Category Archives: Family

Hello from Hawaii

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Yes, I am far from home, in Hawaii. Yes, right in the thick of a global pandemic.

Here’s the thing. My daughter Kate is working here this winter, in Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. She is a traveling nurse, as well as a general “life traveler” and explorer. One of her goals is to visit every single state in the United States. I think she has only three or four left to see. She has plans for experiencing other countries, too, a little farther down the line. But for now, this winter, she is living here, along with her husband and two of her children (her other two boys are grown, with families of their own).

Now, I never thought I’d ever come here. I’ve always known Hawaii was a beautiful place. I’ve read Mark Twain’s stories about visiting here, back when these were called the Sandwich Islands. My friend, Jeffrey, lived here for many years; my nephew, Bob, was stationed here in the service. A couple of my sisters have been here. I’ve always heard good things. Still.

First of all, unlike my youngest daughter, I’m not much of a traveler. I don’t mind staying home; I don’t worry about what I’m missing, or what is out there to explore. Second, any travel from my little home on Beaver Island is complicated. I have to board the dogs; I have to add at least one day to either end of my trip, just for getting to and from the island. I do not get paid vacations, and any absence has to be arranged according to all of my co-workers ability to cover for me. Third, getting to Hawaii involves a long, expensive flight.

However, with Kate here, it suddenly sounded very appealing. My older daughter, Jen, and I started talking about it in December. By January, we had purchased tickets and finalized our plans. Kate was excited, and so were we.

In February, the Corona virus started making the news. As you know, the news accelerated every single day. By March, it was getting daily coverage. As our departure date neared, we discussed the risks. A couple people advised me to cancel or postpone my plans. Many others advised care and safety precautions, but “Go!” I considered everything, and made my own decision.

Jen and I flew out of Lansing on March 16th, and arrived at Hilo Airport in the evening of the same day. I’m so glad to be here! It has been wonderful to spend this time with my family; they have shown us all the best things to see here, on this beautiful island.

As far as the virus is concerned, things changed rapidly from mid-March on. Though it looks like Hawaii is a much safer place to be than Michigan right now, I’m not quite ready to trust any of the statistics. There may be no truly safe havens; the best any of us can do is take precautions, and practice safety procedures. Yesterday, our flight home was cancelled for the third time. We are now scheduled to leave on April 1st, though I’m half expecting to get an “April Fool” call on that day, too!

I’m happy to be here with my family, safe and comfortable. Hawaii is truly a beautiful, welcoming place!

Is This Spring?

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The bright moon kept me awake last night, and I slept late this morning. When I got out of bed, I remembered that I was going to lose another hour. This is the day to reset the clocks for Daylight Savings Time. “Spring forward,” they say. We “fall back” in the autumn.

Could this be spring? It’s not due to arrive, according to the calendar, for a couple more weeks, but many signs are here.

The sun has shined brightly on Beaver Island for three days in a row. Open water is visible in the big lake. Temperatures are mild. There are patches of bare ground around trees and shrubbery. A warm wind carries the scent of earth and growing things. The Fox Lake Road, which yesterday was covered with a thick crust of packed snow, has turned into a path of mud and slush.

Though I was told my newest dog does not care for snow, he has braved the weather for our daily walks all winter long. Today, it looked like he was going to finally revolt. It seems it’s the wet he doesn’t like. He grimaced at every step, and picked up each paw to shake off the water. He gingerly made his way through puddles, from one side of the road to the other, searching for the driest areas.

Yesterday, the little dogs both leaped onto the the snowbanks and ran through the fields on either side of the road. The big dog sank into the deep snow, and could not follow. Today, that snow was too soft to support any of them.

At the hardware store, we have our new seed packets on display, and filled nearby shelves with peat pots, potting mix and other planting necessities. Here at home, I have a stack of seven seed catalogs, that have been showing up weekly in my mailbox since January, waiting for perusal. My neighbors have bright blue bags hanging from their maple trees, to collect the flowing sap.

If Aunt Katie were still alive, she’d be quick to remind me of heavy frosts and April blizzards. “This is just a teaser,” she’d tell me, year after year, “Don’t get your hopes up. Spring is still a long way off.” She was always right. I’m sure this year is no different. Today, though, it sure feels like it might be spring!

