There’s been lots of activity in my world here on Beaver Island. Last week, my family was here; four sisters with three of their partners; four nieces with their families; and a few cousins just to round out the numbers. There were days at the beach for swimming and playing, trips to explore the island, and evenings at the beach for sunset. There were puzzles and games keeping us up until all hours of the night, and shared meals gathered around big tables. It was wonderful!
It didn’t, however, leave much time for other things. I neglected my home, garden and yard. My dogs became accustomed to – though not happy with – my erratic coming and goings. I struggled through shifts at work, with little sleep and no energy. I didn’t write. I never stepped foot in the studio.
Then, there’s the “catching up.” Mowing lawn and weeding garden and flower beds compete for my time. Showering my dogs with love and attention is also at the top of my list. Then there’s laundry. Housework. And, I admit, nap-time. Then back to my outside-of-the-home jobs. Which, especially at this time of year, can be exhausting, leaving little energy for anything else.
Though I’ve had no time or energy for making art, I’ve been busy at tasks related to studio work. There’s always something to do! Last week, I switched out the mats and frames of collages for a couple who have been good customers and loyal supporters of my work. I framed new work for an upcoming show, and put wire hangers on the backs of some others.
While working outside, I deadheaded my daylilies and bagged the spent blooms. Added to my collection of leaves and petals in the freezer, they’ll be there when I need them for papermaking. Yesterday, I delivered my work to the building where the Museum Week Art Show will take place, then filled out the paperwork and paid my fees. Last night, I cut to size, dampened and wrapped printmaking papers, so that they will be ready to print on this evening. That will be the first actual art work I’ve done in weeks! Often, though art-related activities take up much of my time, there is no art-making going on!
I slept well, and woke up feeling rested, strong, and ready for the day.
I’ve lost about ten pounds so far this year. I notice it a little bit in my face, and I have a few pair of pants that now need a belt, but mostly I look about the same. Still, it feels like a good accomplishment.
The dogs seem content. Though they each have health issues, this has been a good week for them.
I’ve got several good books going. I’m reading That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs, Everything is Figure-outable by Marie Forleo and Indelible by Laurie Buchanan. For my morning study time, I’m reading The Power of Daily Practice by Eric Maisel, PhD. For my evening walks, I’m listening to Eternal by Lisa Scottoline.
I’ve just completed filling every page in my sketchbook with drawings, and I’m ready to start another.
My bush beans have finally poked through the ground in the garden. The peas are up, too. The pumpkin is looking quite impressive. After a traumatic start, I think my tomatoes are all going to make it. The pole beans have just started to climb their tepees.
I had a couple really productive days outside last week. I moved a rhododendron plant to make room for several daylilies that I had to thin and move from another bed, to make room for two Gold Drop Potentilla that I bought on sale. I think the bushes will stand up better to my big dog’s thrashing through the flower beds looking for snakes. The daylilies seem to have handled the mid-season transplant just fine. In fact, I swear they seem a little relieved to be out of the big dog’s path of destruction! My hollyhocks are up, taller than me, and loaded with buds, just outside the kitchen door.
I crawled around on hands and knees pulling weeds. Nothing new, except that I can actually see the progress I’ve made. I moved the last of my straw to the garden, to mulch the tomatoes and squash. I picked up a bunch of windfall and a dozen dog toys. I mowed the back yard and, oh, it looks nice!
I met a few friends and cousins after work for a drink on Friday. On Saturday, I ran into a couple other cousins, and had a good chat over coffee. Then I ran to the gallery for a wonderful conversation with another cousin, who shared the news that my work is selling well this year. And even better, reported that she’s getting good feedback about it, too.
Today, before work, I’m going to stop in at the farmhouse to say good-bye to my cousin, Keith, as I won’t be able to be in town to see him off. I’ll be working at the golf course, then, for the rest of the day. After today, though, I have three days off. Oh yeah, plus…the boat that will be coming in to the harbor and carrying Keith away…will be delivering my sisters to the island!!! Oh, Happy Day!!
“Ground” is a perfect topic for this week, in this time of the year. I’ve been watching the ground for weeks!
