Category Archives: Family

Present, This Day

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Here it is, Sunday morning, and here I am, present for it.

So far, it’s not looking like the best of days.

The weather is cold, and damp, and drizzly. Yesterday, it rained. That means the grass is too wet to mow, and the garden is too soft to work in. If I bundle up, I could do some outdoor clean up. There are a dozen dog toys to be gathered up before I can cut the grass, abandoned when some other activity caught the big dog’s attention. There are two sturdy, lidded trash cans and a few other items that sit along what used to be the fence line. Now that the fence is down, they just look out of place. There’s still a mound of the vinyl deer fence in the back yard. It needs to be rolled or folded up for storage. So far, I’m not enthusiastic about any of it.

I have plenty to do in the house. I left dishes to drain-dry in the kitchen; there are clothes folded and stacked on the washing machine that need to be put away. There is a load of towels that need to be transferred to the dryer, since it’s not a good day for hanging them on the clothesline. I should wash the rugs…but I think I’ll wait for a better day.

I have several letters to write. This job has been hanging over my head for weeks, now, and I can’t seem to work up a plan or any determination. The letters are to accompany second – or sometimes third – bills to advertisers in my news magazine. The agreed upon service has been delivered: I have included the ads, paid for the printing and the cost of mailing; the burden should be on them to cancel the ad if they don’t want it. I am justified in asking for the payment, as agreed upon. Yet, I struggle.

I weave whiny, defensive, “why am I being taken advantage of this way” letters in my head. I approach it as “one business person to another.” I try out lengthy diatribes about why my bill-sending is so sporadic, taking the blame for their lack of payment. And then I do nothing. But they have probably just forgotten. And I need to collect. I have to just get it done.

I have on-going projects in the studio…several things I’m quite excited about, even. This could be a good day for making art. I could set that as my final goal, and hammer out a few necessary jobs before rewarding myself with time in the studio. It sounds good, but doesn’t stir me to get moving.

I have not yet been able to work up much excitement about any of it. I am not in a rush to move from this comfortable chair. I’m not driven to get out of pajamas, or to abandon my cozy bathrobe. There is still hot coffee in the pot; I could use another cup of it. So far, this Sunday morning, I am here, and that is all.

 

A Little Enthusiasm, Please

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I have a cold. Not one of those ordinary, bothersome colds that are annoying but manageable. No. This is a headache, earache, fever-inducing, mouth-breathing, sapped-of- all-energy, can’t-sleep-but-can’t-seem-to-wake-up-either ugly cold.

Right at the start of my “weekend.” Just when I have so much to do in every single direction.  On Mother’s Day, no less. [Here, with all the breath I can muster, I sigh a big self-pitying sigh.]

Some days, the good things in my life are right out front, easy to see and appreciate. Today, since it is Mother’s Day, I was planning to write an upbeat piece about motherhood and gratitude, and all of the good things going on here in my world. I’ve been sitting here for an hour, trying to drum up a little enthusiasm. I just can’t do it.

I think I’m going to go back to bed.

Artifacts to Memories: Things I Can’t Let Go

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There is a lot of stuff in my life. I was hoping for a more delicate term, but “stuff” seems apt. Gifts, purchases, hand-me-downs and inheritances. Sixty-four years worth of accumulated belongings. Enough to divide into several categories.

There are the things I hold on to for their sentimental value. Ranging from drawings and cards that my young daughters made more than thirty years ago, to photographs, to little gifts from friends and family, to my very first hard-cover chapter book, to my dining room table. The table was a junk store find that my Dad brought home, that was used as our clothes-folding table and extra-seating-at-holiday-time table for most of my life. Then, moved out to the garage, it was my brother David’s work and party table (the surface gained a few cigarette burns and saw marks from that phase), my sister Sheila’s table to relax with a book and a beverage…and finally my dining room table.

There are things I keep because they are necessary, or because they seem necessary to me. Most of my clothing fits this category…but so do many books, plants, baskets, candles, art supplies, art work, and a large collection of flat, round stones. I know there is too much. I go through periods of purging and paring down. These “necessities” are spared, because the thought of losing them gives me heart palpitations.

Then, there are the items I hold on to, because of an – often unrealistic – idea of the person I would like to be. A collection of beautiful yarn waits, in a basket with crochet hooks and scissors, for the day when I am transformed back into the woman I used to be: a young mother, making gifts and treasures from bits of yarn. Other baskets, boxes and suitcases hold fabrics, embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, rug-making tools and accessories, and quilt squares. My life doesn’t have room for the activities associated with all of this “stuff,” but I can’t give up on the idea that it will.

