit among treasured individual books of essays or poetry. I have a nice selection of books on paring-down, cleaning-up, organization and simplification. I don’t believe any of that information applies to books!

E.B.White became – and still holds the position of – one of my most treasured writers. I have read, I think, everything he has written at least twice. His essays about life on a saltwater farm in rural Maine influenced my thoughts on farming, gardening and rural life. “Death of a Pig” is one of my read-aloud favorites. Without E.B.White, I doubt I would have ever ended up out in the country with a big garden, on Beaver Island!

Young & Welchan’s became the first “favorite bookstore” in my life. It taught me what to look for, in a good bookstore. There should be a wide range of books on many subjects, organized so that it’s easy to find an area of interest, and a literate staff to assist when needed. There should be benches and comfortable chairs for browsing…and browsing should not be discouraged. There should be coffee. And the entrance should always have neat piles and rows of good books at amazing prices…to welcome the uninitiated.

 

[The More Things]Change…

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Three days into the new year, and in my life things haven’t changed much. I spent the last two days in – mostly – slothful decadence, resolutions be damned.

I read – a lot. I finished two books and got halfway through a third. I caught up on the blogs that I follow, read through three months worth of saved magazines, and read the BBC news each day. I had long, enjoyable telephone conversations with friends and family. I watched movies: DoubtEverestMao’s Last Dancer. I watched two episodes of Chicago Code on Netflix, and That Sugar Film on Amazon. I played quite a few games of on-line Scrabble. I wrote and posted a blog on Sunday, and am doing it again today (yesterday, I missed writing, and found myself putting thoughts and events into workable sentences in my mind all day). I managed to accomplish – though minimally – a few things that were on my list to specifically work at this year.

I walked two miles each day. I kind of let that go when the weather turned bitter and the roads turned to ice at the same time that I came down with a cold. Winter is too long to indulge myself that way. It is still cold, and I still have a cough and a rattle in my chest, but I bundled up, put on my “ice-walkers” and got out there. My sore muscles tell me it was about time!

I started a new diet. I was planning to try the Whole 30 plan, which involves giving up all legumes, grains, sugar and dairy for 30 days. The more I read about it, the more I felt that – for me – it was a set-up for failure.  In the end I opted for a less drastic plan. I have given up sugar. That is drastic enough considering that most packaged foods contain it in some form, and that almost all grains (which convert to sugar) are out as well. That means no pasta, no bread, no rice, no oatmeal. No potatoes, except for sweet potatoes. No corn. No bottled salad dressing, even. So, even though it’s more do-able than the Whole 30 – which was going to eliminate just about every single thing in my diet – it is still a challenge.

I managed “Cleaning Time” every day, though I certainly did not get to any of the deep cleaning and clearing out projects that I’d intended. I kept the dishes and laundry moving through sink and washing machine, cleaned up other messes as they happened (mostly snow and ice brought in on boots and paws, and a spill or two) and scoured the bathroom fixtures. That’s it. In fact, I have a long list of things to finish up today, just to feel like I managed to accomplish my normal days-off cleaning projects.

My long list of things to do on this (three days in a row!) time off has all been saved for today. The last day. When I also have to get to the bank, the post office, the grocery store, the transfer station and Aunt Katie’s, to scrub her floors. In that way, life is the same now, in 2017, as it has been for the many years before.

I still make big plans, and I still feel disappointment when I don’t get everything done. I’ve had the conversation with myself, sure, that what I should actually work on changing is the disappointment. Accepting myself, mess that I am, would be a better thing to work on. I’m not quite there yet. For now, I continue to work toward becoming a better (read: more organized; neater; more accomplished) person. And, as usual, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Onward, into the new year!

The 52 Lists Project #52

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(The last list of the year!)

List the most memorable moments of your year:

(This is not a list of “moments,” but of events that contributed many memorable moments.)

  • Well, there was this thing about committing to publishing a blog every single day, that kind of stands out as memorable. There were days, before I got into the swing of it, when I panicked near midnight, having not yet written anything to post. There were frustrating times when it seemed I had nothing worthwhile to say, or not enough time to do a subject justice. There were days when I – in trying to write ahead – accidentally published two blogs in one day. There were blessings. Like the suggestion that I just put artwork up on Thursdays, and not feel the need to write in depth about it. And finding this 52 Lists Project, which has been a joy to do, and a godsend in getting me through the week. And all of the loyal folks who have stuck with me, reading what I put out there, and sometimes offering comments and encouragement. It has definitely been memorable.
  • In February, there was a paint seminar in Clare that turned into a mini vacation. I added one day to my trip when my sister Brenda agreed to join me. We stayed in a wonderful old historic hotel, enjoyed time in the hot tub and pool, talked and shopped and explored. Brenda brought me numerous presents, including a new computer.
  • In March, I traveled with my daughter Kate, her husband Jeremy, and two of my grandchildren, Madeline and Tommy, to Connecticut to visit my grandson Mikey, his girlfriend, and their new baby, Lincoln. Kate makes all travel memorable, and this trip was no exception. We took little detours to see special sights both coming and going, and had an especially culture-rich experience while we were there.
  • In May, I went to Mikado to visit my friend Linda, who I hadn’t seen in too many years. We talked and laughed and caught up on things. We ate very well. We shopped very hard. We made several visits to a nearby animal shelter, and when I left to come home, I had a new dog – Darla – with me.
  • In June, my grandson, Tommy, came to the island for a long visit. My daughter, Kate, surprised us both by coming to the island for the Fourth of July.
  • In July, my friend Mary came for a visit. We did something special every day. We talked as if no time at all had passed since we’d had a good conversation. We laughed as if the last fifty years had fallen away!
  • In August there was the “Meet the Artists” Art Show at Livingstone Studio, where I had a good response to new work. It was a beautiful, sunny day with good food and wine, too!
  • My sisters came to the island in August, too, with significant others, children and grandchildren for a glorious week of reconnecting with family.
  • In August, I started a “bullet journal,” which has streamlined my life in many significant ways. It helped me to consolidate a dozen lists (titles and ideas for artwork; Christmas gifts purchased, gift ideas and Christmas card list; books I have read and books I want to read; quotes; daily activities; work calendar; self-improvement goals; you get the idea!) into one easy-to-keep-nearby journal. I am not good at using software to do this stuff. I’m better at writing it out. This – so far – seems like a good fit for me.
  • In September, I went across for a mammogram (good results).
  • At the end of November, I traveled downstate for good early December visits with my daughters, brother, sisters and others.
  • In December, I looked back at 2016, and started plotting ahead for an even richer, more productive year in 2017. The handy “task and activity tracker” that I created for my bullet journal makes it easy to see, for instance, that I did not allow myself a single bit of studio time for at least three months. That has to change! Photos taken with my sisters in December showed clearly that I need to lose some weight. I’m getting ready to start a new diet plan in January. Looking toward spring, I will either get my garden in hand, or I will give up on it and turn that area back into lawn. I won’t spend another summer looking at old overgrowth and weeds! So, good feelings about the past year, big plans for the next: that’s a good place to finish the 52 Lists Project!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Joyous Season to all!