It’s after four o’clock on this Sunday afternoon. I should have published a blog by now. It’s time to get outside for a walk with the dogs. The day is practically gone, but I’ve been busy. Because this is my oldest daughter’s birthday, I made sure to set time aside to call her, not too early, in case she worked the late shift last night; not too late, in case she had plans. I also spent quite a bit of time reminiscing about all the lovely times we’ve shared.
I made granola. I don’t eat breakfast, but I like a bowl of cereal with milk after supper. It kind of stands in for dessert. As children, my brothers and sisters and I all liked a bowl of cereal at night, before we went to bed. Yesterday, I paid over six dollars for a box of cereal. It was a smallish box, too, for that price. I’ll be lucky to get five or six bowls out of it. So. today, I got up and made a big kettle of oats, nuts and seeds granola.
When I pulled out the spiral notebook with my tried-and-true granola recipe in it, a dozen or more pages came out in my hands. It is, granted, just an old, cheap spiral notebook, but the recipes it holds are precious. I bought it at the grocery store in 1978, the first winter I spent on Beaver Island. We were renting a big old stone house that had belonged to a retired priest, Father Donahue. It came furnished. The shelves in the dining room were filled with vintage cookbooks. I divided the notebook into sections for appetizers and beverages, breads, side dishes, main dishes and desserts, and started copying down any recipes that looked interesting.
I’ve continued to add to it over the years. That’s where I recorded my mother-in-law’s directions for the best no-bake cookies. My Mom’s rhubarb crisp. My daughter’s broccoli salad. My sister-in-law’s cheese ball. I copied the recipe for “Spicy Perk-a-Punch” from my mother’s Farm Journal magazine, and I make it every year at Christmastime. The pages that have cookie recipes are spattered with evidence of their use. Though I own a large collection of interesting cookbooks, that old spiral notebook is where I turn when I’m looking for a specific recipe that I know I can count on.
Before it’s all lost for good, I decided it’s time to get the recipes copied. Because I never seem able to take the simplest or most direct path, rather than just re-writing the recipes, I decided to type them into the computer. That way, they could be more easily turned into a book, to share with my children and grandchildren.
Because it’s the first complete day off I’ve had in five days, and because I added to my wardrobe with a few good pieces from the Resale Shop, I had laundry to do. Luckily, all of those things fit nicely together. I got the granola mixed up and in a low oven, then started a load of wash. I typed a couple recipes, stirred the granola, then typed a couple more. I got up to put the clothes in the dryer, another stir, a little more typing.
In between, there was the steady rotation of dogs going outside and coming back in. And lots of good memories filling in every pause. From the January night when Jennifer was born, through all of the years, and every single cherished moment. A good Sunday!
Sneaking a little peak into David Whyte’s essay on “Naming,” I see that he suggests that we name things in order to control them. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but giving something a title does suggest some kind of mastery.
When I named my children, I wasn’t looking for control, but I certainly examined every other aspect. A good name had to have a shortened version, I thought, for when they were young: a version for snuggling and teasing and playing. A child’s full name should have lots of syllables. When angry or frustrated, calling out the entire name, one emphatic syllable at a time, is much like counting to ten before reacting. It gave me, and the offending child, a moment to think.
I believed their names ought to be something that would adapt well to any situation. So that, if they grew up to be doctors, or lawyers, or the president, for heaven’s sake, the name would hold up to the position. There were no “Bill”s or “Tom”s serving in the highest office of the land! This was before Jimmy Carter tossed that theory out the window. The names of my children would stand up to any possibility, because I believed they would be capable of anything.
Names should not be mock-able. My daughters would take on an unusual surname; there was no choice in that. We were careful, though, to avoid rhyming sounds or alliteration. We considered “Rebecca,” but balked because the shorted version would be Becky. Becky Bonesteel was not a good sound.
Names ought to have a solid and dignified history. Other people that carry the same name can influence how that child is perceived in the world. Which is probably why Adolf is such an uncommon moniker.
I loved the name Jennifer. Misgivings came from one girl – not in my grade – from elementary school, named Jenni, who wore raggedy clothes. They were over-ridden by another child called Jennifer, who was always clean and neat and had beautiful long dark braids. My husband and I saw the movie, Jenny, starring Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas. I loved Marlo Thomas, too. So, Jennifer was the name chosen for my first child. For her middle name, I chose Marietta. Sister Marietta was my fourth grade teacher, as kind as she was beautiful. Jennifer Marietta. Jenny.
Such an exceptional, successful name added pressure for meeting all of the same requirements when choosing a name for my second child. Just to make it even more difficult, I decided that the number of letters in the shortened version should match up, and that the number of syllables should be the same. Of course, the influences should be just as strong, and all of the rules about dignity and mock-ability still applied.