I am constantly looking down; in the springtime, there is always something new to observe. First, I watch the steady regression of the snow cover, then I note the things that are revealed. The pale grass in my yard brightens with each spring day; rain intensifies the many shades of green. Under the trees at the edge of my driveway, wild ramps and trout lilies carpet the ground.
Walking down the Fox Lake Road, the view changes daily. Bright greens shoot up among fields of dull grasses. Ferns slowly uncurl their fronds. Brambles that just yesterday were bare, show bright buds at the ends of every branch. From areas where there was nothing of interest to see, suddenly a cluster of trilliums bloom. Always, especially after a rain, and just in case luck favors me, I watch for morels.
It’s not all new. Around my lawn, before I can mow the quickly growing grass, I pick up windfall shaken down by winter winds from several large trees, clothespins dropped and forgotten under the clothesline, and a dozen dog toys.
My big dog, Darla, loves to carry her toys outside. She’s choosy about which one gets to go out with her on any given day. If it’s muddy, she always seems to want the white lamb; the crazy chicken is her current favorite. No matter; she never brings them back inside. I pick them up, regularly, and bring them inside. There comes a time, though, when the day is too cold, or the snow is too deep, or I’m simply neglectful. The toys are abandoned outside, and buried under the snow. It’s an annual ritual, when the snow melts, to gather them up, wash them, and give them back to Darla. She greets them all like long-lost friends, and we begin again.
It’s not all good. The fenced-in space for my vegetable garden needs a lot of work. The light deer fence has come down along the whole south side, and is tangled in the milkweed, blackberry brambles and tall grasses that grows in the field there. Weeds have sprung up in the planting beds, and the mulch that marked the pathways has pretty much disappeared. The flower beds are covered in clumps of blown-in leaves, and choked in quack grass. That’s what forces me down to the ground.
I tackle the flower beds one at a time. I work on hands and knees. One by one, I roll away the rocks that form the border. I pull the grasses that have taken hold between the stones then, digging down with my bare hands, I follow the long white roots into the bed. I’ve never been able to get used to wearing garden gloves. I can’t feel anything through them – not the bulbs and corms I’m trying to save or the tangled roots I’m attempting to eradicate – so I sacrifice neat fingernails for the satisfaction of getting my hands in the earth.
It’s a slow process, and one that is continually interrupted by more pressing duties. Last week, I spent parts of three days getting the lawn mowed. Before the summer season gets underway, I have to tackle the vegetable garden, and get plants and seeds into the ground. Always, there are other jobs calling me away. Recently, the mosquitoes have hatched, and their fierce attack brings all outdoor work to a quick halt in the evening. Still, it’s satisfying to see the progress, and when I’m able, on almost any bright day, I’ll spend at least part of it on the ground.
Ah, gratitude. I’ve written about this before. Often, and – I think – recently. So recently, that I’ve wondered if I should bypass this word, this time. But, I just recently finished my A to Z blog-writing challenge, and returned to my long list based on the Table of Contents in David Whyte’s book, Consolations. It’s too early to start changing the plan. So, gratitude.
I have, finally, thoroughly embraced a daily gratitude practice. I write, every single day, a list of things that I am thankful for. The habit alone makes me happy. I have, for most of my life, traveled through my days by the seat of my pants, ad-libbing everything from waking and sleeping times to whether the dishes would get done, or pile up in the sink. I’ve lately embraced habit as a way to make life easier.
I used to smoke. When I decided to quit that habit, about twenty or so years ago, it was really hard. In addition to the addiction, which is real, I had the habit of smoking, Now that I am a non-smoker, I don’t wonder, after a big meal or when I pick up the telephone, whether I should light a cigarette or not. It doesn’t even cross my mind. My life is easier as a non-smoker for many reasons, but one important one is that I don’t have those decisions to make all through the day.
Because I was giving up rather than adding a habit, it didn’t occur to me right away just how much habits make life easier. We all have daily habits that are such a natural part of our lives that we don’t even think about them. Forming a habit takes time. Some studies say two weeks; others suggest thirty days or even longer. Once it’s there, though, it comes easily. With this awareness, I’ve incorporated quite a few new and helpful habits into my life in recent years. I’m proud of every one of them.
