Category Archives: writing

Summer!

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Just As The Calendar Began To Say Summer

by Mary Oliver

I went out of the schoolhouse fast

and through the gardens and to the woods,

and spent all summer forgetting what I’d been taught—

two times two, and diligence, and so forth,

how to be modest and useful, and how to succed and so forth,

machines and oil and plastic and money and so forth.

By fall I had healed somewhat, but was summoned back

to the chalky rooms and the desks, to sit and remember

the way the river kept rolling its pebbles,

the way the wild wrens sang though they hadn’t a penny in the bank,

the way the flowers were dressed in nothing but light.

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I love all of Mary Oliver’s poetry, but this particular one spoke to me today. As we dive in to another busy summer here on Beaver Island, and I quickly get caught up in the rush, it is the summers of my childhood that appeal to me. In a perfect world, my days would be designed to mimic the hot, long and lazy out-of-school days that I remember.

Of course, I know that my memory is both faulty and selective. That’s what nostalgia is all about. I can set aside the garden chores that I hated, and the tedious, scorching days trying to entertain myself outside. I’ll choose my remembrances instead from the wonders of a childhood summer.

There was the swing set, and the big sand-pile next to it, always freshened with a new truckload of sand in the spring. And the hours spent swinging, or just laying on the warm metal slide, to bake in the sun. There were willow trees that offered cool shade: one in the back yard, one in the front yard, and one behind the house next door.

There was the orchard, just beyond my grandparent’s garage. Still within our allowable range of travel, but out of my mother’s sight, it allowed for daring and dangerous escapades that we couldn’t otherwise get away with. We ate green apples and pears, practically as soon as they appeared on the branches, in amounts that should have made us desperately ill. I don’t think we ever got so much as a stomach-ache. I still prefer un-ripe fruit, though not quite as green as when I was a child.

We took a million chances climbing the trees there. We always tried to navigate the high branches – by swinging on them, or crawling to the very ends of them – to access the flat roof of the garage. That was the challenge, and the ultimate goal. I don’t know if we ever succeeded.

There was a grape arbor, and a snowball bush whose growth provided a cool, sheltered space under its branches. There was often a playhouse in the yard. In the field beyond, there were thickets that could be made into forts or make-believe homes, depending on the storyline of whatever game we were playing.

Water could be found in buckets and kiddie pools, squirt guns and squirt bottles. Often, we hooked the sprinkler up to the hose, and kept it going until the grass was oozing mud. Sometimes, we took the long walk down to the Hilltop beach, herding younger brothers and sisters, lugging towels and snacks, and one pack of matches for the dreaded encounters with “bloodsuckers.”

The garden was beside our yard, and matched it in size. Some of its care fell to the children (as a child, I would have sworn all of it fell to us), and part of almost every day was given over to weeding and watering. Still, there is magic in watching things grow, and my childhood was filled with that enchantment. I could pick a tomato, and eat it warm from the sun. I could fill a large bowl with fresh peas, and take them into the shade to enjoy them. Strawberries gave way to raspberries as the summer marched on.

These are the bright memories that hold the essence of what I believe summer should be. I know it’s possible…I lived it!

Thursday Thoughts

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This blog is going to be a bunch of jumbled thoughts. I don’t have time to be fussy about it. Usually, I jot down a few ideas, and put them in a kind of sensible order before I begin writing. Then I edit as I go. I check spelling if I have any doubt, though I am a good speller; I go to the Thesaurus if I have the urge to re-use a word too often; sometimes I rearrange sentences or even whole paragraphs. Not today.

It’s already late in the day. I stripped the bed this morning, washed the sheets and comforter, and have yet to remake the bed. My supper is in the oven. It has been a busy, stressful day, and I’m ready to be done. I’ve been feeling guilty, though, about neglecting this blog. There are few things in my life that I have stuck with for as long as this, and I don’t want to let it go. So, here I am, rushing to get something down, while my chicken finishes cooking.

