Category Archives: Family

These Days

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I took some time yesterday to update my bullet journal. Through the busy summer months, it had been kept up in just the most rudimentary fashion. Yesterday, I filled in the workdays and paydays, habits and activities to the monthly charts, based on the notes I’d jotted on the daily pages as I rushed through my days. I went through the long-term lists for home and garden, and highlighted the tasks that I’ve completed.

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I made pretty good progress in the garden; in the house, not a bit. But, winter is coming, with more time to devote to painting and repair.

There is still plenty to do around here, no doubt. In addition to all the items on my list – many of which take money as well as the time that I seem to always be so short of – there are sorting, deep-cleaning and organizing tasks all through the house. There is – new to my household – the old footstool to reupholster. Soon, if the weather holds, I’ll have tomatoes to put up for the winter. The lawn needs to be mowed. On top of all that, I have big plans in the studio, with projects to finish and new skills to learn. And, the exercise program that I’ve neglected for so long. Every single new day, week and month, I think, “It’s time RIGHT NOW to re-commit to that!” There is plenty to keep me busy, but – these days – I do not feel overwhelmed.

I was recently able to pass on the Beaver Beacon, the bi-monthly news magazine that I have struggled with (as writer, editor, reporter-at-large, bookkeeper, distributor, bill-collector, and sometimes photographer) for the last two-and-a-half years, to someone more capable of the job. I have gone to press with my last issue, and expect it to arrive any day now. I feel like I’m learning to breathe again.  I’m remembering what it is like to wake up in the middle of the night without a sense of panic and a long list of things to do immediately. Now, there is no guilt and self-recrimination involved when I simply roll over and go back to sleep. These days, I feel like there is time, and that I will find the energy, for whatever life brings.

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End-of-Summer Day

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Yesterday started out cool in the morning, rallied for a short time in the early afternoon with a bit of sunshine and rising temperatures, then finished off with a combination of cold, damp and wind. An autumn day.

So clearly was yesterday an autumn day, I resigned myself to the idea that summer was over. “Maybe, at least, we’ll get a nice, long Indian Summer,” I thought. Then, today dawned bright and clear. Warm, even. Glorious! A true summer day! All the better – and better appreciated – because it was not expected.

When I got home from work, I first made the rounds of the yard and garden. From the garden I harvested a handful of green beans, a half-dozen peas (still!), and three almost-ripe tomatoes. Circling the perimeter of the yard, I filled a bowl with blackberries.

Inside, then, I fixed a sandwich for lunch, and debated what job to tackle next. House-keeping? Studio? Home repair? A Sunday-afternoon nap? When I opened a book, Rosa Parks gave out an audible sigh as she lowered her chin to her little paws. No fun for her.

That decided it.

“Rosa Parks, do you want to take a RIDE??

Enthusiastically, YES, was her answer. Darla got in on the excitement, too.

I loaded two dogs, one book, one camera and one bottle of beer into the car, and off we went, down the road through the woods to Fox Lake…which rarely disappoints. It was beautiful today, with bright sunshine on blue water, and just the tiniest nip in the air that served to remind me to savor this day.

We walked along the shoreline and then through marsh grass until we came to the Fox Lake bog, which is beautiful in its own way. Back through the trees, then, to the boat launch where I opened my book – and my beer – and relaxed while the dogs continued their wag-tail explorations. Only when they were ready, when they had left all the sights and smells to come and sit at my feet, did I suggest we move on.

But not for home yet. A stop at “the forty,” which was my Grandpa’s wood lot, was next. I had not packed buckets, but drew out an empty ice cream carton and a cottage cheese container from the bag of recyclables in the back of my car. While the dogs, freshly curious, checked out the paths, I filled both containers with blackberries.

The glories of the season, and two dogs wagging their tails: it was a perfect end-of-summer day!

 

Time Out

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I could have gone to work today; the hardware store was just a little bit under-staffed without me. I didn’t, though. Today is my birthday, and I took the day off.