Katherine Hepburn was one of my favorite actresses. I’d seen most of her movies and loved them all. She was funny, but strong; she never played the fool. She seemed ahead of her time. Katherine was also a family name. My Aunt Katie was named after her grandmother, so it went way back, in my family. Actually, my aunt was named after both of her grandmothers, Katherine Elizabeth. And, after months of torturous experimentation with baby name books, trying out every other possibility for a middle name, we came to the conclusion that no name complimented Katherine as well. A regal name; a name with history; a perfect name for my second daughter. Katherine Elizabeth. Katey.
Now, as adults, they have both gone to using one-syllable names: Jen, and Kate. Sometimes I wonder if their names had nearly as much influence in their lives as I imagined they might. Choosing their names, though it seemed of utmost importance at the time, probably had much less to do with the adults they have become than a million other decisions I made along the way!
Today, I love the fact that Blackie Chan is feeling better, after a scary long day and all through the night when he was not doing well at all. Yesterday, I had one of his prescriptions filled. The little dog needs one of these pills in the morning, and one at night, every day, along with two other types of medicine. Usually, I get thirty tablets at a time.
Since I am no longer working at the hardware, which is owned by the veterinarian, it is a little more difficult having prescriptions filled. Blackie Chan will need these pills for the rest of his life. With his congestive heart failure, it is, in fact, the medications that are keeping him going. He’s been doing well, so yesterday, I asked if I could get a double prescription, so that I would have enough for a month before I had to get it refilled.
I came home with a double dose of heart medicine, only to find that Blackie Chan was extremely under the weather. He wasn’t on his feet, wriggling, wagging his tail, and barking out a greeting, as he does every day when I come home. He showed only a little enthusiasm when I picked him up, and he clearly wasn’t feeling well. He went outside with the other dogs, but was not up for a walk. He was uninterested in treats, and he refused his dinner.
When I drove cars that were less dependable than the one I have now, I used to abide by quite a few superstitions about how to keep them running. Never fill the tank up with gas, never buy all new tires, and, god forbid, never take it through the car wash, because, sure enough, as soon as I’d invested that much time or money into a vehicle, disaster would strike. There I would be, on the side of the road with a blown engine, a damaged tie-rod, or a broken axle on my shiny car, wishing I had the money back that I’d just put in to the gas tank.
That occurred to me yesterday, as I stashed a full month’s worth of medication, and wondered if Blackie Chan would make it through the night. But, this morning, he woke up feeling fine. He took his medicine without hesitation, and accepted treats when he came in from outside. He won’t be around forever, but I’m loving the fact that, for now, he’s okay.
In addition, I’m loving a “Dutch Baby.” Also called a German pancake, a Dutch Baby is like a giant popover. My friend, Denise, posted the recipe over the holidays. I copied it down, so that I could try it. It’s wonderful! It comes out of the oven all puffed and crisp and buttery; today I’m having it with “Four Fruits Preserves.”
As for David Allen, I haven’t always loved him. I have been reading his book, Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity. For a loooong time. During my morning study time, I read and take notes on the particulars. It’s a pretty lengthy book, over three-hundred pages, and it has a lot of information. All of the instruction takes some time to become clear. I rarely get through more than five or six pages a day. I started the book two months ago! So, I’m anxious to finish it, and move on to something else. I’ve been getting pretty tired of David Allen and everything he has to say about getting things done.
Except, today, when – all the way on page two-hundred and fifty-seven – I came upon a chapter titled “Why Bright People Procrastinate the Most,” and, in reading it, felt like someone saw me for the very first time! “The smartest and most sensitive people have the highest number of undecided things in their lives and on their lists,” he writes. He goes on to say, “the most creative, sensitive and intelligent people have the capability to produce in their minds lurid nightmare scenarios about what might be involved in doing a particular project, and all the negative consequences that might occur if it isn’t done perfectly.” He even uses filing income taxes as an example! I am famous for putting off filing my income taxes! Oh, David Allen, you know me so well! And you put a positive spin on procrastination, which is my worst behavior flaw. I love you, David Allen!
The last time I posted, I bragged that I was, so far this year, keeping up with my New Year’s resolutions. Granted, they are minimal: walk every day; exercise every day; blog twice a week. And, admittedly, we were only just over one week in. Still, I’ve learned to give myself credit when I can, for whatever measly accomplishments I can claim, because that in itself is a rarity.
As a perfect example, now, only three days later, I’ve already lost bragging rights. Monday was COLD! And, it came after a string of cold and wintry days that already had me discouraged and dispirited. Walking is not even close to the joyful activity I expect it to be when I am so bundled in outerwear that I can’t even swing my arms, and even then, my teeth are chattering and my fingers and toes are going numb. So, on Monday, I refused to go for a walk.
