Category Archives: Life

Crisis

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“Crisis” is acute, rather than chronic. It demands swift action, and, though it’s extreme, it normally passes pretty quickly. I don’t know what to call it, when it goes on for a long time. Depression, maybe? That doesn’t sound drastic enough. I’m sure there are some people who live with constant crisis: those who are living in war zones; those who have serious disease in their family; the homeless; the desperate. It’s hard to think about.

In my life, crisis is a short-term thing. Life bumps along, with minor ups and downs, and a few unexpected curves. Then something happens, and suddenly I’m in crisis!

It happened to me recently. On the day after Thanksgiving. I was working at the hardware store. Freight had come early, because of the holiday, so most of it was already put away. Olya, the young woman I often work with, helped me to finish that job early. Then, we looked around for our next project.

We had already taken a few days in the previous week to unpack and set up all of the Christmas items, and decorate the store inside and out. We are working on an on-going basis at fixing locations, straightening shelves, and updating prices. Bringing over-stock up from the basement or down from the high shelves is also something that we work at daily. Along with customer service, these things aren’t a “project” so much as just a regular part of the job.

The nail section definitely needs attention. Because of current manufacturing issues, some regular inventory is unavailable, and we’ve had to substitute others. The fill-ins come in various-sized boxes that don’t fit into our display. In addition, a group of inexperienced summer help resulted in many things being put away in the wrong location. So, that section is a huge job that would involve moving shelves and rearranging thousands of boxes of nails and screws. Too big a job for the day after Thanksgiving.

In this way, we looked around, noted things that needed to be done, and assessed our time and ability. Winter hats, gloves and scarves had to be brought upstairs. The big order for the last ferry boat has to be considered. Ice melt has to be brought up from the basement. The chain saws have to be displayed.

We started with the chain saws. There was room on the high shelves over the paint-mixing area. They’d be visible from the entry door, and from the front of the store. A ladder would be needed to get them down, but that was okay. The slow selling items that were on display there would have to be moved up to the even higher shelves. All of the shelves would need to be cleaned; the merchandise would all have to be tagged.

I started on the eight-foot ladder, then quickly realized I’d need the bigger one. Olya carried the short ladder to the back; I carried the twelve-foot ladder to the front. It was then, or in the next few minutes when I was on the high reaches of the ladder, leaning out to rearrange the inventory and wipe down the shelves, and hefting heavy chain saws up and over to arrange them on shelves, that I noticed my back was going out.

I know the early signs, and have learned to pay attention to the warnings. Once, I was so crippled with a bad back that I had to spend an extra week downstate, unable to move without assistance, let alone drive! I was seeing a chiropractor several times a day, and laying around my sister’s house the rest of the time, leaning heavily on muscle relaxers and pain pills. I’m sure I was the poorest company she’d ever had!

So, when I feel that twinge, that tells me I have pushed too far, I know to listen. Ibuprofen immediately! That allowed me to finish my day at work. We finished the chain saw display. I brought up two side shelves, one spinning display, and three totes full of hats and scarves, and got most everything out and displayed.

At the end of my work day, I went home and started my regimen of heating pad, gentle exercise, ice packs and ibuprofen. I know what works, and I know it’s important. When my back goes out, it is always a crisis, but if I take care of it, it’s just a short term inconvenience.

Courage

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Where does courage come from? Is it real?

The few instances when I have acted with courage in my own life, there was no choice. A brave action was the only option available. And, I was quivering in fear. I am not a courageous person. That is absolutely true. And, yet, I have been brave.

There were times, not many, when I stood up to people who were bigger, stronger, more influential or more powerful than I. Sometimes to stick up for someone else. Now and again, to support a good or noble position. Sometimes just in defense of what I felt was a put-down. Mostly, these acts of bravery happen only after the fact, and only in my mind.

I have embarked on courageous challenges, sure. Often, foolishly naive, I didn’t realize what an act of bravery it was…to get married…to give birth…to become a parent. Almost everybody does it; their are no “badges of courage” offered to those who do, yet what a challenge to anyone who undertakes any of these things!