Home Again

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I am home! Late yesterday afternoon, after more than ten days away and long rides on several large planes, I got on one of the small “eight-seater” airplanes in Charlevoix, and twenty minutes later was back on Beaver Island.

The entire trip was wonderful. It started on Friday, the 21st of February. It was a little hectic getting away. I had to get my dogs in to the vet, who had just arrived the previous afternoon, for a couple vaccinations first thing in the morning. Next, I took them to the kennel for a sad good-bye. Then, I ran back home to complete a few last minute tasks before going to the airport. The flight was on time, but the car was not there waiting for me. A couple phone calls revealed that a flat tire caused the delay. So, I was late getting on the road.

I had arranged to stop in St. Helen for a short visit with a long-time friend (doesn’t that sound better than saying “old friend,” now that we are all pretty old?). On the way, I stopped and purchased a cell phone – my first! With the flat tire weighing on my mind (what if it went flat again, when I was on the road? How would I get help?), I thought it was a good idea. Plus, I was able to call my friend, Donna, to let her know I was running late. It was an unexpected expense, and something I’ve avoided having, but in this day and age, a cell phone is probably a good idea.

St. Helen is right off I-75, so not out of my way at all, and it’s a nice break in a long drive. We had a good dinner, and found plenty to talk and giggle about over too many glasses of chocolate wine. After breakfast the next morning, I got back on the road.

My next stop was Lapeer, the town where I grew up. My sister, Brenda, and her husband, Keith, were graciously putting me up in their guest room for the two days until five of us sisters flew out to Florida. That night, we joined my sister, Cheryl and our good friend, Joel for a night out. We met for dinner, in a nice new restaurant where the old Villa restaurant used to be.

From there, across the street and down the block, where the Lyons & Smith clothing store (where my mother worked, as a teen-ager) and the Pix Theater (where I saw Babes in Toyland about a hundred years ago, and many other memorable movies over the years) have been converted to an art complex, with gallery space, and changing entertainment offerings.

Our tickets were for a show based on the lives and music of “the Carpenters.” It was fantastic! The musicians were all multi-talented, changing out instruments throughout the show. The singer’s voice was spot-on; if I closed my eyes, I’d be sure I was listening to Karen Carpenter. She was also very knowledgeable about the lives and music of the brother-and-sister duo, and peppered the evening with bits of fascinating information. I loved it, from start to finish!

Sunday, after breakfast, I did a little shopping, and went to visit my brother, Ted. Monday, we got up early to head for the airport. Five sisters, Brenda, Cindy, Cheryl, Robin and Amy gathered at Brenda’s house, and our friend, Dick, drove us to the airport. Flint to Atlanta to Panama City Beach, Florida, where our wonderful accommodations were waiting. Because we had started out so early, and gained an hour due to a different time zone, Monday was a very long day!

There was time to check out our living spaces, unpack, and become familiar with the resort and it’s offerings. We got groceries, as the generous kitchen would make it easy for us to prepare some of our meals each day. We were right on the Gulf coast, with a view of the ocean out the window, and a beautiful beach right below. Also right beneath our fourth-floor apartment was a heated pool and a large hot tub.

The resort stood on both sides of the street, joined by a bridge. On the bridge was the SkyBar, where we spent a few fun evenings. One day, our sisters team competed (and won, by one point) in ’50s Trivia. In the area were excellent restaurants, fun shops and outdoor marketplaces. Inside, we had games, jig-saw puzzles and books. Outside, the water, white sand, bright sky. All of that, with my sisters as the very best travelling companions, made it a perfect get-away!

On March 1st, we packed up and headed out. With several hours before our flight, we managed to find a fun breakfast spot, then an “endless mimosa” bar. Next, my sister, Amy, treated us all to an “Escape Room” experience which was a great way to finish off the vacation!

We re-traced our flight on the way home, and got into Flint just before midnight. I had a bowl of cereal, then went right to bed. Yesterday, I got up early, and packed up all my belongings: Florida suitcase (already loaded), two small suitcases with clothes for Michigan weather, a tote of Christmas gifts and other things I accumulated in my travels, and got on the road.

Roads were clear, and traffic was not bad; I made good time. I picked up a few groceries before checking in for my four-thirty flight. Home to Beaver Island, where the warmer temperatures has caused significant melting. The parking lot where my car was parked was ankle-deep in mud. My car had a dead battery. Finally getting it running, I nearly buried it in muck on the way out of the lot! There were plenty of puddles on the way to pick up the dogs, and plenty more on the drive home.

