Category Archives: Cooking

Home Again (A Photo Essay)

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After being waved off on the ferry boat by these good friends…

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Bob and Gary

…I spent a few days with my sister, Brenda, and her husband, Keith. I got in a visit with my brother, Ted, and sister, Robin. I did some shopping to round out my planned Chicago wardrobe. Keith and I both went to get our hair cut. I packed up my carry-on bag.

Wednesday morning, I boarded the train to Chicago, along with my daughter, Kate, her husband, Jeremy, and two of my grandchildren, Madeline and Tommy. It was a marvelous time, that deserves its own essay. My daughter is an excellent planner/organizer who managed to fit an amazing number of wonderful things into a four-day trip while allowing it to still be relaxing and fun.

Travel was always an adventure for me. We took trains, water-taxis and ubers. We enjoyed wonderful walks through many beautiful and interesting parts of the city. From the cutest sandwich shop, to the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, to the brightest southern-style breakfast, to a fabulous pre-theater Italian dinner, to (of course!) Chicago-style pizza, every single meal was memorable.  Likewise, every day was filled with wonders: a  blues concert on Navy Pier; Millennial Park; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History; and – on the evening of my birthday – the Broadway production of “Hamilton!” It was all made richer by the company I kept; their insights, love and humor surrounded me, and I couldn’t have chosen better travelling companions.

Then, on Saturday, it was back to Lapeer, where I once again enjoyed the hospitality of my sister and her husband. Though they left early Sunday morning on a vacation of their own, I took advantage of their laundry facilities, their lovely view, the company of their cat, and the steak Brenda had left in the refrigerator for me.

Monday morning, Kate and Jeremy picked me up early, for the long drive up north. It was good to have the day to talk, as I’d been missing them already. We made good time, chattering along, and finished up with lunch and lots of good-bye hugs.

Back on the island, I retrieved my car from the long-term parking lot, loaded my luggage into it, and went to pick up the dogs. They were almost as happy to see me as I was to see them! Home, then, to unload the car and settle back in.

A  glance toward the garden sent me scrambling, with bowls and baskets to fill. I picked what is probably the last of the peas, most over-ripe, two green peppers, five pounds of  Italian green beans, a few pole beans of the Blue Lake variety, three huge zucchini squash, four large yellow summer squash, and over one hundred tomatoes. I then walked the perimeter of the yard, to check the status of the wild blackberries. It was a good haul!

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I took the dogs for an evening walk, enjoying the woods and the quiet and remembering all the things that I love about this place.IMG_3627

Back in my kitchen, I cleaned and lightly sugared a bowl of blackberries.

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I cooked Italian beans with bacon for my dinner.

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As a storm brewed outside, I cleaned and peeled tomatoes, and set them to simmer on the stove in the large enamel pan. I filled the big kettle with diced squash, some peas, green pepper and tomatoes with a little water and put it on the back burner to cook. Then, before I had time to tackle the mound of beans, the lights went out.

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That signaled the end of my long home-coming day!

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The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #35

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List the elements of your life where you feel challenged in a positive way:

[This is a perfect time for this list! It’s my birthday week, and I am just back (not quite home yet) from a wonderful birthday trip, to Chicago with my daughter, Kate, and her family. I am assessing all the usual signs of aging, plus taking note of accomplishments and goals. I am warmed by time spent with family, amazed by the bright wisdom and kindness of my grandchildren, and awed by my daughter’s determination, bravery, common sense and ability. I feel inspired and changed by my experiences, as I look toward my goals for the next year of my life.]