So, writing down things that I’m thankful for is a good thing, all on its own. I know it would please my mother, and it adds another bit of discipline into my disorganized life. Beyond that, the gratitude habit has opened my eyes. It would be easy to write a simple, rote list of blessings in my life: my family, a roof over my head, and food to eat are always things I’m grateful for. Repetitive, but true. Since I try to write sincerely about things that please me, I am more observant, and more aware.
When I’m forced out of bed at two in the morning to let a dog outside, and the moon is bright, or the sky is full of stars, I think, “thank you,” and the next day, “last night’s bright moon,” or “that beautiful sky full of stars” will show up in my gratitude-writing. If it rains when we need rain, or the sunshine raises my spirits, I take note. A phone call or a message from a loved one will surely make the list. I’ve become more appreciative of the small pleasures in my life, as I pay more attention to them. Gratitude is a habit. A simple, eye-opening, life-enhancing, happiness-inducing habit. I highly recommend it!
What is going on? Where are the stars and planets? It seems, according to my life, that something must certainly be out of whack. What in the world?
Usually, my life rolls along on a pretty even keel. I have good days and bad days in a fair balance, in between the majority of days that are just routine. Which is fine with me.
The last couple of days, though, have brought a string of unfortunate events, one on top of another.
First, the weather. Is it wanting to be spring…or fall? Rain turns to snow, then, along with cold weather and whipping winds, it turns back to rain. The weather affects my ability to get a good walk in, which makes it harder to get rid of a sour mood.
It seems like I often come home from work with a poor frame of mind. I get so tired of all the machinations of just getting through a day. But, I’d need much more room than I have here, to do my grumbling about that!
Yesterday, my bathroom ceiling developed a serious leak. Water dripped into the bathtub for hours, as the rain came down outside. The drywall on the ceiling sagged, and felt spongy. Where is that water coming from? My bathroom is on the first floor of a story-and-a-half house, with an inaccessible space above it. The roof is a 12-12 pitch; there is no plumbing up there. It wasn’t raining that hard!
Then, while I was cooking dinner, the panel of indicator lights on the back of the stove started going crazy. There was a humming sound coming from it as the clock flashed on and off, with numbers on display that made no sense. The indicator lights for “Bake,” “Broil,” and “Clean” flashed on and off, too. After several minutes of that, it all went dark. I have no oven, until I get it fixed.
Today, for the first time this month, I didn’t have a blog written ahead. No problem, I was up early enough to write. I had it started, even. The title was “Waking Up.” Then, in helping Blackie Chan get down from the bed, I wrenched my back. Blackie Chan is my smallest, lightest dog! I’ve made that maneuver hundreds of times before. Today, I put my back out! So, the rest of the morning was spent alternating hot compresses and ice packs, so that I could go to work.
And, once again, work was a strain of swallowing my pride, accepting my station, and just continuing to do my job. By the time I got home, the rain was pouring down (and still dripping enthusiastically into the bathtub inside, as well), and the temperature had dropped. No walk. I’d make a nice dinner.
Okay. Dinner would be leftovers warmed-up on top of the stove. I decided to treat myself to dessert. I had a box of no-bake cheesecake, and all of the ingredients I needed to put it together. With the crust nicely formed and chilling in the refrigerator, I mixed up the filling. Nice and thick. I pulled the beaters out of the bowl. Then, in a moment of idiocy, I pushed the button that I thought (because that’s how it was on my old mixer) would release the beaters. On this new mixer (that I’ve had, and used, for at least five years, mind you) that button is the “burst of power.” Pushing it sent the beaters madly spinning, coating everything with sweet filling. From the floor to the coffee pot to the entire stove top to the overhead cabinets to last night’s dishes still in the drainer, everything is spattered.
What else could possibly go wrong? What in the world?
Usurp is a verb meaning to take power or control of something by force, or without the right to do so. It’s one of those vaguely old-fashioned words that I never use, but recognize when I read it in a sentence. I looked up the definition to make sure I had it right, having only previously gleaned its meaning from the context I found it in. I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to use the word. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said it out loud. Still, its pronunciation – yoo-serp – is exactly how I expected it would be.