I was wide awake at one o’clock in the morning, thinking of all the wondrous things I could do on this bonus day off. I was still awake at six o’clock, ticking off activities to fill this special day. Sixty-five years old is a pretty big milestone, and deserving of some kind of notice.

I could watch the sun rise! Maybe I’d bring the dogs, a thermos and a book down to Iron Ore Bay, and spend the morning on the Lake Michigan shore. Perhaps I’d spend this entire day in the studio making art. Maybe I’d mow the whole lawn…in this one day, rather than four or five evenings after work…so the yard would be something to be proud of. Or I could tackle any number of cleaning projects I never seem to have time for. I could take myself out to lunch, and drink a glass of wine right in the middle of the day, and read for as long as I wanted. I could take a really long walk…

Turns out, I did none of these things.

At 6:30 this morning – just about the time my mother and I were together busy with my birth sixty-five years ago – I decided I was hungry.  I made an egg and two pieces of toast, then, belly full, concluded that I could probably fall asleep if I tried. I snoozed on the couch until almost ten o’clock.

Lack of rest led to lack of ambition. Pajamas were comfortable; coffee was plentiful. With a hostage-taking stand-off in North Carolina, a hurricane closing in on Texas, and all the usual madness in Washington D.C., there was plenty of news to keep up with. In between news cycles, I buoyed my spirits by reading the birthday greetings on my Facebook page.

I went to town in the afternoon to pick up a couple packages. I brought the dogs along for the ride. I picked beans, peas and tomatoes from the garden, burned papers, and did one load of wash.

I enjoyed long conversations with – in order of occurrence – my daughter Jen, my best-friend Linda, my sister Brenda, and my daughter Kate. I made a nice dinner. I’m going to bed early. It was a wonderful, lazy birthday…a time-out from everything!

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Not Quite

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This is the season, it seems, for qualifiers. My birthday is almost here; I am not quite sixty-five years old. Summer is nearly over; fall is coming soon. It’s that “in-between” stage that begs for evaluation and invites plans. That’s where I’m at right now.

Summer. It came in slowly, with cold, rainy days through most of June. Even when it warmed up, it seems the hot summer days were often balanced by chilly nights or cool, windy or rainy days. Mosquitoes were never unbearable. I almost always slept under a light comforter.

I spent the early part of the summer getting my back yard reconfigured and my garden planted. Though it was a lot of work, it has pretty much taken care of itself since then, and has been a source of satisfaction and fresh vegetables for weeks now.

Most of my flowers are finished blooming, though the ones that are still offering their bright faces are more appreciated than ever. The low hedge of  “Autumn Joy” Sedum is healthy and bright green. Before long, its flat flower heads will be glorious bronze tones.

Aunt Katie’s illness dominated the summer season. When she was home, the goal was to buoy her spirits; the wish was to see her improve. “How are you today?” I’d ask whenever I stopped. “Not good,” she’d answer, discouraged. “I wish I had a different answer,” she once said, vehemently.

I brought her a large potted tomato plant, to grow on her kitchen porch. My cousin Bob planted a tub of salad greens just outside the door. His sheep grazed just behind the farmhouse. She watched them from her kitchen stool as he did her breathing treatment.

Morning Glories came up from seeds dropped in other years. Aunt Katie was never well enough to put up the rows of string for the flowers to climb; I never thought to do it for her. Now, in August, the vigorous  vines have tumbled over and formed a thick mound, reminding me of my neglect.

When she was getting care on the mainland – between two hospitals and a rehabilitation facility – telephone calls became a focus. There were calls to Aunt Katie’s room and to her cell phone. There were calls to the keyboard and to the nurse’s station. Because she was often out of her room, away from her phone, or unable to talk because something else was going on, and because the nurse’s station was poorly staffed in the evenings when I was able to call, I was usually frustrated. When I was able to get updates, I called family members downstate to spread the word. My cousin Keith changed his route to be able to visit with Aunt Katie on the way to and from his cabin. His phone calls were highly anticipated and welcome for the good information on her spirits and her progress.