That’s okay; I have a back-up plan. I’m big on making promises to myself, but I also know I’m pretty lax about keeping up with them. So, when that happens, I move right on to my next rule: “never miss twice.” If I miss more than one day of a commitment, the skipping of the thing gains as much traction as the thing itself. Then, to get back on track, I have to set a new agenda, and start all over.
“Starting over” is much more difficult than it seems. I give it too much significance; I worry too much about the particulars. Do I want to take some time off, before I start keeping track of this commitment again? Maybe a break is just what I need! I should pick a special day to re-start, of course. New Year’s Day and my birthday are my two favorites. If neither of those days are close, then how about somebody else’s birthday? Or, the first day of a month? But which month? At the very least, I have to wait for Sunday. Sunday is my default “starting over” day. Which leaves six days of every week to screw up!
So, it’s easier to just keep up with whatever intentions I’ve set and, failing that, to try very hard to never miss twice. Tuesday, even though it was still cold, I went for my walk. It wasn’t quite as bitterly cold, the sun was shining, and I was glad I got out there.
Beyond my capital letter “New Year’s Resolutions,” I also have a few lower-case aspirations for the year. There are things I want to get done around the house, and around the yard. I have plans for specific projects in the studio. Getting rid of excess, and concentrating more on what’s important is a recurring goal in my life. The coming of winter and the new year always makes me think about paring down, even in year’s when collapsing cabinets do not underline the need!
My over-loaded bookshelves have been on my mind. When I think about paring down, I always think about my bookshelves. The laundry room, which is actually just a hallway, and the bathroom are the only rooms in this small house that do not have bookshelves. Every one of them are full to overflowing. I tell myself it’s too much; I should cut back. And then I get anxious. The thought of getting rid of books always makes me uneasy.
This year, I’m going at it from a different angle. This year, rather than reading reviews, listening to recommendations, and buying more books, I am concentrating solely on the books that I have. Many of them, I have not read. In some cases, I can’t even remember what caused me to think I needed a particular book. This year, I’ll either read them, or decide to donate them, or both. Others, that I’ve read and enjoyed, I hold on to because I’m sure I’ll want to read them again. Well, this is the year for that, too.
Reading the books on my shelves is not the biggest resolution I’ve made this year. It doesn’t contain deadlines or rules. Still, it holds a lot of promise. I’m looking forward to discovery and insight. I’m excited to see how it turns out!
After the several near disasters addressed in my last three posts, you might be inclined to wonder, “Is there anything that is going right ?!?” As it happens, the answer is “Yes!”
First and foremost is the fact that the incidents I described were not full-blown disasters, but only near disasters. In every case, the worst outcome was avoided. The falling cabinet did not kill me, or even mortally wound me. The lost dog was found. As for the new kitchen arrangement not living up to my expectations, well. I’ll get used to it. And even though I’m not as thrilled with it as I thought I would be, the extra space near the sliding glass door offers a designated location for the water dish I keep on the floor for the dogs. Prior to this, it sat almost in front of the door, leading to many spills by overly-enthusiastic dogs rushing to get outside.
Secondly, in addition to catastrophe being averted, there were blessings associated with each misadventure. The collapsing cabinet led to getting to a kitchen-rearranging project that has been on hold for at least ten years. It helped me pare down much of the excess that has been taking up space in my house. And, my favorite (now my only) plates were saved. When my little dog, Blackie Chan, was lost, I got in more than ten thousand steps while searching for him. That would mean nothing to me if he wasn’t found, but since he was, yay for getting my exercise in! Finally, when the new kitchen arrangement disappointed me, I spent some time researching smaller refrigerators. Now, when this appliance inevitably bites the dust, I already have its replacement picked out!
Third, surprising as it may seem, there is more going on with me than the almost-calamities that I’ve been writing about. I started a new job in December and, when I felt sure that I liked it, I put in my notice at the hardware store. After nearly twenty years of working there, December 30th was my last day. It was a little bit sad to leave that job; I knew it well, and was good at it. But, the time was right. I have no regrets. In my new position at the Community Center, I feel welcome and appreciated.
I’m still volunteering one day a week at the Resale Shop here. One perk of the job is that I am on the spot if something good shows up in their inventory. Last week, I purchased a low wooden dresser. It was just the right size to replace two low benches that held baskets full of my kitchen towels, tablecloths, and boxes of tin foil, parchment paper and freezer bags. The two shallow drawers would be perfect for keeping those things easily accessible, but out of sight.
The dresser cost ten dollars. Because its planned location – beside the freezer on the stairway wall – would hide the low opening leading to the storage space under the stairs, it needed to be easily moveable. So, as soon as I had the dresser inside, I flipped it up-side down, and got out my cordless drill driver. I removed the wheels from the bottom of the largest bench, and drilled holes in the correct size in each dresser leg. I fit the casters in, tapped them into place, then flipped it over. Perfect! Eventually, I may paint the dresser, but for now, it looks fine just as it is.
