Category Archives: Life

High Hopes

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I don’t want to draw too much attention to my lapsed blogging of late, for fear it will become one other negative thing I identify with, like chronic lateness, procrastination, and a dependence on coffee. Then, it becomes even harder to do better.

That’s why, though I no longer walk every single day, rarely go farther than two miles and almost never at a pace that would qualify as exercise, I still label myself a walker. Though time spent in the studio is limited, and good, productive, art-making days are even more scarce, I continue to call myself an artist. I am still a gardener, though I’ve done little beyond watching the weeds crowd into my perennial beds and overtake my vegetable plot for two years now. And, even though I have neglected this blog for more than ten days and haven’t written much of anything else of any consequence either, I am still a writer.

We’ve had several cold, damp, windy and rainy that are my absolute least favorite kind of day, when it comes to weather. To add to the chill and discomfort, the thermostat on the propane stove that heats my house has quit working. As it’s almost summer, and I won’t be needing to have the heat on then, I decided the repair could wait. I manually turn on the stove when I get up in the morning, and turn it off when the house has warmed up. I do the same thing when I get home from work. It’s a fine system until three days of wind and rain come along to throw a monkey wrench into it. Then, I find myself grumbling around in a damp and cold space, morning and evening.

I spent the Easter weekend on the mainland, catching up with my dear friend, Linda. In grade school, when we first became friends, we’d take our lunches over to Crampton Park. There, under the bridge, on the narrow concrete ledge beside the water of the Flint River, we ate while we talked about boys and bras and the things we could see in the murky water. We’d share stories, laughs and big plans for the future. The many years that have passed since then were evident last weekend. We spent one long day shopping for and visiting with my elderly aunt. Another, we spent wandering through the cemetery. Still, there was lots to talk about, and plenty of laughs.

On days when it isn’t raining and cold, there is a definite scent of spring in the air. My snowdrops and narcissus are already blooming, and early tulips are in bud. The forsythia is starting to show yellow; trees and shrubs have leaves ready to unfurl. I’ve been working around the yard, and in the smaller flower beds. When the sun is out, I grab the trowel and pull the wheelbarrow out as soon as I get home from work. While the dogs entertain themselves with springtime smells and chasing snakes, I work at moving fallen leaves and pulling weeds. There’s an awful lot yet to do, but I’m seeing progress.

I have a couple new venues for my artwork this summer, so am even more determined to get some fresh work to show. I think of it in the afternoon, when I’m stocking shelves and tidying the aisles at work. I imagine going straight to the studio when I get home; I picture the projects I’ll tackle and the work I’ll get done. But, then, by the time I pull into my driveway, my energy is flagging. The dogs need to go out. The yard needs work. Then there’s dinner to think about. And clean-up. By that time, my thoughts have turned to my book, and bed.

But, here is Sunday. A new week is always filled with possibility. The sun was out, but while I’ve been sitting here, it has ducked back behind the clouds. Still, a nice day for a walk. If it’s warm enough, I’m going to open the windows to the breeze, and give the house a good cleaning. Then, I’ll let the weather dictate whether the balance of the day is spent outside in the garden, or upstairs in the studio. Either way, I have high hopes.

Artifacts to Memories: This Pig

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I found her among the ads in the back of a gardening magazine: a cast iron piggy bank. She is different than most piggy banks, with their cartoon-like, gender-less countenance and big fat bellies designed for holding many coins. This is a realistic depiction of a pig, reminiscent of a character in an E.B.White story, with full udder pronouncing her gender and an expression that reminds me of Rodin’s “Thinker.” A noble pig.

I placed my order, with the intention of giving the bank to my father-in-law, Jack, for Christmas. When it arrived, I was so enchanted with it, I couldn’t bring myself to give it away! Jack got homemade slippers for Christmas, and the story of the pig, which made him laugh out loud and tease me with mock offense that I had kept his gift. The pig became a treasured object in my home: useful for coin collecting, heavy enough to act as a bookend, a reminder of the pigs we’d raised as children, and a beacon of hope for the small farm I hoped to someday have. It was also the first of what turned out to be quite a collection of pigs.