When Aunt Katie finally came home, she knew – as we did – that she was coming home to die. Friends started calling, and stopping by. Dishes of food were dropped off. Family members altered their summer plans to get to the island. Though she was clearly weak, struggling, and in decline, I thought she’d be with us for a while. I packed a week’s worth of clothes, to bring to her house, and anticipated being there a month or more. That was not the way it worked out.

On, then to the services to honor my aunt. Bringing together many of her nieces and nephews and their families, islanders who knew and respected her and the contributions she made in her long life, and friends who wept openly at the dear heart we had lost. It was exhausting…and wonderful…as many events like this are, but a fitting send-off to a wonderful woman who has been a big part of my life.

The funeral was a sad start to the planned, week-long vacation on Beaver Island for my sisters and their families. Still, good company, fine weather, and lots of little children helped to bring perspective and joy to a transitional time. For me, especially this year, their presence was a blessing.

Work was the second major focus of my summer. Extended hours at the hardware store made for long, busy days. In addition, there was writing, event-covering and business to be taken care of for the news-magazine. Getting artwork where it needed to be – and myself where I was supposed to be to promote it – was another pull in yet another direction.

Though my diet and exercise plan went out the window less than two months into the New Year, I have somehow managed to lose about eight pounds. Walks with the dogs went from daily – as promised – to a couple times a week, as time and weather allowed. Our rides down to the Fox Lake were often foiled by other people and dogs on the shore. I only made it to the Lake Michigan beach a couple times this summer, and I never went swimming. That should be considered at least a venial sin in the evaluation of both my summer and my 65th year. I live on an island, for God’s sake!

So, as I look back over the year, and the summer season, I’d have to say it was not quite as successful as I would have liked. That’s okay. There was joy, and progress, and change. It was not quite a failure, either!

 

Looking Ahead

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Events of the past couple weeks – some joyful, some tragic – have served to open up large blocks of time in my life. Now, with the last of my visiting family and friends waved off on the ferry boat to get back to their own lives, and with my birthday just around the corner, it’s time to start looking ahead.

My birthday competes with the New Year as a time to assess accomplishments and failures (including failed New Year’s resolutions!), and to resolve to do better. Saying good-bye to my Aunt Katie, whose long life was an inspiration and an outstanding example of living well, has directed my thought process. In setting my goals for the next year, I look to joy.

Rather than lay down plans and aspirations as if they are chores to be dutifully completed, I want to keep my eye on happiness. The list may look the same. To be better organized, healthier in habit and weight, to grow my food, take care of my dogs, expand my knowledge and spend quality time making art are constant self-improvement goals. It is the strategy that I am changing.

Rather than look forward to the time when I will be happier because I am better organized…or slimmer…or more on top of other duties and obligations, I intend to find joy in the process. Instead of keeping my eye on the “finish line,” and my distance from it determining my success or failure, I want to enjoy this walk through life, every step of it. I want to (even!!!) take note of flowers along the way. Maybe it will feel the same. Right now, looking ahead, it seems like just the attitude-shift I need.

 

Aunt Katie’s Eulogy

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Since my Aunt Katie died a week ago, I’ve had many people come to me to offer their sympathy, and to tell me a memory or an impression she left. There was the baseball cap she often wore, or the big truck she drove, or the dog that waited in the car while Aunt Katie attended mass. Always, though appreciative of the thought, I was left thinking, “There was so much more to her than that!” I was anxious for the chance to honor her for all that she meant to so many of us.

I thought I’d talk about Katherine’s life, and how she lived it: her work, the sports she loved, her garden…then Deacon Paul came to talk to me, to prepare for his homily…and I gave away all my best material. I was planning to interview all the cousins gathered here, to get specifics about how Aunt Katie influenced each of their lives…but there was a lot going on yesterday, and I didn’t get the chance. So, I’m speaking from my perspective alone in hopes that, by doing so, maybe others will identify with Katherine as I knew her.