  • We did quite a bit of walking over the last several days. Chicago is a good city for walking, and the weather was perfect for it. It was fun, at the end of the day, to ask Kate how we did. She’d tell me the distance in miles, and also how many steps we’d taken and flights of stairs we’d climbed. I was pleased to be able to keep up with the young people. I’m determined to reincorporate daily walking into my life.
  • If anything has slowed me down in life, it is a lack of courage. I almost always stay close to my comfort zone. Listening to my daughter and her family discuss big changes, I realize how much I’ve chosen to play it safe, despite the cost. I am sixty-six years old, with only a fraction of my life still ahead of me. It’s time to stop letting fear dictate my direction. Time to be brave!
  • Having wandered, enthralled, through three wonderful museums, I feel challenged to get into the studio and be guided by all the fresh inspiration!
  • Seeing my daughter, who works very hard to be able to have the life experiences she enjoys, put out the effort and never lose sight of the big picture, I am encouraged to expand my boundaries, too.
  • I read every day. Sometimes, though, it’s a challenge to commit to good books that expand my view of literature and the world. This year, I selected five books for summer reading that seemed able to do that. Four were authors I had not read before. Of those, two are authors I will now seek out.
  • I write every day. The challenge is to not simply devolve into mindless drivel.
  • Everyday, I feed myself. I aim for meals that enrich me, beyond just physical sustenance. I think about flavors, colors and textures. The preparation. The arrangement of food on the plate. The experience as a whole.
  • I challenge myself, always, to be nice: to find an honest complement to give; to put a positive spin on something; to say the kind thing. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes not. It’s always worth it.

Good Things

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Sometimes it’s easiest to see what’s wrong: with a particular situation, or a day, or with the whole world. It takes more energy to find the good things. Not always, though. There are times when my natural propensity for looking at the negative flies right out the window. I am left, then, with a humble appreciation of my rich life, and all the blessings in it.

I’ve had a lovely weekend. Well-balanced. It was productive, but not in a crazy-making way, where I plan more projects than I could possibly ever finish. Busy, but not too busy. I put laundry on the line…but also sat on the shore, reading, for one entire afternoon. I tended the garden, but also wandered the fields to collect wildflowers. I went over my notes for a class I am planning, and put hanging wires on a dozen framed collages. Then, I spent the rest of the day in my studio in frivolous and playful pursuits. I cooked and cleaned, but also took time to relax.

I could list the things I didn’t accomplish; there are quite a few. But why? They’ll be there, waiting for me. Right now, I’d rather just relish the good things.

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dried Rhododendron flowers make a nice bouquet

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wildflowers make another

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one almost-ripe tomato, two days before I harvested it for a wonderful BLT

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a row of collages, ready for the Museum Week Art Show

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 29

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List the happiest and funniest stories and news you’ve heard lately:

  • I cheered, just like everyone else, for the successful rescue of the young boys trapped in a cave. With water rising, monsoon season coming, and the whole world watching, it was high drama with a happy ending.
  • Rain, this week, was a relief for many of us around the state of Michigan. It has been a hot, dry season. Our “extreme fire danger” status has been lifted, which is excellent news in this season that brings so many campers to our woods.
  • My best friend, Linda, turned sixty-six years old yesterday. That’s almost unbelievable…and funny (though not unbelievably funny)…because my birthday is not that far away, and then I’ll be 66, too. How has it happened that we, who met in the sixth grade and bonded over a mutual love of mischief-making, have grown so old?  When we were both eleven-years-old, Linda’s perfect Yogi Bear imitation made me laugh. Over the years, my best – rolling on the floor, laughing ’til my belly hurt, almost peed my pants – laughs have been with Linda. Our lives have carried us from marbles, pull-over sweaters and the Beatles; to husbands, housework and babies; to single-life adventures with teen-aged children; to all the things that make life enjoyable today. One of the best things is having Linda, who maybe knows me better than anyone (possible exception: my sister, Brenda), still in my life. We share interests in feminism, activism, art, cooking, gardening and books. And, after all these years, we still share some of the best laughs.
  • I have this Sunday off, for the first time since April. I’m almost giddy with all the possibilities! What I am not going to do is spend it sitting in this computer chair. So, as my mother used to say, “up and at ’em!”

 

July 3rd, Fox Lake Road

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Tuesday, again. The last day of my “week-end.” It’s my last chance to catch up on my rest and get ready for the busy week ahead. The day to finish up all the home and yard projects I planned to get done on my days off. It’s blogging day. It’s the day I try to get to town for post office, transfer station and grocery store. As usual, one day doesn’t seem like enough time.

We’ve had a week of extreme heat, unusual for Beaver Island, resulting in a string of uncomfortably warm nights. There wasn’t a breeze to be found, here on the Fox Lake Road. My little fan barely made a difference in the oppressive heat in my house. I spent several nights tossing and turning, too hot to sleep. A storm came through on Sunday night, bringing welcome rain and cooler temperatures. I’ve been sleeping long and well the last couple nights.