The next pig was a wooden cutout, varnished to shine, with an inch of twine for a tail. Then I found a pair of silly pink pig salt and pepper shakers, and a little china sow attached by short lengths of fine chain to three little piglets. I purchased a small David Bigelow intaglio print of a pig strapped into a pair of broad wings, prepared to step off the edge of a cliff. “Moment of Truth” is the title. My husband bought me a larger print by the same artist, titled “Escape from the Cycle,” that has hundreds of pigs rising up out of the grid of plowed fields and pig pens.

By that time, I was officially a “collector of pigs.” That led to gifts of swine in every form, from buttons to pot holders to throw pillows. When I spent my winters in a tiny apartment on the campus of Michigan State University, the pigs dominated the small kitchen. Three dimensional versions marched and wallowed along the top of my bookshelf. Pig towels hung from the oven door, and pig pot holders sat in a basket near the stove. It eventually became just too much pork.

When I graduated, and cleared out that apartment to move back to my home on Beaver Island, I wrapped all the little statues and packed them into a sturdy box, labelled “PIGS.” It sat in my attic here for several years as I contemplated where to display them. Life here tends more toward natural treasures. My windowsills are laden with ever-changing displays of pine cones, driftwood, shells, beach stones, and the occasional bird’s nest.  No place for pigs. Finally, I went through the box, gave several pigs away and donated others to our re-sale shop. The rest, I brought back out for use or display.

I kept the two intaglio prints; the small one always hangs above my desk. I kept a small green tin with a pig painted on the sliding lid. I kept three little squeaky rubber pigs, that my grandchildren used to play with; my big dog likes to carry them around now. I kept the jump rope with carved and painted wooden pig handles, though I doubt I’ll be starting a jump rope routine…ever.

Of course, I held onto my original cast iron piggy bank. It still has a dignified appearance; it is a good place for stray coins and continues to work well as a bookend. It makes me want to re-read the essays of E.B.White. It reminds me of hopes and dreams I’ve grown out of or abandoned. When I think about it, I am transported to a long-ago Christmas, in a much different life. I can still here Jack’s laugh, and picture his expression of mock horror as he asked, “You kept my present??” For all of that, I keep the pig.

 

 

Wednesday, for Example

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Sometimes, a day not spent making art is full of progress-making in other directions. Lately, I have been cleaning, sorting, weeding out excess, and rearranging. It feels creative. Then, there are days where simple busy-ness dictates the entire day.

Wednesday, for example.

My day started at two in the morning when the dogs wanted out. The wind was howling. The electricity had gone out. The moon was muted, under a cover of clouds. The dogs came in, but would not settle. Upstairs and down, from one window to the next, Darla roamed the house, barking. When she stopped, Rosa Parks would take up the charge, sharply yipping from her spot beside me. Neither were calmed by my reassuring tone of voice; nor were they quieted by my scolding. A series of hums, beeps and whirs told me the electricity came back on, just after four o’clock. Wide awake by that time, I got up to reset the clocks.

I made coffee and wrote a couple letters, cleaned the bathroom, then turned on the computer. Email, news, social media (several birthdays to acknowledge, another photo of my brand-new grand niece, and my oldest grandson would like my Lemon Chicken recipe) and one game of Scrabble. Next, a little bookkeeping for my news-magazine. Dogs out, in, out, in. Pack a lunch. Shower and dress. Grind up Rosa’s pill and mix it with a tablespoon of wet food in her tiny blue and white china bowl. Prepare the same amount of wet food for Darla, sans the medicine, and serve it up in her clear, heart-shaped glass dish. Boots, coat, thermos, lunch, handbag, coffee cup, six letters to mail, two movies to return, a final good-bye to the dogs, admonishing each of them to “take care of things,” and I am out the door…just a little late.