Another benefit of rearranging the kitchen is that every single drawer and cupboard got cleaned out. That tendency to get distracted by “side jobs” drives me crazy. Any job I begin takes much longer than it should, as my attention is diverted to something else…and something else again. The upside is that when I’m finished…if I ever get finished…it is a thorough, all-encompassing accomplishment. Right now, I’m very pleased with my nicely organized kitchen!
Finally, so far, I am right on top of my New Year’s resolutions! Now, admittedly, we are only 9 days in to this new year, and I kept my list pretty short: walk every day; exercise every day; continue intermittent fasting; blog twice a week. That’s it. It’s probably too early to be patting myself on the back. Still, it’s worth mentioning, if only for the fact that it may be the only time I can honestly say that I’m holding up my end of this commitment to myself. I’ll take my wins where I can get them! So, nine days in, this year is going very well!
I’ve heard that tragedies and deaths happen in threes. When a pair of bad things happen, we wonder, “What next?” while waiting for the [third] shoe to drop. It appears that “almost disasters” cluster together that way, too.
The two days before Christmas left me with an equal number of near catastrophes. I was ready for a break! “There is nothing that can’t wait,” I told myself. Christmas Eve flowed into Christmas Day, and then into the day after Christmas. With one dog or another in my lap, and the contents of several kitchen cabinets piled around the edges of the room, I indulged in gift chocolates and holiday movies. I stayed up late, and slept long in the mornings.
It took a little effort to ignore the mess I was living in. Baking pans, mixing bowls and colanders were stacked in several piles on the floor around the dining room table. Contents from other cabinets filled every available horizontal surface. The coffee pot shared its small bit of counter with vases, bowls and candle holders. The little Christmas tree, holding its space on the dining room table, was surrounded by other “survivors” of the fall.
The fallen cabinet was actually two 18-inch cabinets hung side by side. One of them was destroyed by the fall, and now rests out in the fire pit. The other, possibly repairable, was taking up space in the – already narrow – laundry room hallway. Preparing a meal, writing at the dining room table, or even just moving from one room to another, was a challenge…but I was up for it. I grumbled, but was not motivated to do anything about it.
That changed suddenly on Monday, the 27th of December. Tuesday, I had to go back to work, and it would be New Year’s Day before I had another day off. Because I didn’t have a clear idea of the steps to take to get things back in some semblance of order, I felt the job required my full attention, and a serious block of time. There wasn’t a single job that I could tuck in before or after a workday. Better get at it!
I pulled out the big magnifying glass, and sat down to once again tackle the tiny printing of the instruction manual that came with my new skill saw. So many cautions! I managed to insert the blade correctly, tried out the “on” switch once, and took a ten-minute break to celebrate. I propped up the edge of the countertop above the cabinets beneath it, measured and marked my cutting line. I tried out a few different things to stand on: would the small stool give me enough height, or should I stand – or maybe kneel – on a kitchen chair? Or should I kneel right on the countertop?
Finally, having exhausted every single stall tactic I could think of, I got to it. I opted for standing on the small, rubber-topped stool. I tried out the “on” switch a couple times. Then, resting the guide on the countertop with the blade lined up with my cutting mark, I turned on the saw. These thoughts went through my head:
“OH MY GOD, IT IS SO LOUD!!! IT IS VIBRATING!!! IT’S TOO MUCH! I DON’T THINK I CAN HOLD IT STEADY! THIS IS SCARY! THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!”
I turned off the saw, sighed with relief, examined the 1/8 inch cut I had made, and paced the floor. What next? Was this the wrong tool? Was I going to give up? No! I stepped up to give it another try.
“THIS IS NOT WORKING! THIS WILL TAKE ALL DAY! TOO MUCH NOISE! TOO MUCH VIBRATION! NO WAY!”
Again, I turned off the saw, shook out my hands, looked at the tiny bit of progress I’d made, considered quitting, and gave it another go. After several attempts, where it seemed like it was going impossibly slow, and that it would take all day to burn through the twenty-four inch depth of countertop, I thought to look at the clock. Oh. Even with all the pacing, and talking to myself, and melodrama, and turning on and off the saw, I had been at it for only five minutes. Okay. Maybe the saw wasn’t the waste-of-money, piece-of-garbage that I had determined it to be. This might be do-able after all.
On the next attempt, I stuck with it. Through noise, and vibration, and having to climb up onto the countertop to reach the back. I stayed with it even when I accidentally veered off my mark. I cut as far as the saw would go, then snapped off the last fraction, and set the countertop aside. I removed one last screw that was holding the cabinet in place, and moved it out into the room. Hurrah!