Is any marriage easy? It involves work, forbearance, and struggle, even when it’s going very smoothly. If we had any sense, when young and in love, we’d shake in fear at the prospect of the future we were walking so breezily toward. Even in the best marriages, it takes courage and commitment.

When I became pregnant, it was without a single thought to all the complications and difficulties that could arise. Every woman has their own unique stories of pregnancy, labor and delivery because, though pregnancy itself is something very common, it is also a very individual experience. No matter how many women have gone through it before, when it is happening to you, it takes courage!

Parenthood is something I walked eagerly toward. I had little brothers and sisters, after all. I’d been a babysitter. I’d had pets. I never imagined – maybe it’s impossible to imagine until the experience is there – how very enormous, would be the love I felt for my children. Attached to that big love is a huge sense of responsibility, and a heart-stopping fear of all the things that could happen. Though blessings and joys abound, being a parent takes courage.

There are other things that cause us to draw on our resources of courage. The more of a coward you are, the more even minor challenges take nerve. I have never been to war, but, by god, I’ve gone to the dentist! I’ve had surgery. I’ve gone through divorce. I went back to college in my thirties (which seemed so old, at the time, and so daring. Now I think, what was the big deal?). I have stood up to huge losses.

I am not a brave person. Life presents challenges; I keep going. Sometimes it’s easy; other times it’s really hard. I don’t feel courageous, but maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. Courage might not be the same thing as heroism. Maybe, just to continue to stand up to the challenges that life presents is an act of courage. Maybe we all deserve a medal!

Cancer

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Cancer is not a part of my personal health history. Although I have, so far, been spared, cancer has touched my life more than once over the years. I’ve seen the pain it has caused, the struggle that has ensued, and the final results.

I’ve known those who have made it through to the other side of treatment, and who continue, blessedly, on with their lives. I’ve experienced the loss of dear friends and family members who have not survived it. Cancer is an awful word that comes loaded with fear, and knowledge of all the horrors it can produce. For as much that cancer takes, though, it also gives.

Cancer gives the sure knowledge that life is short, and unpredictable, and precious. These are lessons that we might come to on our own in other ways, but a cancer diagnosis is quick delivery.

A life span seems like a long, long time. I remember thinking that my Grandpa, then in his 50s, was a very old man. Anticipating the far-off turn of the century, I thought I’d certainly not be around for it. If I was, I’d be way too old (48!) to notice. The idea that people could live to seventy or more seemed like forever! A lifetime.

As we age, though, we push back that final door. At age sixteen, thirty seemed ancient, old age was unfathomable; we sang, “hope I die before I get old…” By age thirty, another whole outlook presented itself. Thirty was pretty darn young, while I was living it! That has continued to happen, through my life. Old-age is somewhere out there, vaguely in the distant future. Death is farther beyond that.

A diagnosis of cancer brings death’s door front and center. No matter what the prospect of survival, there it is, close and personal. And it’s always too soon. Facing death, we see the value of life. We realize what a transient gift it is, and how quickly it can disappear. This can happen whether the diagnosis is yours, or for someone you know.

Suddenly, the knowledge or insight a person has to offer becomes more important. When my mother knew she had three months to live, she regaled us with stories, most that we had never heard before. She told each one of her children how much we were loved. She reached out to old friends and distant family. She “held court” every day, in her pajamas, from her comfortable chair, as those that knew and loved her stopped in to let her know.

A person given a cancer diagnosis is recognized for the irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, precious treasure that they are. The things they do are more greatly appreciated. Their contribution to the world we share is noted as both unique and priceless.

When cancer jostles our world, it opens our eyes. We see clearly, if we hadn’t before, the wonders that are here for us, for free, every day. Every morning a sunrise! The grass! That tree! The snow! It shows us the value of life.

Cancer helps to define quality of life. What’s the bottom line? What will we endure, to try to get rid of the disease? What is too much? What constitutes a good life? And what is a good death? These decisions have not touched my own life, but I’ve watched and listened as others that I love have weighed options, and made hard choices. Cancer gives clarity.

So, yes, in many ways, cancer gives.

Mostly, though, cancer takes away.

Confession

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Odd how the word “confession” has changed in meaning over the course of my life.