Our evening walk down the Fox Lake Road was a muddy one, too. We cut it a little short, as I still had at least a dozen trips to make from car to house to get everything unloaded. I turned the heat up, unpacked a suitcase and started a load of wash, fed the dogs, and started my dinner. While it cooked, I deleted about two hundred unnecessary Emails, and tidied up messes I’d left in my rush to get out of here. Early to bed, with my dogs close by. It’s good to be home!

No Electricity

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Blackie Chan in deep snow

I woke up today to lots of fresh snow, with wind. My coffee was barely brewed before the electricity went out. Well. Immediately, that puts most of the morning plans on hold. No electricity means no internet and no computer. So, no time spent looking at social media, checking the news and playing internet Scrabble. No writing my Tuesday blog.

In addition, when the electricity is out, I have to be careful of my water use. No cooking. No lights, though that’s not an issue when the outage is in the daytime hours. I’ve hooked my land-line back up, so I have a working telephone even when the power goes out. The first thing I did was call to report the outage. The automated system informed me that they were already aware of it, and working hard to fix it.

Next, I made a few other calls that were on my to-do list. One, regarding vaccinations my dogs are due for; one to arrange for the mainland car at the end of this week. I called a friend to see if we could meet up on my way downstate this Friday; no answer, there, so I’ll have to try again later. I called my sister, to let her know when I’d be arriving at her house. She was out, too, so I left a message.

I wrote in my journal. With no distractions to pull me away, I wrote a whole three pages this morning. I wrote of my frustrations at how all of my habits, goals and resolutions were falling by the wayside. I renewed my intention to get back on track.

My yoga program was next. Right on cue, as it has been one of the things I’ve been neglecting lately. I have often been going through the first five exercises, basically the “warm up,” and calling it done. Today, I made my best effort at all of the positions.

I walked the dogs. That is a firm habit, almost no matter what the weather, and certainly not dependent on electricity. The road had not been plowed, though, and the winds were a little unnerving. Our walk down the Fox Lake Road is a walk between large stands of trees. When the high winds set those trees in motion, I get nervous. Still, we got a decent walk in.

Home again, and still no power. I took a cup of lukewarm coffee up to the studio. I added a few elements to a new collage, and contemplated how to finish the others I’ve been working on. I sorted a stack of collagraph plates. I pulled out a sketchbook, and found the pen I wanted to use. Rusty as my drawing skills are, I did a few “thumbnail” sketches, reminding myself that only practice will bring back ability.

I pulled out my suitcase, next, and unpacked it. I put my “vacation clothes” in it two months ago, when my sisters and I first planned our Florida trip. Now that it is less than a week away, I’ve been thinking I should do a review of what I was bringing. Try things on. make sure everything is wrinkle-free; determine that I have remembered all the necessities. I did a little editing of the contents, and set aside my choices to be tossed in the dryer to be refreshed before putting them back in the suitcase.

I’d purchased a new, lightweight, messenger-style bag to replace my purse. Large enough to hold all of my carry-on needs (wallet, toothbrush, journal, book, sketchbook, bullet journal, e-reader and earphones), but easy to carry and small enough to stow under an airplane seat. When it arrived, I was disappointed in the color. Not enough to send it back, but still. Today, I pulled out my needle and some fine wool yarn, and embellished it just a little.

By the time the power came back on, I was feeling pretty good about my days accomplishments. A day without electricity turned into a blessing in disguise!

Almost a Lousy Day

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All the contributing factors were there; everything pointed to it being a really lousy day. My little dogs were both having allergy-fueled ear issues, which kept them up scratching wildly at the itchy places, and kept me up rubbing ears and soothing them. When we slept, we didn’t sleep well. Until morning, when I slept right through the alarm.

It was a bitter-cold day: freezing temperatures with sub-zero wind chills. Too cold for our morning walk. The dogs didn’t protest when I cancelled. Frustrated already in my lack of persistence with my exercise program, this added fuel to my negative self-criticism.

I got to work late, and cranky. I’m not sure if my work partner was also in a bad mood, or if mine was enough for both of us. Usually, we get along well, and enjoy working together. On this day, all day, it seemed like we were barely avoiding conflict.