Except that the wall behind the cabinet was covered with mold, just as the wall above it had been. And, except that there was no floor under the cabinet, which left a 3/4 inch drop-off and exposed blue-board insulation. I had come too far to be deterred at this point. I sprayed the wall with Mold Control, wiped it down, then gave it a coat of stain-blocking primer. I measured the gap in the floor (16″ x 32″), and went looking. I found a board in the studio that was almost the right length. Then, in what seemed like another holiday miracle, the two shelves from the broken wall cabinet, side by side, filled the rest of the space almost exactly! So, now I could move the refrigerator.
Which was not an simple task! First, the kitchen is narrow. In order to get the refrigerator where it was going, the cabinet that had come out of that space had to be pushed through the kitchen and into the small dining room, already full of the residuals of this adventure. Then, the refrigerator – the bulky, cumbersome, heavy and stubbornly difficult to budge refrigerator – had to be moved out of its place, and across the kitchen, then spun around 90 degrees, and slid into place. I’m afraid I just made it sound much easier than it was!
But, finally, after ten years of planning this change, the refrigerator was where I wanted it. And…I. HATED. IT. How could I not have anticipated how massive it would look on this side of the room? How it would block my view of the door, when standing anywhere in the kitchen? How it would make the remaining countertop seem so almost uselessly small??
And, why was I surprised? I, who used to frustrate my husband no end by my inability to picture how something would work until I saw it. I would have him move the furniture, only to have him rearrange it again, and again, and again. I, who changed the positions of the bathroom fixtures several times before I was satisfied, causing the plumber to say he had never before needed to reset a toilet (three times!) before the house was even lived in. I, who have altered the layout of my kitchen at least twice before. I should have seen this coming.
I shoved the refrigerator back out of its place. I moved the small, chest type freezer over to that spot, and put the refrigerator on the stairway wall, where the freezer had been. I hated that even worse. I paced the floor. What I knew for sure – after so much planning, and waiting, and the emotional strain of cutting through that countertop – was that I did not want to put things back the way they had started. So, the freezer went back to the stairway wall, and the refrigerator went back to the place I had planned for it.
“I’ll get used to it,” I told myself. I put a couple hanging plants on top of the refrigerator, where they can bask in the sunshine coming in through the door’s window. I added the low basket that I keep crackers in. The appliance didn’t seem so gigantic, then. I acknowledged that there was, just as I’d planned, a wider entrance. When the cabinet is put in place at the other end, I’ll have plenty of countertop again. When I replace the refrigerator – and appliances don’t last forever – I’ll get a smaller one.
So, in the end, this was not a disaster. Only an almost disaster. The third, and hopefully the last, almost-disaster of this holiday season!
On Christmas Eve, instead of spending a leisurely day in my pajamas, as I had planned, I was up, dressed, and out of the house before I’d even had two full cups of coffee. After the cabinet-crushing incident of the day before (the “part one” of the “almost disastrous holiday” series), I had a whole list of necessities to buy, in order to start putting my kitchen back together. So, though days when I don’t have to work are usually spent letting dogs outside and back in, treating them for their efforts, and boosting them up or down from the furniture, I left them home alone and headed for the hardware store.
The falling cabinet revealed a wall that was covered in mold from an old and long since repaired leak in the roof. There were three large holes, two in the wall, one in the ceiling, where the nails holding the cabinet had give way. There was a crooked row of fourteen smaller nail holes; similar sites can be found throughout this house, and tell the story of me “looking for a stud to hang something up” before I learned that there was such a thing as a “stud finder.”
Mold Control spray was first on my list. A small container of spackle, a putty knife, and a sanding block to fill and repair all the holes in the wall. Then, a quart of Kilz stain blocking primer and a quart of white paint. A kit that contained a small roller inside a narrow paint tray, and an extra pack of roller covers. I picked up a white, over-sized outlet cover to replace the cracked one near the door. Finally, I bought a skill saw, as I’d been told that was the right tool to cut through the countertop, necessary for moving the lower cabinet. I came home with my supplies, and went to work.
The dogs were restless. Usually, when I come home, it is after my workday, and the first thing we do is go for our walk. They didn’t understand this change in routine. Also, there were snowmobiles going up and down the road, which kept the girls agitated and barking, and Blackie Chan confused about all the noise. I’d gotten some preliminary work done. While my primer dried, I decided to take them all out for a walk.