Work. A fairly normal, not-too-busy day at the hardware store. Some customers, some phone calls. I hauled a ladder up from the basement and made price stickers for the new windshield wipers. I dressed the large beaver in festive green, and arranged hats and trinkets for St. Patrick’s Day in the front of the store. I took time in the middle of the day to go to the Post Office, and stopped at the gas station to return movies on my way home.

Home. Greet the dogs, and take them outside. It’s cold and I’m tired, so just a wander around the yard. Unload the car, then, of letters and catalogs, purse, thermos and lunch bag. I invite the dogs to sit with me on the couch while I go through the mail. They both think a belly rub is more important than anything to be found in those papers! I get up to start dinner. Macaroni and cheese for my dinner, but I also put together a vegetable soup for my lunch through the rest of the week, and a crust-less spinach and cheddar quiche for breakfasts. In between dicing vegetables, grating cheese and arranging pans in the oven and on the stove, I feed the dogs. I eat at the table with a catalog for company. While I’m cleaning up, the dogs go out and in a few more times.

There is work to be done, still. I have a list of articles to write for the Beacon, and the database – again – needs to be updated. I could start a load of towels in the washer. I need to find that recipe for my grandson. It will all have to wait. Nine-thirty, and I can’t keep my eyes open. Bedtime.

That was the extent of my ordinary Wednesday.

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!

I Give Up

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Yesterday, I made a small delivery to the Island Treasures Re-Sale Shop here on Beaver Island: one large food processor, with all of its parts and pieces, and one yogurt maker. I was a long time coming to that end, but am glad I finally arrived.

Lord knows, I have tried, over the years, to become the kind of person who processes her own food, but it never took hold. I grate my cheese with a simple box grater. When making pie crust, I use a hand-held pastry blender. I slice fruits and vegetables the old-fashioned way. The food processor seemed, always, to have too many accessories, all of which needed to be cleaned and stored when not in use.

I eat a lot of yogurt. Simple, full fat, non- Greek, plain yogurt. I buy it in the quart containers and dish out the portions, to save on plastic waste (I reuse the containers to store my homemade chicken broth in the freezer, for extra credit!). I add my own granola, and sometimes berries or a sliced banana, but it’s pretty basic. Making my own, I thought, would save me a pile of money.

Turns out, making yogurt is not difficult, but it’s kind of a hassle. First, the milk has to be heated in a saucepan to just the right temperature. It is then cooled a specific amount before being combined with the starter. It is then spooned into the individual cups of the yogurt maker which sits on the kitchen counter, plugged in to an outlet. For several hours or a couple days…it’s been so long, I can’t remember. Because, the bottom line is, my homemade yogurt does not taste as good as the stuff I buy. I don’t know why. I’ve checked the label for hidden ingredients that might be enhancing the flavor while putting my health at risk, but found nothing.

So, for many years, I stored a food processor and a yogurt maker in my kitchen cabinet, in case I should ever change my mind about either of them. Then, I started cleaning out and rearranging my living spaces. I was encouraged by my sister Brenda, who told me that the time was right – according to the alignment of the moon and stars – for clearing and reassessing. Backing her up was the Power Path site (www.powerpath.org), which labeled March the month of “Surrender,” but not in the usual sense:

SURRENDER is a word that tends to trigger a definition of failure as if we are surrendering to the enemy and as if we have failed in something we believed in and have been striving for. Our definition of SURRENDER for the month is a giving up, a release of a stance, position, or belief that we have stubbornly held onto for way beyond its useful and practical life. It is time to let go of what should have been, could have been and what ought to be in the future. It is time to SURRENDER our anger, our resistance, our judgement and our need to know.