This time of year, one of the busiest weeks of the whole year on Beaver Island, it is important to be rested. Businesses are stretched to their limits with thousands of visitors in addition to regular customers. The hardware store is hectic all day long. By the end of the long work day, I am exhausted. A walk or a drive to Fox Lake with the dogs, a bit of time to pull weeds from the flower beds and water the garden, then supper, a half-hour of cleaning time, and I’m done. I have no energy beyond that. All projects have to wait for my days off.

So, Monday and Tuesday are always busy days, and this week more than most. I finished setting up my bullet journal for July, with the month already underway. I finished a load of towels and another of rugs yesterday. I have dark clothes on the line now. I filled a wheelbarrow with weeds trimmed from around the stone-bordered flower beds, and started digging a new fire pit.

I have a large fire pit in the front yard, four feet in diameter, that I planned to use for pit-firing ceramics, and large bonfires with friends. I have never used it for either of those purposes. It is too big and deep to be useful for roasting marshmallows. I use it, mainly, for burning windfall branches and my household paper trash. A smaller fire pit will be more serviceable. The large circle in the front yard could be filled in and used as a flower bed, or simply returned to lawn.

So, I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon digging a hole, and removing the sod from the surrounding area. I used the soil I dug out to fill in low areas of the back yard; I filled the wheelbarrow with roots to be hauled away. Today, I plan to empty the wheelbarrow, then fill it with large rocks to border the new fire pit.

Inside, I have two unopened boxes to deal with. They are filled with metal frames and pre-cut mats: almost all the materials I need to get two large paintings and a dozen small collages framed and ready to show. To finish, I’ll have to make time to stop at the hardware store, and cut a dozen pieces of glass for the collage frames. With the tourist season underway and a couple special art shows coming up, that has to be done right away.

Beyond all that, there are bills to pay and letters to write before I go to the Post Office. I need to gather up the recyclable trash to take to the transfer station. I should go through the magazine rack and get rid of those publications that have been hanging out since Christmas.  I have a short list of necessities to pick up from the grocery store, and should go through the cupboards to see what I’ve missed. I know I’m (dread!) out of ice cream! It would be smart to plot out a week’s meals so I can put lunches and dinners together with what I have on hand.

That’s what’s happening, or should be happening, on this third day in July, here on the Fox Lake Road. From the looks of this list, I’d better get busy!

 

 

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 25

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List the ways that you enjoy investing in your mind, body and soul:

[I read that direction last night, so I could think, before falling asleep, about today’s essay. I thought, “Ugh! I’ll be writing about meditation,  prayer and spirituality and other things that I think I should care more about, but don’t, trying to make it sound like I enjoy it, when I don’t…and I hate this assignment!” Maybe it was the word “soul” that threw me into such a fit of discouragement. I am still and always the product of my Catholic upbringing, after all. Anyway, this morning I read the same direction with an entirely different response!]

  • I like mild forms of exercise, in modest doses. I have the tiniest little yoga routine that I try do each morning…but if my back is aching or other activities are pulling me away, I do an abbreviated version of the tiny routine, and have no regrets. I like a bit of Pilates: some stretching, and simple balance and flexibility exercises. I enjoy lifting weights for strength and definition, though the heaviest weights I use are only five pounds. I like walking, swimming and bicycling, but not for speed or distance. I like to avail myself of the fresh air, open spaces and scenery while doing something that is good for me, but I’m not out there to break any records.
  • I enjoy walking. Not for exercise (though that is a bonus, no matter), but with my dogs, a camera, and a couple mesh bags in case I find treasures along the way. For the familiar walkways, the sound of chipmunks and birdsong, and the joy of two dogs sniffing along, walking feeds my soul.
  • I take pleasure in cooking a good meal. It’s better – though rare – when there is someone to share it with and to appreciate it, but still.
  • I make things. Calling myself an artist, it might seem that creating a drawing or painting would give me greater pleasure than, say, crocheting a pair of slippers or making an ornament out of baker’s clay…but it all seems to come from the same place, and the emotional reward is similar.
  • I write. Every morning, or just about, longhand, in a black and white covered theme book. Morning Pages lets me spill out whatever is on my mind, for no one else to see. Sometimes, I surprise myself with a bit of exceptional writing. Mostly, I whine or rant, or write down crazy dreams.
  • I read. I have, at this moment, two self-help books (Sorted by Gillian Perkins and How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White), a creative expression book (The Creative Formula by Holly Shaw), one book of short stories (Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson) and one historical novel (We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter) underway, so there is always something to read that will suit my mood, and the time that I have.
  • I garden. I grumble about the work involved. Work that is never done, it seems. My aching back and my throbbing knees grumble separately. Still, gardening enriches me. It feeds me. And it provides a steady link to childhood, and to my father. Dad was the gardener in our big family. I say that, knowing that most of the weeding,  watering and harvesting duties fell to his children, and that it was Mom that had to – with bribes and threats, begging and coercion – see that it was done. It was Mom that, with rolled eyes and big sighs, greeted bushel basket after bushel basket of beans or cucumbers or tomatoes or corn into her kitchen. Mom coordinated the work crew – again chosen from her children – and orchestrated the tasks that would get the vegetables cleaned, steamed and canned for the winter. Still, Dad was the gardener. He negotiated with Magabelle, who owned the half-acre lot beside ours, to use the land for his garden. He traded electrical work for truckloads of manure. He rose early after his late shift at the factory to plow up the space. He plotted out the garden each year with stakes and garden twine. When company came, Dad, grinning and with long strides, walked them out through the garden to proudly show it off. When I’m in the garden, I know my father is nearby, and I know that he is pleased.