That young woman that I was, along with a Katherine Hepburn/Jo March/Martha Stewart-esque vision of a person I would like to be are evident in excesses throughout my house, from bookshelves to closets to kitchen cupboards. I would like to be someone who drinks tea, does yoga, listens to cool jazz, wears hats, raises chickens, grows all of her own food, reads the classics, and hosts lovely dinner parties…including trifle for dessert. I am not, but many of my belonging would lead one to think so.

That is the crux of the problem, when faced with getting rid of things I don’t use. I love that young woman that I used to be, with a dozen projects going and a whole lifetime ahead to finish them. I can’t seem to let go of her, yet. I still picture myself with chickens and a big garden, doing yoga, jazz music coming from the stereo, James Joyce on my nightstand. Until I give up on the person I was, and the person I want to be, I can hardly give up her accessories!

 

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.

 

 

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!

Artifacts to Memories: Cabinet Hangers

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img_0036First, and for many years, my kitchen storage consisted of plywood shelves, hammered together and mounted to the walls. They were open to dust, cobwebs and any insects that might wander through. They showed off my penchant for hoarding reusable lidded plastic containers, my mis-matched pans, and my disorganization.

When I finally replaced them with actual kitchen cabinets, I spent an inordinate amount of time planning their size and arrangement. I bought bottom-of-the-line cabinets, because that’s all I could afford. Drawers have to be reassembled and glued back together every few months; there are gaps where the cabinets are pulling away from their backs. Still, I take them seriously.Though kitchen cabinets are fairly stationary features, I have – with the help of my always-game-for-another-crazy-undertaking friend, Chris  – rearranged them twice, and have another major readjustment planned. Alas, Chris has moved away.

The last time we moved the cabinets – two not-young women armed with more determination than either muscle or know-how – it was an all day adventure. We placed a kitchen chair on the counter top, to help “catch” the cabinet when the screws holding it to the wall were removed. Another chair on the floor nearby was what I stood on while I removed the screws. Then, with intermittent  giggling and terror, we lowered the cabinet to the chair and then down to the floor. Then on to the next one. We repeated the process to hang them back up. The lower cabinets were easier, except for the sink. Since then, I’ve added formica counter top, which complicates everything.

I miss Chris. It takes a special person to help with a project like that. First, a devil-may-care attitude about whether we have the proper tools, plan or ability. Second, the willingness to listen to my crazy ideas, and understand that – at that moment – I truly believe a rearrangement of kitchen cupboards will improve all aspects of my life. Third, and most important, one must be prepared for anything we might find in dark corners behind the fixtures. In the past, we have encountered massive spider webs, mouse nest, snake skin, and mushrooms growing from a damp spot of floor. A helper needs to be able to work through it, without showing too much shock or disgust, and without making it the talk of the town. Chris added to her value by keeping me entertained with family stories while we worked.

After several years of use, I painted the cabinets, and added knobs and drawer pulls. I went through quite a bit of angst about whether to get pulls that matched the chrome of faucet and refrigerator handle, or antique brass to match the cabinet hinges. My daughter, Kate, solved the problem. She haunted  flea markets, garage sales and junk shops; she brought me a collection of old knobs and pulls. All different sizes and shapes, some are metal; others are wood. Two filigree knobs are identical except for finish, and are placed side-by-side on a double cabinet: one is chrome; the other is antique brass. I love it!

As a finishing touch in my funky little kitchen, I have baubles and trinkets hanging from the knobs of each upper cabinet. Every item has a story. There is the copper bird, cut from heavy metal and painted by my friend, Sue. The metal came from the old roof of our Post Office. There is the blue and white woven paper ornament that my daughter, Jen, made, in a class taught by my friend, Larry. A short string of red glass beads, each in the shape of a heart, hangs from another knob.

The fat, beaded star ornament that hangs from a red wooden knob over the stove was sewn by my friend, Mary. She is genius in combining striped fabrics to form patterns! On the back, in her own handwriting, “Beaver Island ’96” is written in puff paint. Twenty years ago it was, when Mary had her little bookstore here…when we shared coffee and conversation on an almost daily basis. When we walked together on the beach, sharing secrets, sobbing through heartache and shoring each other up through our struggles. When we shared meals, and talked about writing and art and men.  Though I have to take this fabric ornament down on occasion, and give it a gentle bath in warm water laced with strong de-greaser, I always return it to its place, for all the good memories it brings to me, of a good friend, far away.