My first memory of Aunt Katie goes back 60 years. I’m sure she was around before that, to hold me when I was a baby, and to try to hold me once I decided I was shy, and wouldn’t allow it. On this particular day, though, when she stopped in for a visit, my mother was giving baths and shampooing hair. The house was in an uproar. I was sitting naked in the middle of the living room, wailing. Aunt Katie swooped me up into her arms…and I let her. And I stopped crying. She did a little pointing to my dad, who was just as surprised as she was that I was allowing it. She said, “See, I’m not so bad…we could be friends…”

She was right. Aunt Katie was a consistent presence through my life. As a child, I looked forward to her Sunday visits for the cookies she often brought, and for the lively conversations that took place when she was around. As an adult, I appreciated my aunt as a mentor, a teacher, and a wonderful friend.

Aunt Katie was an example of a strong, independent working woman, when role-models like that were extremely scarce. She had a good job, and owned her own home. She always drove a nice car. She traveled around the state, and then around the country. When she came to Beaver Island on vacation, she almost always brought some of her nieces and nephews along with her. Once, stuck in traffic on the way back to Pontiac on a sweltering hot day, she said all four of the Evans boys had their long legs dangling out the windows!

Aunt Katie taught me how to get along with my Dad. “Don’t forget: I grew up with him, and three other stubborn brothers,” she told me. “It won’t do you any good to argue; you will never win. Instead, do this: drop your chin, bring your arms to your sides. Say ‘you are absolutely right.’ Don’t say ‘you could be right’ or ‘you might have a point’ because the argument will just continue on. Say ‘you are absolutely right.’ Then, just do what you want.”

I watched her put this into practice. My dad would rail on and on about the stupidity of the game of golf, and how foolish it was to go chasing a little ball across a field. Aunt Katie would nod, drop her chin, and say, “You’re absolutely right, Bob.” Then, next chance she got, she’d load up her clubs and go to the golf course. Dad would talk about how ridiculous it was to grow flowers. “If you can’t eat it, it’s just a waste of time,” he’d say. “You’re right,” she’d say…but she’d still run twine along the porch for her morning glories to climb.

Once, over dinner, Uncle Henry was talking about smoking, and what a nasty habit it was. “You’re absolutely right, Henry,” Aunt Katie said. Still, when she got up from the table, she closed herself in the bathroom and lit up.”She thinks I don’t know what she’s doing in there,” he said…as if she weren’t less than ten feet away. “It’s none of Henry’s business,” Aunt Katie spoke to herself…as if the walls weren’t paper thin. When she came out of the bathroom, in a cloud of smoke, neither one of them said a word about it.

And when my dad was on his deathbed, and he bellowed and sent us all, crying, from the room, Aunt Katie quietly kept her seat. No matter what he wanted, or thought he wanted, she wasn’t going to let him die alone.

Aunt Katie didn’t always shy away from an argument, though. There are a couple of people that she seemed to truly enjoy sparring with. There were others that she’d talk history with, or finance, politics, the stock market, gardening, dogs, or baseball. Katherine was an intelligent woman who could speak with great knowledge on any number of subjects. She wouldn’t waste her time, though, if she didn’t think you were interested.

She was always tuned in to what others cared about. She kept that in mind, too, when she asked for assistance. One niece helped with her taxes, because that was her strong suit. A couple nephews helped with remodeling projects. Aunt Katie called me if she needed something from the store; she called Bob for help with dinner. When Deacon Paul asked if I took care of Aunt Katie, I was stunned. “She took care of herself,” I told him. She was careful to spread out the help she needed, so that it seemed like she was asking nothing at all. Truly, in comparison to all that she gave, it was absolutely nothing.