Happy Father’s Day!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #22

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List the things you prioritize before doing what really makes you happy:

I imagine a life of rising to coffee, then yoga, then writing, that would then give way to a long walk with my dogs and a spin around the yard and garden before going to the studio. There, I would have time to fully develop concepts, try out guesses and whims and ideas that come to me in dreams, read, explore and grow. Another run through the garden, to gather vegetables for an evening meal, then a shower to signal the end of my work day. Dinner, then, mindfully prepared and enjoyed. Cleaning time next, then the rest of the evening for relaxing activity. I think a life like that would make me happy. But…

  • I prioritize things I have to do. Because my life falls apart if I don’t. Things like laundry, and dishes, and sweeping the floor. My life is so much better – and happier – when these things are done, I even incorporated “cleaning time” in my imagined ideal life. Then there are the seasonal “have-to”s. Like planting the garden or mowing the lawn. When it’s time, other things have to be put aside to make time.
  • I prioritize things I ought to do. I go to funerals. I make an appearance at benefits, showers and retirement parties. I attend the annual meetings of the Beaver Island Boat Company. I am a sitting member of the Amik Circle Society, and serve as secretary at their meetings. I occasionally attend township meetings. I vote. These are obligations. Still, there is satisfaction in fulfilling them.
  • I prioritize the things I need to do. I need to have a job with a paycheck I can count on. Though art sales and art classes have supplemented my income for the past thirty-five years, and I have imagined a hundred different scenarios (and tried out more than a couple) where art-related activities could support me, realistically, I need a job. I will probably have to hold a job for the rest of my life. I call it the “work until death” track. For more than twenty years, I worked as the morning waitress at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant; I have been working at Powers Hardware for the last sixteen. Though I work because I need to work, I am fortunate that it makes me happy, too. I saved a few lines – I can’t remember the author, but have that written down somewhere, too – that would be perfect for my eulogy: “I slept, and dreamt that life was joy. I woke, and found that life was service. I acted, and found that service was joy.”
  • I prioritize joyous things that come along. Sometimes, it’s a grandchild or two, coming for a visit. Sometimes, it’s a day when I’m simply too exhausted after work to walk the dogs, so I load them into the car – along with a camera, a beer and a book – and we go to Fox Lake. We have the place all to ourselves, the dogs are happy and the water is beautiful, so I stay, ignoring all the things I should be doing. Most recently, it was last week, when two of my sisters and one cousin arrived, to open the farmhouse for the season. I didn’t get into the studio, even for a minute. I didn’t get my lawn mowed. I didn’t get my windows washed. I didn’t continue any of my organizing or deep cleaning. The trade-off was an entire week of family time: dinners around Aunt Katie’s farmhouse table with people that I love; good conversations; evenings of euchre, Bingo and Scrabble; laughter; good hugs; wonderful companionship. Worth every bit of time I could give!

Though my imagined “happy life” is a far cry from my life as it is, I am happy, and my priorities contribute to my contentedness. So!