That’s unlike some words that I’ve learned through reading, where my idea of how a word should be spoken is wildly different from the correct sound of it. The trouble with that is that I get in the habit of thinking of it in one way. Even after I know better, I have to do the translation in my head. “Erbs,” I think to myself, “oh, they are talking about herbs.” Even though I am wise enough, now, to know better than to pronounce the H, I still privately think of the word that way. And I get a little satisfaction from hearing Martha Stewart boldly say “herbs,” as if she has a backup group of guys, all named Herbert, waiting just off stage.
Anyway, having gone through and rejected several dozen UN words (from UN-appreciated to UN-witting, all seemed a little negative), I had pretty much decided that my “U” topic would be uniforms. Which I could manage a few paragraphs about, though, as topics go, it was not overly exciting. Then, “usurp” came to me in the middle of the night.
It was two o’clock in the morning, actually, when I woke up to notice that Rosa Parks, who usually sleeps beside me, had taken over my pillow. She was sprawled out on it just as she often is in the middle of the day when she has that space all to herself. Not at night, when my head is resting there. “What the hell,” I thought, and nudged her off. Rather than settling back in to her usual spot, she walked along the edge of the bed all the way to my feet, jumped down to the floor, and went to the door.
When I got up to let the little dog outside, I noticed that her regular spot in the bed was occupied. Sometime in the night, Blackie Chan had moved from his position behind my knees right up to shoulder level where Rosa Parks usually sleeps. Hmmm….curious. When Rosa Parks came back in, I went back to bed. That’s when I got a clearer picture of what was going on.
Each time that Rosa Parks made a move to get back up on the bed, sweet little Blackie Chan let out a long, vicious-sounding growl. “What is this?” I asked, and he gave me a little tail-wag, a tiny smile, and an offer to show me his belly. Rosa Parks ventured one paw on the bed, and Blackie Chan’s growl came back. “It’s okay,” I told the snarling boy; he quieted until his sister tried to get up again. “It’s okay,” I told Rosa Parks, but she kept her eye on her brother, and didn’t take the chance. This went on for awhile.
Finally, I got up and lifted Rosa Parks onto the bed. I gave her a position on the other side of me, with my body separating the two sparring siblings. They both went back to sleep. By that time, I was wide awake. Thinking. Rosa Parks usurped the position on my pillow that was usually reserved for my head…because Blackie Chan had usurped her position on the bed. Who could sleep with all of that power-grabbing going on? Too much usurpation!
When my “To-Do” list is long and overwhelming, I have to remind myself to rest.
When deadlines loom, and time seems short, it’s not easy to take time out, but that’s when it is most necessary.
Sometimes a few minutes is enough. I step out the door, breathe in fresh air, and take a moment to admire what’s budding or sprouting or blossoming. Or, I sit down in the comfortable armchair, where I almost never sit, beside whichever small dog has settled there, and open a book. I might make a cup of tea and page through a magazine. Sometimes, I just allow myself a few moments of stillness.
Other days, a longer break is in order. The dogs are always up for a walk, no matter the weather, and it is a welcome break for me, too. Or, I might call a daughter, a sister or a friend for a few minutes of conversation. Or, I gather a book, a beer, my camera and my sketchbook. I load everything – plus three dogs – into the car for a run to Fox Lake. There, I’ll sit at the picnic table while the dogs enjoy the brand new smells, and change of scenery.
Sometimes, simply changing from one activity to another is enough. When I’m struggling with tax documents, writing a blog can seem restful. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by a blogging challenge, shaking out the rugs gives me a break. As a master procrastinator, I recognize these things for the diversionary tactics that they are. Still, if something productive is getting done, seriously, what the hell.
Then there are times when the only thing to do is come to a full stop, I can feel the agitation of too much to do and not enough time. Nerves are getting in the way of any progress. I know that panic, or tears, are close. No break, whether long or short, and no alternate activity will cut it. Then, I just have to respect my need for rest. I have to be bravely careless enough to let all forward motion stop. Make soup. Watch a movie. Read something mindless. Take a nap. Save shame and judgment for another day. Just rest.
A trip to town to see the veterinarian is not a fun outing for any of my dogs, but I think it’s hardest on Rosa Parks. Though she’s a loving and loyal little dog, she is extremely selective about who she’ll make friends with. My daughters, my son-in-law, three of my grandchildren, and me. That’s it. The veterinarian is not on her list.