Usually, we walk on the Fox Lake Road. Because of the snowmobile traffic, on Christmas Eve we went down the Cotter’s Trail instead. Cotter’s Trail is basically a long driveway, a narrow “two-track” through the woods. From my back door to the end of the trail where the little hunt camp sits, is less than a half-mile. Mosquitos make it an impossible walk in the summertime. When the trail is covered with leaves in the fall, Blackie Chan, with his failing vision, can’t tell where the path is, and stumbles off into the trees and grasses, so we avoid it in then, too. In the early spring, though, and sometimes in the winter, it’s a nice, off-road walk where I don’t have to be alert to possible on-coming traffic.
Because I didn’t have to be alert, I wasn’t. As the dogs romped ahead or followed behind me, occasionally nudging me for a bit of kibble, I was busy daydreaming. I was plotting out the blog I would write about my collapsing kitchen cabinet adventure. I was working out the sequence of events, and putting sentences together in my mind. “An Almost Disastrous Holiday” would be my title.
I came out of my reverie to realize I was missing one dog. There was Darla, tail up and ears flopping, zig-zagging up ahead, shaking the bushes for interesting smells. There was Rosa Parks, trudging dutifully along ten steps behind me, her tail sweeping from side-to-side, and a slight smile on her face. Where was Blackie Chan? Was he up in front? When did I last see him? Did he get turned around? Did he stumble off into the deep snow?
I called out his name, once, then again, while standing in one place. I’ve watched him, though, put his nose in the air and turn in circles, trying to figure out where I am and where my voice is coming from, and then head off in the wrong direction. Not wanting to confuse him, I figured it was better not to keep calling out. Instead, I walked forward on the trail until the lack of paw-prints told me he was not up ahead. Then, I turned and headed back toward my house. “He just got turned around,” I told myself, “he’ll be right up here around the next corner.” But he wasn’t.
I continued on, quickly now, toward the house, my heart racing, watching for signs that would tell me if he’d left the trail, praying for his safety, hoping he was home, in the yard waiting for us. Darla bounded ahead, oblivious. Rosa Parks, sensing my distraction, continued steadily jumping on my leg, wanting a treat. “Find Blackie Chan,” I scolded in my mean voice, “you’ll get treats when we find your brother!”
All the way to the house I rushed, then around the house to make sure the little dog wasn’t waiting at the back door. I put the other dogs inside. Three more times, I walked across the road and down the Cotter’s Trail, then back home to circle the house and yard. “Foolish,” I thought, “to leave the other dogs at home. There’s a better chance of finding him if they come along.” Nearly panicked now, I brought the other dogs as I traversed the route two more times.
Exhausted, I told myself to pause, to give Blackie Chan time to come home. Just then, my cousin, Bob, pulled into the driveway. I answered his casual, “How ya doing, Cindy,” with a frenzied, “I lost my little dog!” He shook his head, asked how long he’d been missing, and told me of the many sightings of coyote on his wilderness camera. He had just come from “the forty,” he said, which is south of me on the Fox Lake Road. He was heading north when he left; he assured me he’d keep an eye out for the little dog, and bring him home if he found him.
As soon as I caught my breath, I headed out again. This time I left the dogs at home, and took the car. I drove south, slowly, to where Hannigan Road meets the Fox Lake Road, then home. Again, I walked around the house, hoping that Blackie Chan would be waiting at the back door. No. Back in the car, I drove slowly north, to Loretta’s driveway, then turned and came home again. Another peek around the house, then another walk down the Cotter’s Trail. So sad. Discouraged. Imagining my poor little dog, lost and confused…
Near the end of the trail, I heard a small bark. I scanned the area. There! Way up ahead, a movement. I yelled out his name. I clapped my hands. Yes, that was my little Blackie Chan, running in circles, trying to find where my voice was coming from! I ran to him, grabbed him up in my arms, nuzzled him and told him how happy I was to see him. I carried the little dog all the way home. It was four-thirty when we walked into the house, three hours exactly since we had left for our walk.
Only three hours! It seemed like much longer! I had covered a lot of ground, heart pounding, while chastising myself for my carelessness and imagining every worst-case scenario, I was exhausted! The dogs seemed tired, too. There would be no more progress on my kitchen project today. What was left of Christmas Eve, I’d spend relaxing with my dogs, and thanking my lucky stars that – once again – what could have been a disaster, wasn’t.
On the day before Christmas Eve, I finished my shift at the hardware store, picked up my mail at the Post Office, and stopped at the gas station, where I picked up a few things: frozen pizza; a bag of barbecue potato chips; a box of “pot-stickers.” At the counter, I joked that, “it’s evidently going to be a junk food holiday!”
I had the next four days off, and was looking forward to a mellow, relaxing time. All Christmas cards had been sent; all packages were mailed. I had a chicken to roast on Christmas day; beyond that, I had no intention to fuss over meals. I had my supplies from the gas station, and a pot of soup to warm up if I felt like it. I was going to put away the gift-wrapping clutter, and give the house a “once-over,” so that I could enjoy its tidiness. That’s how it started out.
