Category Archives: Books

A Day Turns Around

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I won’t go into the many and varied elements that contributed to the end result, but I was bone-tired, grouchy, and on the verge of tears by the time I got home last evening.

I have been determinedly forcing myself, no matter how tired from my day at work, to get in an hour or two of garden work every day, digging, weeding and planting, before I come inside. Even with that, my progress is slow, and the summer will quickly be upon us. There are days when I’m stymied by rain. There is no time to waste!

Last evening, I let the garden go. I quickly unloaded the groceries from car to house. I refrigerated what needed it, and put my precious pint of special ice cream in the freezer. I loaded the dogs in the car, rolled down the windows, and headed for Fox Lake. There, a couple geese with a half-dozen goslings swam leisurely just off-shore. The dogs wandered, and waded, and played. I updated my planner, took a few photographs, and relaxed. A walk through the woods along the shoreline completed our excursion, and we headed for home.

It had started sprinkling by the time we got there. Inside, then! While feeding the dogs and putting my own dinner together, I called my sister Brenda. There was a bonus: my sister Robin was there, too! I spoke to both of them, told them about all the worries and conflict playing around in my head, listened to good advice and welcome empathy, heard about their day, and even found plenty to laugh about. It was a long, good conversation that ended with “I love you”s all around, and improved my mood tremendously.

Off the phone, I sat down to a dinner that included potato salad made to my Mom’s recipe and standards. I mixed it up and served it from the sunshine yellow ceramic bowl Aunt Katie gave me. For dessert, a wedge of rhubarb crisp, from the first rhubarb picking of the year. Again, Mom’s recipe. Later, one small waffle cone filled with raspberry-cheesecake gelato. None of these foods are good for my diet. All were worth it for the good they did for my state of mind!

Finally, I eschewed “cleaning time” and laundry waiting to be moved along in the never-ending cycle. I poured a glass of wine. I used a special hand blown wineglass in swirling blaze colors that was a gift from my daughter Kate. I ran a hot bath, and added scented oil that I’d purchased on a trip with my sisters. I lit a candle. I gathered up a fluffy towel, my good book, and the wineglass. A long soak in the tub, then early to bed.

Not every bad day can be turned around; yesterday, I managed it.

 

 

 

Present, This Day

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Here it is, Sunday morning, and here I am, present for it.

So far, it’s not looking like the best of days.

The weather is cold, and damp, and drizzly. Yesterday, it rained. That means the grass is too wet to mow, and the garden is too soft to work in. If I bundle up, I could do some outdoor clean up. There are a dozen dog toys to be gathered up before I can cut the grass, abandoned when some other activity caught the big dog’s attention. There are two sturdy, lidded trash cans and a few other items that sit along what used to be the fence line. Now that the fence is down, they just look out of place. There’s still a mound of the vinyl deer fence in the back yard. It needs to be rolled or folded up for storage. So far, I’m not enthusiastic about any of it.

I have plenty to do in the house. I left dishes to drain-dry in the kitchen; there are clothes folded and stacked on the washing machine that need to be put away. There is a load of towels that need to be transferred to the dryer, since it’s not a good day for hanging them on the clothesline. I should wash the rugs…but I think I’ll wait for a better day.

I have several letters to write. This job has been hanging over my head for weeks, now, and I can’t seem to work up a plan or any determination. The letters are to accompany second – or sometimes third – bills to advertisers in my news magazine. The agreed upon service has been delivered: I have included the ads, paid for the printing and the cost of mailing; the burden should be on them to cancel the ad if they don’t want it. I am justified in asking for the payment, as agreed upon. Yet, I struggle.

I weave whiny, defensive, “why am I being taken advantage of this way” letters in my head. I approach it as “one business person to another.” I try out lengthy diatribes about why my bill-sending is so sporadic, taking the blame for their lack of payment. And then I do nothing. But they have probably just forgotten. And I need to collect. I have to just get it done.

I have on-going projects in the studio…several things I’m quite excited about, even. This could be a good day for making art. I could set that as my final goal, and hammer out a few necessary jobs before rewarding myself with time in the studio. It sounds good, but doesn’t stir me to get moving.

I have not yet been able to work up much excitement about any of it. I am not in a rush to move from this comfortable chair. I’m not driven to get out of pajamas, or to abandon my cozy bathrobe. There is still hot coffee in the pot; I could use another cup of it. So far, this Sunday morning, I am here, and that is all.

 

Artifacts to Memories: Things I Can’t Let Go

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There is a lot of stuff in my life. I was hoping for a more delicate term, but “stuff” seems apt. Gifts, purchases, hand-me-downs and inheritances. Sixty-four years worth of accumulated belongings. Enough to divide into several categories.

There are the things I hold on to for their sentimental value. Ranging from drawings and cards that my young daughters made more than thirty years ago, to photographs, to little gifts from friends and family, to my very first hard-cover chapter book, to my dining room table. The table was a junk store find that my Dad brought home, that was used as our clothes-folding table and extra-seating-at-holiday-time table for most of my life. Then, moved out to the garage, it was my brother David’s work and party table (the surface gained a few cigarette burns and saw marks from that phase), my sister Sheila’s table to relax with a book and a beverage…and finally my dining room table.

There are things I keep because they are necessary, or because they seem necessary to me. Most of my clothing fits this category…but so do many books, plants, baskets, candles, art supplies, art work, and a large collection of flat, round stones. I know there is too much. I go through periods of purging and paring down. These “necessities” are spared, because the thought of losing them gives me heart palpitations.

Then, there are the items I hold on to, because of an – often unrealistic – idea of the person I would like to be. A collection of beautiful yarn waits, in a basket with crochet hooks and scissors, for the day when I am transformed back into the woman I used to be: a young mother, making gifts and treasures from bits of yarn. Other baskets, boxes and suitcases hold fabrics, embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, rug-making tools and accessories, and quilt squares. My life doesn’t have room for the activities associated with all of this “stuff,” but I can’t give up on the idea that it will.

That young woman that I was, along with a Katherine Hepburn/Jo March/Martha Stewart-esque vision of a person I would like to be are evident in excesses throughout my house, from bookshelves to closets to kitchen cupboards. I would like to be someone who drinks tea, does yoga, listens to cool jazz, wears hats, raises chickens, grows all of her own food, reads the classics, and hosts lovely dinner parties…including trifle for dessert. I am not, but many of my belonging would lead one to think so.

That is the crux of the problem, when faced with getting rid of things I don’t use. I love that young woman that I used to be, with a dozen projects going and a whole lifetime ahead to finish them. I can’t seem to let go of her, yet. I still picture myself with chickens and a big garden, doing yoga, jazz music coming from the stereo, James Joyce on my nightstand. Until I give up on the person I was, and the person I want to be, I can hardly give up her accessories!

 

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.