Category Archives: Gardening

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 Day

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Yesterday, I walked through fog and mist. The Fox Lake Road was slick with ice under a layer of cold water. For surer footing, we took to the corrugated paths made by snowmobiles, that followed the electric lines through the woods. There, the heavy, slushy snow soaked through my boots, and I soon became breathless from the effort of sloshing through it. Though my big dog, Darla, was game to continue, we cut our walk short.

Last night a thunderstorm sent her madly barking from room to room. Finally, she settled onto the rug beside me, somewhat comforted by my hand in her fur as we both listened to the rain.

Today, the snow is on retreat, and a strong wind is drying out the landscape. Spring is once again making an effort at early entry, here on Beaver Island. Like every first spring day before it, this one brings memories as well as hope of warm weather to come. The breezes carry thoughts of other spring days; the fresh smells bring pictures of people and events now far in the past.

There is Dad, up early to pace the garden. Though it’s still too early to dig or till the ground, he would be making plans for when he could. My mother, with a twinkle in her eyes and conspiratorial enthusiasm in her voice, would say, “Feel that breeze! What a great day for drying sheets on the line! Let’s strip all the beds this morning. Think how nice they’ll smell tonight, fresh off the clothesline!” My brother, Ted, would be trying to recruit companions to explore the back field with him, to see what the melted snow had revealed. Suddenly, there are thoughts of Easter dresses, new hats and new shoes.

Overnight, it seems, the grass is green, and the stalks of what will soon be flowers are poking out of the ground. Ice is breaking up in the water. The snow is pulling back from the sun. Soon, warm weather will be here again.

Memories and hope, what more could a day bring? If only a day were an actual artifact, that I could hold in my hands, and pull out for the gifts it offers! If that were the case, the day I would choose to save would be a warm and windy early spring day, just like this one!

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!

The 52 Lists Project #49

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List your favorite books:

I feel like I’ve done this list before, though it’s right on schedule, and the 52 Lists book does not repeat. It is definitely a topic dear to my heart, and one I’ve written about before. For this list, I’ll categorize.

Gardening Books:

  • Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S. White
  • Weeds in Winter by Lauren Brown
  • Creating a Cottage Garden by Sue Phillips
  • Seasons at Seven Gates Farm by Keith Scott Morton and Mary Seehafer Sears
  • An Island Garden by Celia Thaxter
  • Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte
  • Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkcom

Cookbooks:

  • This Good Food by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette
  • Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant by the Moosewood Collective
  • The Supermarket Epicure by Joanna Pruess
  • The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo
  • Let’s Get Together by DeeDee Stovel and Pam Wakefield
  • An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
  • Sweets for Saints and Sinners by Janice Feuer

Essays:

  • The Essays of E.B.White by E.B.White
  • Silences by Tillie Olsen
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  • If It Fitz by Jim Fitzgerald
  • The White Lantern by Evan S. Connell
  • Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Trying to Save Piggy Sneed by John Irving
  • In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens by Alice Walker

Memoir:

  • Growing Up by Russell Baker
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
  • Let’s Not Go To the Dogs Tonight: an African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  • Half-Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Fiction:

  • All of the loosely related stories by Louise Erdrich, but especially Love Medicine, Tracks, The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, Four Souls and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.
  • Just about any by Barbara Kingsolver, but especially Pigs in Heaven.
  • Everything I’ve read so far by Kay Atkinson, especially Life After Life.
  • All of the light-hearted mysteries by Laurie R. King featuring Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell.
  • Everything Alice Walker writes is golden, but The Color Purple is my favorite.
  • The same goes for Mark Twain, but I’d choose Adventures of Huckleberry Finn if I had to pick just one.

Miscellaneous Others from various categories:

  • Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • The Arctic Grail by Pierre Berton
  • I Could Do Anything (If I Only Knew What it Was) by Barbara Sher
  • Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • The Poems of Emily Dickinson
  •  The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke
  • Encaustic Painting Techniques by Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch

And, oh, there are other books on art, history, nature and health that have gone unmentioned. How have I not mentioned poets Marge Piercy, Caroline Forsche and Billy Collins? And all of the other writers of fiction that have meant so much to me? For this one day, this will have to do.

 

The 52 Lists Project #48

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List the things you want to add to your life:

  • Travel. Not a lot, but there are things I’d like to see and experience, that are farther than what my small world encompasses right now.
  • Culture. One big gap in my life right now is the ability to visit galleries and museums.
  • Learning. I have never really quit learning, but I’d love to have time for some classes and workshops.
  • Pleasure. I have a darn good life. I appreciate it, most of the time, and I’m happy. That’s different than pleasure, which comes from interaction and shared experience with others. My dogs bring pleasure to my life. Without them, I’d rarely speak out loud at home, let alone laugh out loud. Still, I could use to add more pleasure to my days.
  • Relaxation. It seems that even when I have time for rest, I turn it into a quest for productivity.  “The German work ethic,” I joke. I suppose I get it from my father, who never took a single vacation that wasn’t a working vacation. I would like to learn to just relax…to walk without needing to have it be a health and aerobic geared outing…to read without having to take notes, underline, remember and – at the very least – be enriched by the experience…to watch a movie without having to be drawing,  crocheting, folding clothes or writing at the same time. By the time I retire (which right now I think of as that time when I will finally be able to devote myself to working in the studio, working in the garden, keeping chickens and finishing a whole long list of home repairs), I hope I have learned to just Relax!