The dogs and I took our walk down the Fox Lake Road. I gave them their dinner while my pizza cooked. I read through a nice Christmas letter, and taped the last few cards onto the mirror. I started a movie and watched it while I had dinner. Then I got up to clean the kitchen.
Pizza generates few dishes. From my entire day, I had only a few items in the sink: one coffee cup; one lidded soup bowl and an insulated mug that I had carried to work; one small plate; one fork; one spoon; and the knife I had used to cut the pizza into sections. I could have just left the dishes, but I like to wake up to a clean kitchen, so it’s worth the small effort. I started filling the sink with soapy water. I picked up a bowl that was in the drainer, and opened the cupboard to put it away.
That was the start of my nearly disastrous holiday.
Without a bit of provocation – I didn’t pull or lean on the cupboard; I barely touched the knob to swing the door open – the entire thirty-six inch overhead cabinet came off the wall, and down on top of me! There was no time to react; I had barely enough time to think “yikes!” as assorted dinner plates, soup bowls, jars and vases rained down on me. I have always assumed my last words would be something like that, as I absentmindedly did some stupid thing that caused my demise.
Not this time, though. Instinctively, I turned, and deflected most of the weight of it away from me. I took a breath. Assessed the situation. I wasn’t broken, though I was standing in a mass of shattered dishes. One shoulder was sore, I had a bump on my forehead, and I’d jammed the thumb of my right hand. Not bad. I called a friend, just to share the enormous, scary, “holy shit” moment that it was. Then I started cleaning up the mess.
It didn’t take long before my racing heart had slowed down, and I’d begun to see the positive aspects of this disaster. First, I wasn’t killed, nor even badly injured. Second, I’ve been planning for quite some time to move the refrigerator over to this spot in the kitchen; I was stopped by the huge effort involved in moving the cabinets. Now, that job was half done! Third, this manner of weeding out of the excess was far less painful than trying to make those decisions on my own.
Last, and of utmost importance, are the things that were saved. Four vases: one that my friend Judi had given me; another from my friend, Carol; a third, handmade by my friend Ruth; and the fourth made by my friend, Susan. Several food storage containers made it through. One soup bowl survived the fall.
On each of the knobs on my cabinet doors, I have small ornaments hanging. On these doors I had: a felted wool, copper and cork Christmas tree that was a gift from my daughter, Kate: a painted shell ornament that my daughter, Jen, made; and a woven paper star that I’d learned to make in a class held by my now departed friend, Larry. All survived!
I had a set of four red plates that I’d bought several years ago. They were a part of a Jaclyn Smith collection for K-Mart. They are small, for dinner plates, and have an embossed floral design on the surface. I just love them! They were stacked on the lower shelf in the left side of the cabinet, on top of four larger black glazed dinner plates and a red and gold hand painted chicken plate that I had recently picked up at the Resale Shop. On top of them was a celadon green ceramic plate and a pink glass dessert plate. All were smashed. Except for the four red plates that – by some holiday miracle – tipped out onto the countertop, still stacked together, and completely intact!
This wasn’t without loss. I liked my cupboards. Though they were “bottom-of-the-line,” I saved several years to afford them, and it was a big improvement to my kitchen. When I painted them several years ago, I added poster-like images on the inside of each cabinet door. The doors and drawers are adorned with a wild collection of mismatched knobs, a gift from my daughter, Kate. But, as catastrophes go, this could have been much more dreadful. So, I avoided the worst this year on the holidays…I’m hoping yours were equally disaster-free!
I put up the little Christmas tree early this year. I arranged all of the Santa Clauses on top of a small bookcase that sits in front of the dining room window. I draped the holiday banner over the curtains. The snowman my sister Cheryl made for me became a part of a seasonal display in the kitchen. The nativity set, brought out for the first time in many years, dressed up a stand in the living room. As holiday cards arrived, I taped them onto and around the mirror that hangs over the circuit breaker box on the back wall.
As someone who has dealt with severe depression a few times in my life, I know to be careful. Holidays, like birthdays, can be dangerous times. Sadness and melancholy hide just under the surface of what looks like Christmas cheer, ready to take over if given half a chance. Sometimes a big build-up beforehand leads to an equally large let-down afterward.
I remember a couple childhood Christmases when I was thrown in to deep despair over a gift that was not exactly right. My poor mother, who struggled every year to make a good Christmas for all us, was forced to take time away from getting several small children dressed for church, to comfort me over tights that didn’t fit right, or the mistaken notion that “everybody else got better stuff than me!” As an adult, I’ve expected all holidays to rise to an impossibly high standard, and self-pity always wants to step in for any shortcomings.