I learned, that day, of the recent death of an old friend. Though I’d seen Elaine only rarely in the last several years, we were young together once. And now she’s gone. Sad news to add to my already miserable attitude.

After work, I had to go to the grocery store. Having just paid a big bill, my checkbook had barely thirty dollars in it. I needed dog food, coffee and milk. Going up and down the necessary aisles, I was computing the cost as I went along. That old habit made me feel even more bleak. I don’t usually have to watch pennies that closely. What a crummy day!

Walking past the meat counter, I spotted a beautiful rib-eye steak in the case. Now I enjoy a steak on rare occasions, but I have never bought a piece of meat like that from our little market on Beaver Island. I’ve bought chuck steak, when the price is right, to cook like a roast and enjoy for two or three meals. Usually, I buy their good ground beef, or chicken. On this day, without a second thought to the $12.99-per-pound, I asked for that steak.

Quickly to the counter, then, before another impulse should throw my budget completely off track. As I loaded my few purchases onto the conveyor belt, I noticed bundles of cellophane wrapped miniature roses in many colors, right beside the cash register. For Valentine’s Day, of course. “How much are the flowers?” was out of my mouth before I could stop it. The price, $9.99 per bundle, did not stop me either. I chose a bouquet of deep red-orange, and dug to the back of my wallet for a hidden twenty-dollar bill.

Home, I greeted the dogs, and took them for a short walk. They felt the extreme cold, too, and were relieved when I turned around. I unloaded the car, and unpacked my groceries. I trimmed the stems of the flowers, and arranged them in a vase. I lit all the candles: the two pillars in the bathroom, the lemon-scented jar candle in the kitchen, and a half-dozen votives on the dining room table.

While the dogs ate their dinner, I prepared my own. As I cooked, I thought of Elaine. We travelled together, many years ago, Elaine, my sister Brenda, and I, to our college classes. We discussed our children, our love-lives, and our course work. We read aloud from our papers, wanting, at that point, only positive feedback before we turned them in. We reviewed our teachers, our classmates and our partners with cruel honesty that made us laugh hysterically.

I cleaned and sliced a big mound of mushrooms, and sautéed them in butter, with one small hot pepper, sliced thin. I seasoned the steak with garlic powder and lots of pepper, and put it under the broiler. When it was nearly done, I cut a large plum tomato into wedges, and added it to the pan with the mushrooms.

I lifted the steak onto my plate, and spooned the mushroom-pepper-tomato combination over the top. I pulled out my big book of modern female artists, to page through while I ate. A perfect accompaniment to an absolutely fabulous meal!

It could have been a really lousy day. It almost was. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t half bad!

What About L.Y.?

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Our community lost another friend last week, with the passing of Jack Gallagher. This has been a rough winter so far, here on Beaver Island.

First Tom, who died right after Christmas of a rare disease that took him quickly and left us all shaking our heads. He was so young! Only fifty-six years old, with a memorable laugh and a ready smile, Tom did cement and masonry work, and always seemed the picture of good health.

Next Skip, who was the matriarch of a large island family and a good friend to all. Then Jean, an active and respected business woman. Both of these ladies, though in their eighties, were so full of energy one would think they would keep going for years to come. Now, Jack: the third octogenarian we have lost this year.

This I know: no matter that every single person will meet their end, no matter the age, the level of health or all the warnings, death always takes us by surprise. It always seems too soon, and that we’re not quite prepared for it. Sometimes the dying are more prepared than those of us left behind.

After work on Friday, I walked down to our Community Center, where family and friends were gathering to honor Jack’s life. We talked about his diligence and devotion, his head often bent over account books. There were several examples of his wry sense of humor, his kindness, and his devotion to family and community. There were tears, but also laughter. There was agreement that he’d lived a good life. And that he was ready to go.

The “good death” seems to come up in conversation quite a bit anymore. Maybe it was always so, and I just hadn’t paid attention. Having lost three community members all in their eighties in just a couple weeks, I mentioned a quote I’d seen recently: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” We commiserated a little about all the oral history that is lost, with a death.