With that being said, I do want to thank the many people that helped Katherine as her health failed, to make it possible for her to live a good life, in her own home. Thank you to the priests that have stopped to visit, to Deacon Jim, and the ladies that brought Communion. Thanks to Bob Evans, who was always there for Aunt Katie, whether it was doctor visits, meals, or just good companionship. Thanks to Eileen, who was Katherine’s helper and, most importantly, her friend. Thanks to Greg, who was always close by, and checked in regularly. Thanks to Keith, who brightened Aunt Katie’s hospital stay with regular visits…and to all the others that came, called, or sent cards. And many thanks to the hospice nurses, Sue Solle and Donna Kubik, for all their help and encouragement in Katherine’s last days.

My Aunt Katie lived a good life; my life has been better for having her in it.

 

 

 

Today

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When I’m struggling for what to do, how to behave, what to say…I find a quote – or it finds me – and the message speaks right to me, and gives me direction to go forward. This one is a gift from my friend, Lisa, who writes from rural Ecuador:

“Today: Soak in what’s real and what’s real is unhurried. The ground. The air. The exhale. The planted seed. The shift. The season.” – Victoria Erickson

And there it is, just what I need to find my footing.

Saturday, my Aunt Katie came home from the hospital, weak as a kitten, and resigned to the fact that there was nothing more that could be done to improve her situation. My cousin Bob brought her back to Beaver Island, where she was born and raised, and where she has lived since her retirement, more than thirty years ago. We helped to get her settled in her own house, where her biggest wish was to watch the Detroit Tigers baseball game.

I moved in to her house, too, to be there, and help however I could. Though Aunt Katie was, at times, frustrated by pain, weakness or the inability to perform a task(“This hand just doesn’t work right anymore!”), she was always brave, rational and composed. “That’s the way it should be,” she said, speaking of the fact that she would die before her sister, Margaret, “I’m the oldest, after all.” When I showed concern over her discomfort, she told me calmly, “That’s just part of the process, Cindy.”

Though we both recognized that these were serious and important times, we stayed true to our own natures. I still managed to get on Aunt Katie’s nerves with my inability to find whatever she sent me after (her little pills, the breathing machine, oatmeal) though her directions couldn’t possibly have been more precise. Any show of sadness or sentimentality was met with a sharp rebuke. Once, when my hand rested on her shoulder a bit too long, she gathered enough voice to say, “Cindy! Cut it out!” She still managed, now and then, to hurt my feelings and aggravate. We were both able, though, to let little grievances go, and focus on the big picture.

I was rarely alone with Aunt Katie. Her niece, Shirley, grand-niece, Paula, and Paula’s husband, Tom, flew over for a day. They brightened Aunt Katie’s spirits, and left behind enough soup to feed an army! Her nephews Bob, Greg and Keith were present and attentive. Phone calls were frequent and welcome. I’d help Aunt Katie hold the phone to her ear as she listened and responded.

Friends stopped in with gifts of food, well-wishes and encouragement. Aunt Katie smiled and nodded appreciation as I named her guests. Bob’s fiancee, Joann, spent one long night in the chair at her bedside, murmuring love and comfort. Donna and Sue, the hospice nurses, were frequent guests, always kind, helpful and full of good advice. The deacon came, to offer communion and other sacraments. Aunt Katie’s friend and helper, Eileen, stopped in for a long visit, and she and my aunt had a beer together. When I came into the room, Aunt Katie was smacking her lips and, with a little grin, said, “That tastes good!”

My aunt died Monday evening, with family and friends around her. She was eighty-eight years old.

My sister Cheryl, and her son, Bob, arrived the next day. Together with those of us already here, plans and arrangements are moving along. Photos are being gathered; memories are shared. Last night four of us ordered Aunt Katie’s beer choice before dinner, and toasted her as we clinked our bottles of MillerLite together. We’ll have a steady stream of family arriving over the next several days.

This morning, I picked my dogs up from the kennel. I stayed home from work. I have not yet contacted the family to see what I should do next. Today, I’m taking time to let it all soak in. One step at a time.