Growing up in the Catholic religion, Confession was one of the seven holy sacraments. Like Matrimony and Extreme Unction, I didn’t understand its meaning much beyond that. In the second grade at Bishop Kelley School, we studied, practiced and prepared for our first Confession, which would be followed shortly after by our First Holy Communion. Two big events in the life of a small child!

I don’t know if the nuns neglected to tell me about tone of voice, or if I had simply failed to register that instruction in my effort to memorize the “script.” I was shy, and terrified of speaking in public to the point where I was often completely unable to form words. This was important! I didn’t want to mess it up. I practiced and practiced.

Finally, the day came when we all walked in a single file line from our classroom down the hall, out the front door, across the street, and into the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. We each genuflected toward the altar, then positioned ourselves in the pew adjacent to the confessional booth. When it came my turn, I crossed the aisle, pulled back the green velvet curtain, and knelt onto the padded brown leather kneeler.

I heard Father slide the screen open. Was it time? I waited. “Are you there?” he asked quietly. Yes, I was there. I was ready! Filled with excitement at this big event, my shyness disappeared, and I started talking, just as I’d practiced:

“BLESS ME, FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED…”

“Whoa…whoa…shhhh….SHHHHH…Hey! Quiet! Whisper!” came the voice of the priest from behind the screen. I didn’t know – or I’d forgotten, in my enthusiasm – that I was supposed to whisper. And, though I knew my lines perfectly when I arrived, that reprimand drove them right out of my mind. From that point on, he had to coax every word from me.

“This…” he said, and I whispered, “this…”

“Is…”

“My…”

“First…”

“Confession.”

One word at a time, we got through the introduction. I’ll bet he hated to even broach the subject of sins, but somehow we got through it. We had talked about that in class already, with “disobeyed my parents” being the default sin for seven-year-olds. He assigned me my penance, gave me his blessing, and sent me on my way.

By the time I reached eighth grade, I’d learned how to play the system. No way was I going to tell the priest that I harbored lustful thoughts about Paul McCartney…or any of the Beatles. My relationship with the Beatles was not the priest’s business! I would not admit to disrespecting Sister Aloysius, either. Many of the conversations my friends and I were having were also not things I wanted to bring up in the confessional.

So, I’d start out with the usual, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I have no sins to confess.” Then, like an after-thought, I’d jump in there with, “Oh! Oh, yeah…I lied once.” The lie, of course, was the “I have no sins” line. At the age of thirteen, I thought, I guess, that I could cheat my way into heaven!

Christmas Past

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In my long life, there have been many good Christmases, and it has always been my favorite holiday. Too often, though, anticipation leads to disappointment, when the holiday falls short of my expectations. Or, there’s a big let-down when it’s over. One Christmas, though, lives in my memory as just about perfect.

That fall, my husband and I had sold our small, drafty, badly-in-need-of-repair house on Lake Pleasant, and moved in to a brand new townhouse just outside of the downtown area of Lapeer. We were in our early 20s, and had been married not quite four years. Our daughter, Jennifer, would turn three in January; our second child was due in December. Loving my beautiful new home, and experiencing the “nesting” instinct often associated with pregnancy, I embraced Christmas decorating.

Over the chair in the living room, I hung a bright green wreath my mother-in-law made for me, of painted and folded computer punch cards. Bells on ribbons were draped over every door knob. I had three ceramic angels, each dressed in gold and each holding a musical instrument, standing on the end of the counter that divided the kitchen from the dining room. On the wall above them, I hung a slab of old barn wood on which I’d fashioned a Christmas tree.

The tree was made of bits of green florist’s foam and scraps of torn tissue paper glued on to the surface. The “ornaments” were buttons, tiny beads, and earrings that had lost their mate. Chains from old jewelry formed the garland, and a folded tin foil star topped it off. I’d fastened everything in place, then given it several coats of shiny varnish.

Our Christmas stockings were hanging on the half wall that faced the entry door, including a small one for the baby, not yet arrived. Our Christmas tree waited outside on the patio, until the holiday got a little closer, but the music of the season played in my house all day long.

My daughter, Katherine, was born on the eleventh of December. She started off with a bit of jaundice, and had to stay longer in the hospital. When we brought her home, just a few days before Christmas, my heart was full, and the holiday spirit was strong.