That was on my mind after I got home, as I was walking the dogs in the near dark. When Aunt Katie, who had always been willing to answer questions and elaborate on her history, died, it seemed like there were a million questions I wished I had asked, and another million things I should have written down. If I could talk to her again, I’d pay better attention, and I’d have pen and paper ready!

If I could have another conversation with my Dad, I’d beg him to repeat all the stories he tried to tell us when we were young, as he drove us around the island. Then, we rolled our eyes and let his words flow on without notice. I’d do better now. If I had another opportunity, I’d encourage him with the names I can remember, and the portions of the tales that I can recall.

There was one about a wake. Somebody, I think it was Patsy Doney, was taking his turn sitting with the body, while others were congregating in the other rooms. There was plenty of drinking going on. Somebody had the idea to pull a joke on Patsy (or whoever it was), and somehow made the corpse move, causing Patsy (or whoever) to jump (or nearly jump) out of the second story window. By this point in the story, my Dad would be laughing so hard, he could barely get the words out. Not knowing any of the characters, none of us children cared. I’d love a another chance to hear that one, and many others!

I’m sure there is wisdom and history my mother could impart, as well. If I were given a chance to talk to her, though, I’m afraid I’d waste the visit on getting the facts about L.Y. I’ve been puzzling over that for years, and it drives me crazy that I never thought about it when Mom was around to ask!

Gladys and L.Y. Crandall were friends of my mother, but mostly friends of her mother. They lived on the lake where I grew up, and were around quite a bit while my grandmother was alive. What kind of name is L.Y., for heaven’s sake? I always thought it was Elwye, and maybe it was. I never thought about it much, or questioned it at all, until after Mom was gone, and tthere was no one to ask. Now, I think about it a lot.

If the name is Elwye, how is it spelled, and what kind of name is that? If it is initials, more likely, I have concluded, what on earth does L.Y. stand for? The L could be anything: Lloyd, Laurence, Lancelot…but what about the Y? There are few choices, and none seem very likely: Yasir, Yoel, Yanni, Yuri, Yale. With a surname like Crandall, I wouldn’t expect such exotic-sounding choices. Whatever the answer, I know there’s a story there. I just wish Mom were around to tell it!

Timeout for Art: Making Room

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Blackie Chan and Rosa Parks.
This image has nothing to do with the essay, but aren’t these dogs CUTE?!?

As I struggle to advance in the excavation-in-progress that is my studio, I encourage myself with plans for the future. There are new directions I want to explore, and old, familiar areas I want to spend time with. So, I continue the long, slow process of clearing and cleaning. It truly is an “excavation,” with layers that spark memories and reveal history.

Yesterday, I cleared shelves for a fresh and more current arrangement of supplies. Behind the watercolors, pencils and paints that I’d crowded in where they’d fit, were remnants of the sweet arrangement my granddaughter had made several years ago. Crayons, colored pencils, markers and stacks of paper strips were set up for her bookmark-making production, along with several samples. I scooped it all into an old suitcase I keep filled with art-making supplies for children. Had I allowed time for reminiscing, I’d still be standing there.

Tucked under the printing press, there was a large box filled with kitchen paraphernalia: holiday napkins, coffee filters suitable for a coffee pot I no longer own, wine corks saved for a long-forgotten project, staples, flashlight, batteries….That box was filled, I’m sure, several years ago when I cleared out a large, many-drawered apothecary cabinet that I was giving away because it took up too much space in my kitchen. The contents were loaded into that box and tucked out of the way. Until, I’m sure I told myself, I had time to go through them.

Yesterday, if I was going to continue my forward momentum, was not that time. I shifted the contents, other than a few ragged items that I was content to throw away, from the cardboard box into a sturdy lidded tote. I tucked it into an unused corner under the stairs, beside canning jars and other sorely neglected and nearly forgotten items. To further delay dealing with it, I know.

Another layer of history are the papers, drawing materials and reference books, gathered together thoughtfully each week for last summer’s drawing classes, then left in piles on any horizontal surface when the class was done. There are cans of house paint stacked behind the door, waiting for the project it was purchased for, or leftover from a completed job. Then there are the abandoned artworks, the works-in-progress and the works waiting to be framed.

Cleaning the studio is a tremendous, tedious and often overwhelming job. But I’m getting it done. Yesterday, with a marathon of old Barbra Streisand movies to keep me company, and ideas for future work to keep me inspired, there was good progress.