Finally, in trying to get off the island last week, the weather didn’t cooperate. I spent one whole day waiting at the airport, and one day waiting in my home, before finally getting a flight out on Sunday morning. Saturday, I spent sorting and filing while waiting by the phone. Then, I tackled a kitchen cabinet. Everything came out. The shelves were scrubbed. Only the things that I honestly use went back in. Except for the crock pot, which I’m still trying to integrate into my lifestyle.

I’d like to think of myself as a yogurt-making, food processing whiz in the kitchen…but I’m not, and it’s time to surrender that notion. What I am is a person who has one very clean cabinet, feels good about a charitable donation, and is lighter in self-imposed expectations. Happily, I give up!

The Good Things

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I am a pessimist, I admit. I see the benefits in it. If I am always prepared for the “worst case scenario,” I will avoid disappointment. Often, when things work out better than expected, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I have read studies that suggest that, for those reasons exactly, pessimists are generally happier than optimists.

I am a realist, I tell myself. No sense in wearing blinders; no reason for flawed vision.

I have no trouble seeing what’s wrong, no matter what the topic. My face or my figure, my personality, habits or disposition. My homestead, outside and inside. My job: any one of them. The government: local, regional and national. The world, whether the discussion goes to economy, education, health or the environment. Give me a subject; I’ll make a list of the flaws.

I have a more difficult time, often, seeing what’s right. I’m working on it.

I feel like I’ve spent a great deal of time grumbling, worrying and complaining lately. An unseasonably warm day in the middle of February causes me to stress over the condition of the polar ice cap. An easy winter, and I spend it mulling over everything I know about global warming. Too much rain, or not enough, or any extremes in weather conditions…and I am bracing for the end of the world. There is reason to be afraid, and certainly reason to be aware. There is work to be done. Still, I think I’d like – now and then – to just enjoy a bit of spring-like weather in February…without the angst.

There’s a lot going on in this country that scares me to death. There are good reasons for sensible people to be angry, worried and watchful. I am going to continue writing letters and making phone calls. I will continue to direct my spending to where it will best support my ethics and beliefs. I will not be silenced! I am, however, going to work on being a little more generally quiet about it all. Those who disagree with me are weary of hearing it, and unconvinced. Those who share my opinions don’t need to be convinced. I’d might as well save my breath…and my energy…for where it can do the most good.

On the home front, and on a personal level, I am trying to stop looking at all the things that are wrong, or that need repair. I am trying to concentrate on the things that are right, and appreciate the improvements I’ve made. I still have long lists of Things To Be Done. Those show a slightly improved attitude adjustment, though, over the lists of What Is Wrong. I’m working my way…slowly…into the habit of, instead, listing What Is Good. When it comes right down to it, there’s a lot of that in my world, too.

 

A Continuing Saga

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Outside, unseasonably warm weather is melting our winter away. Inside, in a series fits and starts as time allows, my house is getting rearranged, cleaned and organized.

The desk is now moved to the little nook under the stairs. I have put up a new light fixture, hung brackets for shelves and arranged my files around the corner. Already, I take issue with it. The desk is a little crooked, and a bit wobbly. I need shallow shelves on one side, to keep the clutter of necessary small objects up off the small desktop. I don’t have a spot for the portable scanner. All in all, though, this is something I can live with, and improve on.

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Moving the desk out of the dining room has opened that space up considerably. I spent a few hours on Tuesday knotting cord to make plant hangers. Now, most of my house plants are congregated together in the north window where the desk used to be. I think a few glass sun catchers hanging a bit higher than the plants will balance the arrangement. The big old table now sits smack dab in the middle of the room, with space all around. As soon as I clear the mound of papers to-be-filed from the top of it, I’ll take a picture.

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The living room has a nice new arrangement. All of my bookshelves are lighter, and more in tune with my life. My washing machine is repaired, and I’ve finally caught up on the laundry. The Beacon has, finally and very late, once again gone to press. Slowly, but steadily, I am working my way toward the studio. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the process. My dogs are enjoying the weather!

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