My sister-in-law, Dena, came over with her new baby, and the two tiny infants napped on the sofa while Jennifer helped us bake cookies. That evening we brought in the tree, set it up and decorated it. The year before, Jennifer and I had made ornaments from baker’s clay: the characters from The Nutcracker, sweet angels, the three kings, and a few cute elves. Homemade Chicken and stars soup simmered on the stove; Christmas songs filled the air.

When my daughters were asleep, I got back to the on-going task of wrapping presents. That’s how the days went by: cooking, baking, making gifts, wrapping presents, and loving my little family.

Christmas Eve was when my husband’s parents celebrated the holiday, so we went to their house for dinner, and gift exchange. It was always a big feast, with lots of appetizers and lots of desserts. Because my in-laws both worked, they relished time off around the holidays. The family gathering was always fun. We then went home for our own preparations.

On Christmas Eve, Jennifer told us, “I know Santa Claus is getting me a train for Christmas! It’s what I want more than everything!” She had neglected to actually mention that train to anyone, even Santa Claus when she went to sit on his lap in the mall, or in the letter she dictated for him. So, her Dad set out late on Christmas Eve night, through a raging snowstorm, to find a train.

He found one, finally, at Perry Drug Store. It was smaller than we’d have liked, but the price was right. Mainly, it was available! Relieved, we set it up under the tree. Jennifer’s face reflected her joy when she saw it, “I knew he’d remember,” she announced happily. I don’t think she ever played with her train after Christmas morning!

On Christmas Eve, all the thoughtful gifts that had been purchased over the previous months were placed under the tree. The stockings were filled. The red-and-white striped “Santa’s wrapping paper” presents were added. The unwrapped balls, stuffed animals and the train were spread around. With a picture of the “ideal” Christmas tree embedded in my mind from my childhood, when gifts for nine children competed for space, I thought, “it’s not enough!”

So, with my baby sleeping in the bassinet beside me, and my little girl asleep in her cozy bed upstairs, with my husband dozing on the sofa while A Christmas Carol played on the TV, I crocheted through the night. A hat for Jennifer, dark blue, with double-thick earmuffs and a multi-color ruffled brim. A foot-long clown for baby Katey, and a bigger one for Jenny. Because I hadn’t planned for this, the only stuffing I had was old nylon stockings. Finally, long after midnight, I relented and got a few hours of sleep.

Christmas morning! I made coffee and baked sweet rolls first. With Katey in my arms, I watched as Jenny investigated the contents of her stocking. She found the unwrapped gifts and toys, and showed Katey the ones that were hers. When my in-laws stopped in, the rest of the presents. Then, there was time to relax for a bit.

Later, after baths and showers, dressed in our best Christmas finery we went to my parents house. There, I showed off my new baby, and helped finish the meal preparation, that my Mom had been working at for days. Dad grinned as he helped his guests to the bar, set up on the side table. We gathered around the long table, with another table in the back room for the overflow. We exchanged gifts, told stories, exchanged news and played games.

Maybe there was tension in the air, at my in-laws house, or at my family home. Sometimes that happened, over the holidays. Maybe my husband drank too much. It’s possible that the children – there were plenty of them – were grouchy or noisy. There could have been disappointments. If so, I don’t remember any of it. This Christmas lives in my memory as the perfect holiday, and that’s exactly how I want to remember it!

Besieged II

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A week ago, I had to look up the word “besieged” to make sure I had the correct meaning for it in my mind. Now, I feel like so much of an expert on it, I’m giving it another entire post!

Sometimes, the entire universe seems to conspire to weigh a body down. It feels like an attack somehow, coming at me from all angles. I feel besieged.

In addition to normal bills that come due regularly, new things crop up. A medical procedure that should have been covered by my insurance turned from “screening” to “diagnostic.” Which makes it necessary to come up with the “deductible” that I have to pay before the insurance kicks in.

A simple call to have the pilot light on my propane furnace lit for the season turned into a major, unexpected problem. I needed at least one new, expensive part to get it going. Since my only other heat source is an electric space heater, and electrical outages can be common here on Beaver Island, it could not be put off.