Another quirk my Chihuahua has is that she does not like to wear stuff. No cute hats or sweaters for Rosa Parks; she doesn’t even like a collar. Because her neck is larger than her head, she can’t be forced to wear one, either. “Off,” I imagine her thinking as she uses a paw to scrape it past her ears, over and over again.
I finally gave up on the collar, and got her a bright pink harness. It’s her favorite color (I think) and much better suited to her body-type. She will wear it when necessary, for trips when she needs to be on a leash. It doesn’t take long, though, for her to have shifted it so that she’d wearing it over only one shoulder, or around her waist, with loose ends dragging behind. Clearly, she wants it off.
My other dogs are similarly negative about any encumbrances. Blackie Chan can “Houdini” his way out of his harness in a matter of seconds, while sitting on my lap in the car! Even Darla, my most compliant dog, has managed, of late, to slide out of her collar. As they weasel their way out of any restraint, I picture Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and his battle cry, “Freedom!”
Rosa Parks is the worst, though. When the dogs go to the groomer, for bath, blow dry and a few other incidentals, they each get a seasonal, decorative bandana tied around their neck. Rosa Parks, who has to be muzzled for the treatment, wears a bitter scowl until the muzzle comes off. Then, she works that kerchief off her neck, and tramples on it. If she could spit, she’d spit on it!
A trip to the veterinarian is a nightmare on many levels. She has to be muzzled; she has bitten me twice. I know it was not intentional…she was aiming for the doctor…but it’s still unacceptable. Then, she will be poked and prodded by people she doesn’t like, and doesn’t trust. It’s always traumatic. I used to bring all three dogs in at the same time, but one dog’s terror affects all of the dog’s experience. Lately, I’ve been making them individual appointments.
Yesterday, it was Rosa Parks. She needed her annual heartworm check and heartworm preventative for the warm weather months. Since her brother, Blackie Chan, has recently been diagnosed with some pretty serious heart problems, we planned an X-ray to check on that. And, she desperately needed her nails clipped.
We started with the nails. No matter how many times I try to put a positive spin on it, Rosa Parks does not want the procedure, even when it’s called a “mani-pedi.” Regardless of how closely I hold her, assure her that it will be okay, and tell her that she’s a good girl, Rosa Parks is a maniac. She jerks and thrashes and fights. She tries every tactic she can manage to try to get away. I hold her tightly; the doctor has a steady hand. Still, we usually have at least one incident of a nail getting cut too close. Yesterday was no exception.
It was a stubborn injury, too, that refused to stop bleeding, even after several applications of the styptic powder. The doctor finally bandaged the paw with gauze, wrapped it in a bright blue ace bandage, and sealed that with a bit of adhesive tape. Next, the blood draw for the heartworm test. Then the X-ray, when she had to be handed over to the assistant, to hold her in place.
By that time, Rosa Parks had quit fighting. Her fierce glare above the muzzle assured me that she wasn’t collapsing from lack of oxygen, but had simply finally given in to her helpless position. Soon, she was back in my arms, and the muzzle was removed. A short consultation, a couple prescriptions, a bill printed out, and we were out the door.
Then, Rosa Parks started immediately working to get the bandage off. She’d loosened it by the time we got home, making it look like she had a big blue slipper on one foot. She limped melodramatically, and sat right down to continue chewing at the wrap. She kept right at it, through the day and on into the evening. I found the blue ace bandage on the laundry room floor. The gauze was not far away. Freedom!
The adhesive tape, however, has slid down to the wider part of Rosa’s foot, and is firmly stuck to the hair there. Having suffered enough indignity, she refuses to let me remove it. Having shed the bulk of it, I suppose she’s decided this much can stay on.
Winter started slowly this year, and was, all told, a pretty mediocre season, here on Beaver Island. Cold temperatures came late and only sporadically. Though we had a couple big snows and considerable ice, there were no records broken.
No matter. When the ground is finally clear, when the new green shoots poke out of the ground and the trees start to bud, I welcome spring. Though I’ve been present for the changing seasons for nearly seventy years now, spring comes as if it’s never happened before, and I greet it with surprise and wonder.