This is my first day off in a week! I started my summer job at the golf course, which takes up my weekends, now, until the end of September. At the Community Center, a couple of my co-workers were out sick, so I filled in. Some of those were short shifts, and nothing was too difficult; still, a day when I have to go to work is a day when I don’t get much else done. It all piles up and waits for me.

Yesterday, after working a couple hours in the morning, I went to the bank, the post office and the grocery store. I took the dogs down to Fox Lake for a swim, which was a nice break for all of us. Then, I hunkered down to put together a packet for a gallery where I’d like to show my work.

I had a good start on it a month ago. Knowing the deadline was in June, and knowing my propensity for procrastination, I was determined to be ready. Then, my family was here for a visit. Then, my little dog got sick, and then died. And my job at the golf course started. And a couple co-workers got sick. And suddenly, the deadline – June 10th – was right on top of me.

So, yesterday I rewrote my Artist Statement and cover letter. I opened a Paypal account, necessary for the entry fee, and I started revising my resume. Because I tend to go right down a rabbit hole when confronted with things like that, I spent far too much time reading about and looking at samples of resumes and CVs and went to bed last night with the deadline still looming.

A couple recent rains have sent my lawn into a growing frenzy. It really needs to be mowed! I have to get the garden worked up and planted, if I’m going to get anything out of it. I bargained with myself: take today to finish everything that has to be done in order to submit the application to the gallery, then tomorrow, take the whole day outside.

It worked! I submitted the packet just before 4PM. I did a little victory dance, then took the dogs for a long walk. I made a big salad, and put a couple drumsticks in the oven to bake. It should be done any minute now. Tomorrow, I’ll be outside. Maybe, I’ll get to some semblance of “on top of things” by the weekend!

We’re All Still Sad At My House

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Though my remaining two dogs did not, at first, seem to know or care that Blackie Chan had died, the realization that the little dog is not coming back is sinking in. Darla and Rosa Parks are sticking very close to me in the house and yard. They look dazedly around when they finish their dinner, wondering why Blackie Chan is not barking, reminding me to distribute the after-dinner treats. “What do we do now,” they seem to be asking, “are we going to even get treats?” On our walks, Darla seems to forget that Blackie Chan isn’t with us; she circles back to try to locate him, as if he just got distracted and fell behind.

I’m kind of going through the same thing. When I need to roll over in the middle of the night, I carefully lift up on toes and one elbow while I rotate from one side to the other, so that I don’t disturb either little dog. Then I remember that there is only one dog in my bed these days. Funny, I swear I could feel the weight of the little black dog curled up behind my knees. Darla and Rosa Parks watch expectantly when I come home from work, to see if I have their little companion with me. And I walk into the house expecting to see him there to greet me, along with the other two. Oh. Yeah.

This is a bargain we strike when we open our lives to dogs. Their life-expectancy is simply not comparable to ours. Even at my age, I would not expect my dogs to out-live me. Blackie Chan was already eight years old when he came to live here. He was nearly blind, and had severe arthritis in his spine. He had congestive heart failure. I knew that this sadness was inevitable. Still, it came as a surprise. Neither the veterinarian or I expected that he would die that day. When the vet asked me to come back in two hours to pick him up, I fully expected a much improved dog to be coming back home with me. I wish I’d stayed with him, because he died there with strangers. And we are all still sad about it.

With that being said, I know there are bigger things to grieve. The death of a small dog does not compare. I’ve lost people; I know. There is sickness and loss and death right here on this small island, where everybody knows everybody, and most feel like family. A tornado recently touched down in a northern Michigan town not far from here, with some loss of life and extensive damage. The more I expand my view, the worse the news gets. Two more mass shootings in this country in the last three weeks. Ukraine. Global warming. A person could die of sadness and misery!

I don’t want to ignore it; I have to be aware. Still, it’s painful; I can only take so much. After a while, I just have to turn away from the news, put blinders on, and close out the big world with all of its tragedy. Make a cup of tea, light a candle, draw a bath, think of nothing but my own issues. Darla and Rosa Parks don’t like to be too far away from me these days; they crowd into the bathroom with me. That’s okay. We’re all still sad here.