At the hardware store, in addition to the regular weekly freight, that can be pretty overwhelming all on its own, we received a whole pallet of new Christmas stuff. That, in addition to the 12-foot, floor-to-ceiling section of Christmas stuff in the basement, stored from last year, waiting to be brought upstairs.

The process involved first moving displays of heaters and humidifiers from the front shelves, coolers from the side shelves, T-shirts and sweatshirts from the front shelves in Housewares, and the life-jackets from where they hang near the door to the Gift Shop. All of those items had to either be stored in the basement, or displayed elsewhere. It involved a lot of moving and rearranging.

Then, every Christmas box and tote, old and new, had to be opened, as we started to formulate a plan to make sense of it all. Some shelves are adjustable, some not, so the size of items often determines their location. Of course, we try to keep tree-trimming items together, yard decorations in a group, gift ideas and “stocking-stuffers” close by.

As soon as that job is done, it’s on to help finish up with getting the regular freight put away, so that the next order can be prepared. The last ferry boat of the year runs in December. After that, any shipments have to come over by airplane. It not only increases the cost of freight, but whole pallets cannot be loaded onto the small planes. There’s a lot more handling and moving of everything to get it from the warehouse truck, across Lake Michigan, to our store on the island. We try very hard to plan ahead, and order supplies to last us until the boat runs again in the spring. It’s a great deal of pressure.

At home, there are my three dogs, each nine-years-old, and each with their own health issues. Each morning, I grind up their medicines, mix the individual tonics in with a bit of soft food, and dispense them. Last month, Blackie Chan was lame; next, severe allergies kept Rosa Parks (and I!) from sleeping. Darla’s health is okay, but she’s been showing a predatory interest, lately, in my neighbor’s chickens. It’s always something.

I have an art show planned for next October, in my home town of Lapeer. It’s a long way off…but, for me, that’s a dangerous way of thinking. A lifetime procrastinator, I am well-acquainted with the hazards of putting things off! So, I’m trying to stay on top of it. I’m trying to limit the days I have to work outside of my house; I’m blogging just two days a week; and I’ve forced myself into a regular routine.

Then, someone has family visiting for the holiday, could I work? Someone else has a funeral to attend, could I fill in? Someone needs to go to the mainland…yes, I can work. Then Dennis, who is always so kind, and who, along with Kevin, helps to turn my simple blogs into an “Island Reflections” radio program, wrote to let me know that “we’ve been in re-runs for several weeks now.”

That does it! I spend a sleepless night worrying. I get a little snippy with the people at work. I shoot off a letter to Dennis. I feel overwhelmed.

Besieged.

Buried.

Then…

I get a message from my friend, Audrey, offering the wonderful treat of a take-out meal from a Greek restaurant on the mainland, ordered, paid for, and socially-distanced delivered to my home!

I receive a check in the mail – larger than I expected – from my friend Lois, for the artwork I sold in her gallery this summer.

I get a letter from Dennis…and then one from Kevin…both assuring me that I have nothing to worry about; they have plenty of material for the radio.

Finally, my first Christmas card of the season, from my friend, Bob. As always, it’s the hand-drawn invitation to his annual Pine & Pasta Party. This year would be the 41st and, though it, too, has been cancelled due to the current pandemic, he still sent out the invitation.

And here I am…once again…besieged with the kindness and goodwill of others!

Besieged

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Besieged. It sounds like a word I know, but I looked it up anyway. Yes, it was the word I thought it was, and I had the correct meaning in mind, too:

besiege v.t. lay siege to; crowd around; assail with requests

That’s exactly how I feel: besieged. Not always, but often.

The dogs want my attention. Constantly, it seems. I want to write, or draw, or even, for heaven’s sake, do the dishes. They want me on the floor with them, scratching ears and rubbing bellies. I have two hands; I have three dogs. A few minutes on the floor with them, and the discrepancy becomes evident. They scramble for the best spot. They push and nudge and slide in close. The big dog, Darla, will drop onto her back for a belly rubat any time, without a thought to the small chihuahuas that have to move quickly away to avoid being crushed!

When they can’t get attention that way, they want out. Then in. Then a treat, as reward for going out and coming back in. Over the years, due to extreme demand from my too-plump dogs, the size of their reward has shrunk. Currently, the treat they get is the same kibble they get for their dinner. Each piece is only slightly larger than a BB.