I’ve always lived in Michigan, and I enjoy the changing seasons. I don’t love everything about any of the seasons, but there are things to appreciate in each. I love summertime, and look forward to it. The ever lengthening and warming days make me happy. I enjoy summer’s energy. When the nights start to cool and the trees show their colors in the fall, I like the change. Simmering soups and long walks through the crackling leaves replace the busyness of summer. When the holidays get close, and first snow falls, I appreciate the beauty, and the quiet and introspection that the winter offers.
Just like all the other seasons, I know that spring is coming. Still, I am amazed. Did I doubt that winter would give way? Did I forget that spring arrives every single year? It seemed like a miracle. It opens up like a distant memory. This season always surprises me. In the spring, everything seems brand new.
Walking down the Fox Lake Road with my dogs, the smell of onions is suddenly present. Oh, the ramps! I’d forgotten! Looking down, speckled green leaves poke out of the dry ground cover. Trout lilies! Nearly obscured by the overgrown grapevines, my forsythia bursts into flower. Has it always been that bright? Have I seen that yellow before? The pale, bright green on the ends of the tree branches. Is that new? And the smell of lilac! That deeper, musty smell that reminds me about morel mushrooms. In the springtime, the regular seems extraordinary.
No matter how many times this pattern repeats, no matter how many times I’ve watched the seasons change, spring is always brand new!
Yesterday, I wrote about my oldest daughter, Jennifer, so I must, of course, today write about my second daughter, Katherine. This is not a stipulation they put upon me. They may not even notice. No, this is self-imposed craziness.
I have always been obsessed with fairness. As one small child in a very large family, I kept a close eye on the distribution of every single thing. I’d notice if someone got an extra dinner roll, or got to stay up beyond their bedtime. If one child managed to skip their turn at doing dishes, I knew it, and it rankled me. Life should be fair!
When I had children, I strove for equity in all things. Never mind that my daughters were three years apart, with decidedly different personalities, things had to be fair. If Jennifer had an eight o’clock bedtime until she was eight years old, then Kate should have to adhere to that rule, too. There was a time when I actually counted out green beans, to make sure they had equal portions! Christmas gifts were spread-sheeted and matched, taking into consideration their different ages and interests, as well as the size, cost and value of each gift. It all had to balance. It still does!
So, I worried. What if my memories of Kate’s birth are not as vivid? What if I have more to say about Kate, since she and I have, lately, had many more opportunities to chat? What if I am – accidentally – NOT FAIR?? I almost scrapped the entire idea, and went back to J being about the junk drawer! But, I love both of my daughters, and I’m so proud of each of them…and they happen to have names that begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet…so I have thrown caution to the wind.
Kate was born on a cold December night, surprising us by arriving almost two weeks early. She was the tiniest little girl, with a full head of wild, dark hair. If she had been a boy, we’d planned to use the Daniel Adrian boy’s name that we’d picked out before Jen was born. My sister-in-law had her first son one week before Kate was born. She liked the name Daniel, and asked if I was really attached to it. “Go ahead,” I told her, “I am sure this baby is going to be a girl.” I don’t know why I was so sure, but I was, and I was right.
For our second child, we needed a name that would, again, have a long, dignified version befitting a president or some other high official. It also needed to be one I could shorten. We came upon Katherine because of Katherine Hepburn, who I loved for her independent character. Katherine was also a name with some history in my family. Aunt Katie, my Dad’s sister, was very dear to me. She was named Katherine Elizabeth, after her two grandmothers. So, we went with Katherine Elizabeth, shortened to Katey.
It was important to me that there be lots of syllables in each of their names, helpful (like counting to ten) when I was angrily trying to get their attention. It was a lucky accident that both girls have the same number of syllables in their names. Also nice that the first letters of their names are side by side in the alphabet. Had I decided to have a large family, I could have continued that pattern right through to Xavier, Yolanda and Zeke! Like her older sister, Jen, my youngest daughter has reduced her name to just one syllable. Now, we call her Kate.
Kate has seemed to pick up characteristics from her namesakes, too. Though I never knew the grandmothers that Aunt Katie was named for, I have seen photographs…and I have seen that same angry glare on my daughter’s face! Aunt Katie was a lover of books, travel, kids and dogs; my Kate has similar interests. Like Katherine Hepburn, my daughter is strong-willed, feisty and determined, with a big heart and a wonderful sense of humor. She’s a blessing in my life!