All the Things…

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My friend, Paul, came into the Community Center last week. His greeting, on seeing me, was something like, “Oh, there’s the lady that writes when she feels like it…” That was his way of letting me know that he noticed when I didn’t post a blog last week. From Paul, I’ll accept the scolding. He may be my most loyal reader! He frequently offers an opinion or a comment about something I’ve written. He has often told me how much he enjoys my essays, and he misses them when I don’t write.

Still, I gave him a rundown of what had been occupying my time, then told him my next post would be about all the things that I’m doing when I am not writing. “Good idea,” he said. Spring is a busy time of year out here on the Fox Lake Road. There is plenty to do, and I’ve been working hard.

I finally got the box spring moved out of the spare room upstairs. After months of worry and procrastination, when everything else I plan to do in that room (paint the floor, move a small stand and a large bookcase to the other side of the room so that the two dressers can inhabit the same wall, put down a rug, set up my Pilates chair) hinged on getting the box spring out. Finally, I tackled the job, wrestled it through the door and around the corner on the small landing, and down the stairs. It is now resting comfortably in the tall grass of my back yard, until I can figure out where to go with it next.

After tripping over the stuff for a week, I – at long last – got all of the papermaking supplies cleaned, sorted, and put away. I enjoy teaching papermaking, but it involves a ton of prep-work, and even more clean-up when it’s done.

Last Sunday was a warm and beautiful day, so I abandoned my long list of things to get done in the house, and headed outside. I picked up windfall from under the old maple trees. I pruned the vines of climbing rose that had nearly taken over my front door. I cut back the wisteria, then started on the grape vines. They had nearly buried a forsythia bush, and it needed to be pruned, too, when I uncovered it, I cleared some weeds out of the daylily bed, raked around the rhododendron, and pulled some blackberry brambles out of the poppy bed.

My friend Judi stopped by, and I sent her off with a clump of rhubarb and a few Oriental poppy plants. I spent seven hours working in the yard that day. I hauled away twelve wheel-barrow loads of debris. Then I took the dogs for a walk. And then ibuprofen, a hot shower, and a small dinner before I collapsed into bed.

Tuesday was my only other day off last week, and I spent it outside, too. I finished pulling up the blackberry brambles, and worked on weeding and removing leaves from the flower beds. Before and after work, I’ve been trying to put the house in order – or at least in a state of less disorder – and other tasks that are specific to this time of year. I stored winter sweaters, and pulled a few warm-weather clothes clothes out. I turned off the furnace, and opened windows to the screens. On one nice day, I tossed all the dog beds, rugs and cushions outside where I swept and pounded and shook them clean, and left them out in the fresh air while I gave the floors a good cleaning.

Today, I walked the dogs early. Then I baked a cake. I went to town to meet the boat. One cousin, two sisters, a nephew and his daughter, my grand-niece, arrived on the ferry. Happy day! They’ll be here only until Friday, so I plan to spend as much time with them as I possibly can. So, if I don’t post another blog in the coming days, it’s because I’m busy enjoying time with my family!

First of May, Fox Lake Road

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The first day of a new month always seems like a good time to assess how things are going in my life, out here on the Fox Lake Road. Just in time for May, the last of the snow has melted. It is not yet warm, though the sunshine makes a huge difference. On my walk today, I was wishing I’d worn my winter parka, rather than the light blazer I had on. Gloves would have been nice, too.

In spite of the cold, pale blue flowers – Siberian squill, I think – are showing up in waves across the front yard. Daffodils are ready to burst into bloom. Daylilies, tulips and iris have pushed their pointed leaves out of the ground. The tips of branches on vines, trees, and shrubs are swollen, ready to soon unfurl leaves and blossoms.