I dole the tiny pieces out one by one. First, one goes to the dog that actually made the trip (“Good girl, Rosa Parks, outside and in!”). Next, one each to her two companions (“Look, Darla, what Rosa Parks got for you! Here you go, Blackie Chan, Rosa Parks wanted you to have this. She loves you guys…just as I do.”). Finally, one last little bit of kibble for the dog that went out and in. We call that “the bonus.”

I barely get back to what I was doing, and another dog has decided to make the trek. They tag-team me that way, until we are all exhausted. I’ve tried saying, “Enough! No! You just came in! You don’t need to go out again!” To that, Blackie Chan will crumple pathetically against the door, as if it will magically open on its own. Darla will lay down in front of it where, even through a sound sleep, she will methodically scratch on the window until I relent. Rosa Parks, without hesitation, will march straight for the bathroom, to pee on the rug without an ounce of shame or regret. It’s not worth it! I continue to go along with their relentless game.

I come home from work after a long and trying day. I have a handful of bills from the post office, a bag of necessities from the grocery store, my lunch bag, purse, thermos and coffee cup to carry inside. I balance everything in my arms and hands and, bone tired and with aching feet, make my way from the car to the kitchen door.

Before I get even halfway up the walkway, I can hear Blackie Chan. He’s the big “talker” of my three dogs. “She’s here! She’s home,” he seems to be announcing. And when I open the door, there he is to greet me, with Darla right beside him. Seconds later, Rosa Parks, who is slower in noticing my arrival because she’s nearly deaf, rounds the corner with her own big grin. I put everything I’m holding down onto the counter, and drop to the floor. Darla wriggles from nose to wagging tail with enthusiasm as she gives me a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. The little dogs both clamber into my lap, thrilled to have me home.

Soon, I’ll get up. I’ll put away the groceries and move the mail to the table. I’ll grab my camera, fill a pocket with kibble, and set out for a walk with the dogs. For a few moments, though, I just enjoy the greeting. I wallow in the pleasure of being happily besieged!

Beginning

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I adore beginnings. Beginnings are charged with energy, filled with possibility. They haven’t been tested yet. Devoid of failure and disappointment, beginnings allow me to believe that anything is possible.

This is true of almost every fresh start: the first day of a new diet or exercise plan, or the beginning of a new routine. The first year in a new location, the first week in a new job, the first day of vacation. A movie I haven’t seen before. A new restaurant. A new friend.

Life becomes smaller in these lock-down days, but there are still plenty of opportunities for beginnings. I pull out a stack of blank notecards. I page through my address book, and fill out envelopes. Who to write to? What to talk about? I could share my frustrations, tell funny stories, or just let someone know that I’m thinking of them.

I start a new book. Sometimes it announces itself right away, with a first line that draws me in to the center of the story, and holds my interest. Other times, I am teased along. “You might like this,” the book whispers to me, “keep reading.” Then, it’s like a birthday surprise when the effort pays off, with characters and plot that were worth the wait.

I turn to a new page in my sketchbook. Oh happy day! In my gratitude journal, I write, “I am so grateful to be starting a new page in my sketchbook today!” I muse to myself, and may even write down, “What was I thinking anyway, to decide to fill an entire page – six little drawings – with leaves that blew in from outside?!” And I smile as I settle on filling the next page with sketches of shells or stones.

The beginning of a new week is always filled with hope. I flip the page in my bullet journal. This week, the quote is from Sister Mary Corita Kent: “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.” Along the bottom left margin I’ve written, “You can do this!” On the facing page, it says, “It’s going to be a great day!”

Beyond that, the week is blank, ready for me to fill it. First, with places I need to be, and things I have to do. Second, I block off time for special projects, either outside or inside. Beyond that, I wait. I prefer to write things down after they’re done. That way, the entries mainly reflect what I have accomplished, rather than what I’ve failed to get to.

The first of the week is the beginning of my “weekend.” Three days off, to fill any way that I choose. The time stretches before me so vastly at the start, I often while away hours or even entire days on frivolous nonsense, before I realize time is limited. Often, I’ve been preoccupied, just enjoying the renewal of a fresh beginning!