Potatoes

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Aunt Katie would prefer potatoes every day with her main meal. She rarely has bread with dinner, and eats a well balanced mix of lean meats and vegetables, but potatoes are a mainstay. “It doesn’t seem like a whole meal without potatoes,” she has told me.

I like potatoes. I sometimes make a simple meal of fried onions, potatoes and tomatoes. I enjoy a baked potato, with butter and sour cream. I like crisp baked potato skins, with butter melted inside. Mashed potatoes are good, on occasion. There’s nothing nicer, on a Sunday morning, than homemade hash browns with eggs and toast. I like potatoes cooked with boiled dinner in a ham broth, or nestled, along with carrots and onions, in with a beef roast. Rarely, I’ll make a boiled potato. It seems too plain, and needs gravy to make it taster good. I love pierogi, filled with cheesy mashed potatoes; my daughter, Kate, makes them from scratch. I make potato gnocchi, potato pancakes and potato bread. Still, I certainly don’t need potatoes at every dinner.

I am okay with sweet potatoes, as a special flavor at holiday time, but there flavor is not one I would want regularly. My healthy gumbo called for sweet potatoes. They weren’t bad, but over the years I’ve substituted carrots, which I prefer. My sister Cheryl and I used to always split a baked sweet potato at Thanksgiving, and that was just enough.

When I was in college, and my girls were in school in East Lansing, we were only on Beaver Island for three months in the summertime. We didn’t have time for a garden, but I always grew potatoes. I brought seed potatoes up north with me. I split the big ones, and removed extra eyes. Without even working up the soil, I planted potatoes. I pushed the shovel into the ground, jumped on it to get it in deep enough, tipped in forward and dropped a potato in the space behind the head of the shovel. Pulling the shovel out buried the seed potato. One giant step forward, and I’d repeat the process. On and on until all were planted. They took care of themselves, then, through our busy summers. Before we left at the end of August, we’d dig up our harvest. Any missed potatoes would grow up as new plants the following year. I often carried about a bushel back to campus with me.

A few years ago when my granddaughter, Madeline, was here, she was invited to help my cousin Bob with his harvest. I dropped her off on my way to work. When I picked her up, she was covered from head to toe with garden soil, with a great big grin. “You’d think she was digging for gold, as much as she loved finding those potatoes in the ground,” Aunt Katie told me. For that story alone, I like potatoes!

The 52 Lists Project #41

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List all of your favorite things about fall:

  • I like the colors, of course. Even this year, when the leaves on the trees have only just started to turn, it seems like there’s a changing display every day. In my garden, the grapes are hanging deep purple on the vines across from the Sedum Autumn Joy that brightens the corner with deep crimson. The edges of the woods have mushrooms in all shapes and colors, and swaths of little daisy-like flowers, pale purple with yellow centers. The greens that stay green look more intense, when surrounded by dozens of shades of straw-rust-gold as other things go to rest.
  • Cooler nights. Sleep is best when the air is chill, and I’m tucked under a heavy comforter.
  • Sweaters. I like getting out the fall clothes, adding a blazer as a light jacket, or pulling on a sweater.
  • The fallen leaves. There is something very satisfying about wading through deep, crackly, golden leaves. Not the raking…just walking through.
  • No mosquitoes! Though houseflies and fruit flies can be an annoyance this time of year, most of the insects are gone. A walk in the woods is possible and pleasant without having to arm against biting insects.
  • The pace. Fall on Beaver Island is a slower time of year. After the busy-ness of the tourist season, it’s a welcome change.
  • The harvest. Though I didn’t plant a garden this year, I’ve been enjoying fresh vegetables from the gardens of friends and relatives. I’ve been out picking the wild blackberries regularly, and will soon be harvesting my own grapes. The other day, Aunt Katie gifted me with one dozen perfect pints of stewed tomatoes!
  • Affy Tapple. It’s the perfect caramel apple. It’s a seasonal treat, available only in the fall, perishable, and often hard to come by on Beaver Island. I’ve tried other – even home-made – caramel apples, and none hit the mark as perfectly as this one brand. They make them candy-coated (red), with just caramel, with candy sprinkles or tiny chocolate bits…I like only the classic Affy Tapple: a perfect apple coated in caramel with a nut topping. In the last few years, our local grocery store, McDonough’s Market, has tried different types. They are a small store, and have to make a large minimum purchase; they won’t keep, so decisions have to be made. Even if I begged. Last year, my dentist – in her travels back and forth from the mainland – would bring them to me, as we share that obsession. This year, McDonough’s Market has the classic Affy Tapple, and I am overjoyed! I purchase them three at a time. I have brought twelve of them home already this fall. If someone dares to raise an eyebrow or look at me askance, I say, “Hey, ‘an apple a day….'”