It occurs to me that, since this is the first of May, we are now already one third of the way through this year. Usually, that thought would inspire dread, for all the good intentions and sincere plans that I made, and made no progress toward accomplishing, that would now have to be tackled in the balance of the ever-shrinking months remaining. At the start of this year, however, I was pretty easy on myself. My list of resolutions is both shorter and less exacting than usual. Thanks to that, I’m not doing half bad!

I did write “walk every day,” “exercise every day,” and “blog at least twice a week.” That’s always a mistake; one miss and I’ve failed for the year! Instead of chastising myself for not meeting my expectations, I’ve simply made a note to remind myself, next year, to not quantify my plans. “Walk,” “exercise,” and “blog” would be sufficient, and would make success much more plausible!

Other items on my list of New Year’s aspirations, proof of my melancholy mood and intent to go easy on myself, include “laugh,” “have adventures,” “be kind,” and “live in the present.” One major actionable plan was “get roof repaired,” which I have done. I also wrote, “continue intermittent fasting.” I have continued it, though I’ve hit a slump in the weight loss department. All in all, one-third of the way into this year, not bad.

The last month was a good one. I worked twenty-two days in April. I read six books. I published a blog twenty-six days in a row. I walked twenty-three miles in April, though the month was cold, and marked by high winds often combined with snow, sleet or rain. When the veterinarian came to the island, I got my dogs in for vaccinations, routine care and, for Rosa Parks, the removal of a large fatty tumor. I set up my new mini trampoline the first of the month, and have worked out on it almost every day since. It hasn’t helped with weight loss (either!!), but I notice improvements in stamina and balance.

So, looking ahead to this month, my list is long. Before the black flies and mosquitoes hatch, I have raking and clean-up to do in the yard. The vines need pruning, blackberry brambles have to be trimmed back from the fringes of the yard, and there is a dead juniper that I intend to dig up and haul away. There is work to prepare the garden for planting. I have to inventory my seeds, and order what I’ll need. Oh, and the clothesline pole needs to have it’s upright position firmed up before I dare use it.

Inside, the list hasn’t changed much from the last time I looked, as I’ve hardly gotten to any of the cleaning and organizing upstairs, that I planned to do last winter. When I still had my hardware discount, I bought polyurethane for my floors with intention of touching them up and putting a protective coat on them. It’s almost time to cry “uncle,” and put those jobs off for next winter; the busy season is coming upon us quickly.

I’m working on an application for a gallery downstate, to have my artwork considered for a show next year. The deadline isn’t until June, but I know how quickly time flies by. When my sisters come up to the island this month (and YAY, my sisters are coming to the island this month, and I’m SO excited, and it’s deserving of SO much more than a casual mention in this blog!), they’ll be bringing my artwork back up to the island that didn’t sell in the show last October. That will go directly into the Beaver Island Studio and Gallery. So, I haven’t been under pressure to be producing new work in the studio this year…so I haven’t. I’m starting to feel the pull, though, for some studio time.

Well, that’s about it, I think. That’s the way things are going on this first day of May, out here on the Fox Lake Road.

Zip

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I was looking forward to being finished with the alphabet today. This has been a worthwhile exercise, but it’s also a big commitment. I’m not a fast writer, even of the simple and silly pieces that I publish here. So, going back to my haphazard blogging schedule will free up a couple hours a day, most days, in a season that is proving to be very busy anyway. I’m tired, and I’ve got a long day tomorrow. Sometimes, the only thing to do is admit defeat. Tonight, I’ve got nothing. Zip.

Young

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That’s me on the far right, looking exhausted even way back then!

On days like today, when I wake up tired, with no energy for the day ahead, I think fondly of when I was younger. From this vantage point, it seems like things were easier. Maybe that’s just a trick of memory. I know for sure that I didn’t take full advantage of the strength and vigor of youth. Now, it seems I have more drive…but less ability.

Today, I called the island mechanic about a problem with my car. It has been louder than normal, and I thought the exhaust system might have come apart. Mufflers aren’t the most complicated things on an automobile, but I didn’t even consider for a moment trying to handle the situation myself. It brought back memories, though, of how differently I managed when I was younger.