At this time in my life, and the way the world is now, of course Christmas cannot measure up. My children are grown; even my grandchildren are all adults now, and scattered around the country. it’s impossible to be with all of them. In years when I have gone to spend the holiday with family, I left my own traditions behind, for the celebrations of others. And no matter what, there are loved ones missing. Even if we weren’t dealing with a pandemic that makes travel a scary proposition…even if there were a kennel to house my dogs….even if I could afford the time away…still, Christmas would not be the same.
Holidays accentuate any changes. We note who is missing around the table. This island, especially this year, seems to be treading lightly through the Christmas season, for fear that grief will take over. I am not in the center of many of these losses, and it seems somewhat presumptuous to bring them up. It wasn’t my child, after all, nor my spouse, nor my best friends who died this year. Still, I feel it. Many, I’ve known for years; some for all of their lives. And I care about the people, still here, who are newly dealing with the absences. Sadness radiates outward, and touches all of us.
So. I kept my expectations low, as I put out decorations. I wrote holiday cards and wrapped gifts at the dining room table, with the soft glow of tiny colored lights to help set the mood. I didn’t make plans, or expect anything at all. Every card and letter was a sweet surprise. Packages were welcomed with pleasure, and put around the base of the little tree.
I was thrilled when my cousin Bob stopped in for a visit on Christmas morning. I was overjoyed to get telephone calls from each of my daughters that day, and happy to hear from my grandchildren. I opened gifts in the middle of the day. The dogs and I went for a long walk. I spent a good part of the afternoon reading and giggling over a book my daughter gave me. I warmed up leftover pizza for my dinner. Later, I made popcorn and cocoa, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. All in all, it was a lovely day.
As the end of a year draws to a close, I tend to look at what I’ve done, and consider what I want to accomplish in the year ahead. In some years, it’s just a tallying of achievements and memorable events, and a fresh list of New Year’s resolutions. At other times, it’s more reflective. It seems that this is one of those thoughtful years.
I will turn seventy years old this year. Simply surviving in this world for that length of time feels significant. The group of young people I graduated high school with, who I remember as young, strong, and capable, has been reduced by almost a quarter! Two grandmothers, one grandfather, and five of my brothers and sisters died long before they reached seventy. In fact, few members of my family have made it to age eighty. So…
With the “finish line” in my life not yet in view, but perhaps just over the horizon line, and almost uncomfortably close, I’ve been looking at the big picture. What do I want my life to represent, when looked at all through the years? What have I done, and what should I do? How can I do better? How can I bring more contentment and joy into my life?
This isn’t brand new. I’ve been operating with these questions in mind for more than ten years now, since my mother’s death shook me awake to the finite nature of this precious life. It has caused me to pay closer attention. It has made me more thoughtful. I’ve expanded my sense of gratitude and appreciation. I have tried to be happier. Still, with a new milestone in view, and a new year right around the corner, it feels like the time for a fresh assessment. That’s what I’ve been doing.
Some things are just normal adjustments. I cleared off my desk, and made new decisions about the things I keep there. I removed an art photo that I’d gotten tired of, moved several old family photos to a shelf near my bed, switched the location of a picture of my Mom, and brought in a photo of my sisters. These simple, small changes give me a brand-new outlook whenever I sit here.
I moved furniture around in the living room, to give a couple house plants more light during this time of year. I’ve been thinking about changes I can make in the dining room, to make the file cabinet more easily accessible, and to give the table a bit more space. I have a few ideas for the studio, too, to make moving around in there a little easier. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to make more room in the tiny rooms of my house.
I have plans to move the border of the vegetable garden a few feet to the north, come spring. It will be a lot of work for very little change, but then I’ll be able to mow all the way around the fenced garden spot. That will cut down on the amount of grasses, berry brambles and weeds that continually move in from the south side, that now borders a wild field. I ponder more dramatic changes, like building high raised beds or designing a different enclosure, while I’m at it. I try to suppress those ideas. Too often, the more ambitious the plans, the less actually gets done!
This month brought one major development in my life that has been a long time coming: I put in my notice at the hardware store. December 30th will be my last day working there. It’s a change that took a lot of thought and consideration. It’s a little sad. I have been employed there for almost twenty years; it has, mostly, been a good experience. But, the time is right.
With endings, come new beginnings. I’ve started working a few hours a week at the Community Center here. I’m enjoying it very much so far, for the change in scenery and routine, and for the lovely people I work with. Along with my summer job at the Beaver Island Golf Course, my volunteer work at the Island Treasures Resale Shop, my garden, and constant on-going projects in the studio, this ought to be enough to keep me out of trouble!
There are more changes that I’ve been contemplating, many having to do with methods of creative expression. I have many more things to consider, and other decisions to make. That’s enough for today, though. It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes, this one from the Talmud: “Life is so short we must move very slowly.”