Beauty

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I love the topic of “beauty” for the opportunity to tell one of my favorite memories.

It happened a long time ago. I was not yet thirty years old, married, with two children. We were living at Corner #16, in North Branch, in the back apartment of a duplex, in a building that had once been the Deerfield Township Hall.

My husband was on his way home from work; I was getting dinner ready. My daughters, aged four and seven, were playing in the next room. They had their dolls spread out over the carpet, and were dressing them in one fancy gown after another.

Barbie dolls, when I was young, were the -very unrealistic and completely unattainable – ideal of feminine beauty. Though my daughters grew up in a more enlightened age, and were exposed to a much broader definition of what it meant to be a girl, Barbie, unfortunately, still held her place.

When I was a child, and well into my teen years, “playing with Barbie dolls” involved long, continuing, soap-opera style story-lines, and entire sections of the bedroom converted into Barbie doll homes, job sites and town. For my little girls, it was mostly just changing their clothes.

One stunning outfit after another would be put on and stripped off the dolls. Any imaginary dialogue was usually just commentary on the outfits. “Oh, Barbie, that looks really beautiful on you!” “Oh, Ken, thank you!”

I casually listened to the girls chattering back and forth as I diced vegetables and put a casserole together. Suddenly Jennifer, the seven-year-old, let out a big sigh. “Katey,” she addressed her little sister wistfully, “Don’t you wish our Mom was beautiful?”

Little Katey, barely four-years-old, and still unable to pronounce the letter V, was thrilled to be included in such a grown-up discussion. She sat up, and slowly nodded.

“Yeeaaah…” came her thoughtful reply, “eben if she’d wear her wedding dress around, it wouldn’t be sooooo bad!”

I imagined the scene: I, with a body that showed the wear of two pregnancies, and my choppy, DIY haircut, would stand at the kitchen door to call my family in to supper. Just for emphasis, I picture myself scratching, Ma Kettle style, at crotch or armpit.

I’d use the sing-song, stretched-out call that my mother taught us to call our brothers and sisters from the far reaches of the yard, garden, orchard or field: “Cooome and Eeeeeeeaaaaaat!!” My daughters would come around the corner of the house from the back yard. They’d stop in their tracks, mouths falling open in awe and admiration.

Because there I would be…with “the gown” on.

Over forty years have passed, and the image still makes me laugh!

Timeout for Art: Line

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The New Little Oxford Dictionary defines line first as a “long, narrow mark traced on surface.” It goes on, of course, to mention a wrinkle, a furrow, a line of people, a line in a script…as well as all of the geometric applications of line.

In art, line is the first, most basic component of any image. Children learn early to drag a line in a circle to make the head of a person. Lines radiate from it to indicate arms and legs. A slash for a mouth, dots for eyes. I can hear the voices of my little daughters: “eye…eye…nose…great big happy smile!” Scribbled lines for hair, or whiskers and, before you know it, a two-year-old has created a reasonably identifiable portrait! Every child does this, I think.

Forty years later, that same human (though not my daughters!) will say, to explain their lack of any artistic ability, “I cant even draw a straight line!” What, I ask you, does a straight line have to do with art? That is geometry. Math. Or, perhaps, architecture. That is not art.

We are soft, fluffy humans living on a round planet filled with curvy and sinuous inhabitants, both moving and still. We see our own unique vision of what’s out there through our own eyes. We interpret it with our own mind, filtered with our individual histories and circumstances. We don’t need straight lines!

Give me, instead, the gracefully curved line, the crabbed line, the aggressive, analytical, or whimsical line. I’ll accept the blurred line, the smudged line, and the erased line. An incised line. An implied line. A dotted line.

Drawings are often used simply as businesslike illustrations to expand on the written word, or as preliminary sketches for painting or sculpture, the “real art.” Because of this, the potential of the line, the most important component part of any drawing, is often overlooked.

A good vocabulary of lines can elevate a simple sketch to the realm of fine art. Where is the tension in a drawing? Let the line reflect it. Where is the weight? Where is the movement? Where can an almost weightless line work to define calm, light, or airiness? In a drawing, lines can tell a story. Let them speak!