Once, while living in Lapeer, Michigan, and attending college about twenty miles away in Flint, the exhaust pipe dropped down while I was driving down Court Street. It didn’t fall off, which would have been easier, but just dragged along under the car, throwing up sparks and making all kinds of noise. I was almost at my destination, so I continued down to Mott Community College, parked, and went on to my scheduled classes.

At the end of the day, I scrounged coin from the bottom of my purse, ran in to the campus book store, and bought the largest spiral notebook I could afford. As I walked to my car, I unwound the spiral from the pages it was holding. I tossed the stack of paper and my books onto the passenger seat, and crawled underneath the car. I assessed the problem as well as I could, and figured out how to remedy it. If I fit the wire through a hole in the side of the exhaust pipe rather than try to wrap it around, the wire from the spiral notebook was just long enough to secure it off the road.

That’s what I did. Then crawled back out from under the car, got in, and drove twenty miles to Lapeer. I picked up my daughters from the babysitter, and went home. I said, “look what Mommy brought home for you guys,” as I stacked the loose papers from the spiral notebook in front of them with a couple pencils. Then I made dinner.

A Few W Words

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I was going to write about water today. I toyed with the idea, anyway. I mean we can all relate to water, after all. it’s one of those “crucial to life” things, as necessary as air to breathe. There are hard water issues in my house, and all the complications that brings. I have filtered water for drinking. I live on an island surrounded by water. My grandson, Tommy, loves the water. Or, more accurately, swimming. I have dozens of photos of him grinning while up to his neck in water. Once, when he was visiting, he and I walked the length of Iron Ore Bay together, chatting as we went. I was on the sandy shore; he was several yards out in Lake Michigan. Since today is Tommy’s birthday, that would be a fitting topic. Alas, what I’ve written here is just about all I could come up with regarding water.

I considered writing about walking. I walk every day, so it would seem like I could come up with a few paragraphs on the subject. Turns out, it’s not that simple. I could write about writing! That’s another activity that I do every day, even when I’m not posting a daily blog. I write out a list of things I’m thankful for every morning. Then, I write a page of notes from whatever book I’m currently studying. Right now, it happens to be a book on writing: A Writer’s Coach by Jack Hart. I’m in the process of writing a story to tell during Open Mic Night. Still, I couldn’t think of much to say about writing.

Weather crossed my mind, as did Worry, Wonder, Wind and Weeds. Nothing really inspired me. Then. the internet started going out, at least three time in the last hour. When it goes out, it’s impossible to predict whether it will come right back on, or stay out for hours. If I was going to get a blog published today, I’d better get busy. It’s not quite up there with water, but we’ve sure grown to depend on our Wi-Fi!

Vexations

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It’s late, I’m tired, and, since I washed the sheets today, I have to make up the bed before I can get into it. It just dawned on me that I had not yet posted a blog today. And, working my way through the alphabet, here I am, faced with the letter V. That has to be one of the most difficult letters. After walking the dogs, I took a picture of my over-grown grapevines. I was thinking “vines” will have to be my topic, because what else is there?

Unfortunately, it turns out I don’t have much to say about vines, either. I struggled with the topic for a while, then paged through the dictionary. It turns out, there are a few V words that I can write about. And, what they have in common is that they are problems. Nothing to get really worked up about; just minor vexations.

  • Vision. My eyesight is failing me, and it’s a cause of constant frustration. I need a strong light and a magnifying glass to simply read package directions. This evening, I noticed that I had once again left the coffee pot on all day, even though I checked it before I left the house. The trouble is that I cannot see the little green light that indicated “on,” and I forget if the “off” position is to the left or to the right. Granted, that might be a cognitive problem along with the vision issue, but still. So, tonight, I took a black permanent marker and boldly wrote “on” and “off” on the coordinating sides of the toggle switch. I hope that settles it.
  • Vermin. After a winter where my house appeared to be fairly pest-free, Last week I had a mouse come to visit. Though I have mousetraps set along the baseboards, in areas where they seem to find entrance, this mouse was brazenly romping right across the countertop. I’d hear the movement, but he was gone when I walked into the room. I barely stepped away and I’d hear him again. Walk into the kitchen, no mouse; leave the room, and the mouse was back. That is not a game I’m willing to play! I spread a plastic trash bag over the countertop, and set a mousetrap on top of it. Within an hour, I had dispatched one fat mouse. They say if you have one mouse, you surely have a dozen of them. I guess only time will tell, but I’m hoping maybe that was the only one.
  • Vines. Inside, I have one English ivy that is doing alright. Outside, I have three vining plants. I tend to neglect the pruning that they demand, so they are all overgrown. The “Seven Sisters” rose was brought to Beaver Island by my Grandma Florence, from Chicago. There were three of them at the family farm. When I was a child, they ran along a fence, but that fence is no longer there. They climbed their small trellises and then sprawled across the lawn. Aunt Katie gave me one of them several years ago. It makes getting to the front door a thorny challenge. The wisteria vine outside of my kitchen door has never flowered. If it would just do that, I’m sure I’d feel much more accommodating about the space it occupies and the work it entails. I’ve tried, at least twice, to get rid of it, but it refuses to leave. The Concord grape vine provides wonderful fruit in late summer, and has a nice character all year round. It is, however, in desperate need of severe pruning, and I’m not looking forward to the task.

So, barely before midnight, I’ve managed to keep up my streak. No matter how difficult the letter, I guess if I can complain, I’ll find something to say!

Used

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Years ago, one of my daughters mentioned to me that she was buying new living room furniture. I responded with surprise and, if I’m honest, judgment. The furniture they were replacing was not even ten years old! I understood theirs were lower-end pieces to start with, and that young children and pets can be hard on furniture. Still, I jumped in with a story. “Let me tell you about my best piece of furniture…” I began.

My best piece of furniture was an arm chair that sat in one corner of my living room. My Dad had picked it up from the roadside about twenty years earlier, and brought it back to his own house. Mom shook her head and frowned, so it was immediately banished to the back room. The back room of my parents house held two freezers, one refrigerator, the hot water heater, a washer and dryer, a large sink, an old couch, a sturdy table used for folding clothes, a wood stove, and a wall of pegboard that held a few large pots and pans. Dad added the armchair. He’d sit in the chair while reading, or dozing next to the warmth of the fire.

Eventually, the chair was deemed too ragged for even the back room, and it was moved out to the garage. There, it was squeezed in among tool benches, lawn chairs and garden equipment. Then one year when Dad was trying to make some order of the garage, he decided the chair had to go. When he made his springtime trip to Beaver Island, he brought the chair up north with him. For several years, it provided a perch on the enclosed front porch of the family farmhouse.

When my Aunt Katie moved a bookcase and a rocking chair out to the front porch, the armchair was moved again, this time out to her pole barn. There, it was used for several years by the guys who came up to the farm for hunting season. It was a step up from the ragtag selection of folding chairs, old kitchen stools and blocks of wood that provided other seating there. In time, though, Aunt Katie decided to get rid of the chair. “I’ll take it,” I told her, “I’d love a good armchair!”

That’s how it came to be mine. It was upholstered in a faded mustard yellow tapestry with flowers and and leaves in shades of the same color. The fabric had, over the years, lost most of its texture, and was worn through in spots. The springs had lost their bounce and were poking through in places. A thick seat cushion kept that from being a problem. The chair had padded, rolled arms, and the back curved around to cradle my back and shoulders. The chair was wide enough so that, if I were determined, I could curl up for a nap in it. I loved it.

The armchair was already old when Dad picked it up, and it was used long and well before it came to be mine. It served me well for many years. I liked it for the seat, and for its story. For a long time, it was the best piece of furniture I had. It was a good chair.