Category Archives: writing

Hello from Hawaii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is This Spring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Electricity

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Blackie Chan in deep snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost a Lousy Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something from Nothing

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Social skills are not one of my strengths. Some people would scoff at that statement, if they encountered me at my workplace. It’s true, I have developed a knack for being out-going and helpful when the situation demands it.

In the restaurant, I could always greet the customers warmly, and describe the day’s luncheon specials perfectly. Now, at the hardware store, I’ve transferred that ability to where it is needed. Ask me about the merits of various types of paint or stain, and I’ll give you the run-down. If you want to discuss the properties of various caulks, I’m in. I’m even pretty good at commiserating about the weather. Beyond that, though, not so much.

I keep a half-dozen really good jokes, to bring out on rare occasions when the time seems right. The trouble is, if too much time passes between the telling, my delivery is off. Or I forget the sequence. Or the punchline. Or the humor depends on certain circumstances. One of my favorite jokes involved Nixon, Kissinger, Communism and Coca~Cola. Needless to say, time has sucked the humor right out of it!

I only know one real magic trick. It’s simple, but a good one. I showed my grandsons at Christmas-time, and they were pretty impressed. Then I showed them how to do it; I won’t be around forever, so may as well pass it on. I used to know a good card trick, too, but I’ve forgotten it.

Mostly, in social situations, I just say whatever is expected. I can honestly empathize with many positions, and nod in understanding. I respond favorably when that seems appropriate, and I laugh when laughter is called for. I murmur “I’m so sorry…” when sympathy is what is needed.

When someone tries to “draw me out,” one of two thing will usually occur. I may pull back, defensively, give answers of one or two words only, and attempt to change the subject. Or, I will tell all that is asked and more, going back to my childhood, or even to my birth, including my own “amateur psychiatrist” opinions on how this or that came to be, until I have thoroughly embarrassed both myself and the questioner. And driven myself right back into the shell.

Writing seems to be the exception to my social awkwardness. Here, I hold a – granted, mostly one-sided – conversation. I talk about myself, with humor and humility, without embarrassment. I speak of other things, without feeling the need to sound like an expert. This is just me, talking. Sometimes I have something to say; sometimes I don’t.

I think one of the best things I have going for me is the ability to sit down here and write, whether or not I have something important to say. Sometimes I choose a photo, and the photo guides the direction of the essay; sometimes I have an idea that’s been knocking around in my thoughts for a few days, and I flesh it out as I write. Sometimes, like today, I just start writing, and a theme shapes up as I go along. Something from nothing. That feels kind of like a magic trick, too!

It’s Okay to Rest

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On work days, I have to stay on track. Out of bed by 6AM, start the coffee brewing, turn on the heater in the bathroom, and drink one large glass of water with two doctor-prescribed pills while checking the morning news.

With coffee in hand, I sit down to write in my journal. I always start with gratitude these days, and sometimes that’s as far as I get. On good days, I continue on with “Morning Pages,” which is simply stream-of-consciousness, no filter writing. Then, I move on to my bullet journal to plot out my “necessaries” for the day ahead.

I take my second glass of water and third cup of coffee upstairs to the exercise room. There, I listen to a short meditation tape, then do a daily yoga warm-up sequence. On odd-numbered days, I do strength training; on even-numbered days, I do a longer yoga routine, Pilates, or any other exercise I choose. Next I shower, and get ready for work. Dressed, the dogs and I head out for our morning walk.

In the warm weather, when I walk farther and faster, and often throw in a few sprints as well, I walk the dogs before I shower. In the winter, on slippery roads and paths deep with snow, our pace is slower. We walk a mile, sometimes farther, but I don’t work up a sweat.

Home, I grind up the various dog-medicines, and distribute them into their dishes. I add one tablespoon of canned food to each, and mix it up. Until this moment, the dogs all thought they’d hate to see me leave; now they wag their tails in anticipation. I pack my lunch bag with a thermos of coffee, and soup or leftovers already packaged up for that purpose. I blend my morning smoothie of greens, fiber, fat and protein, and pour it into a lidded glass.

I rinse the blender, and put the dishes down for the dogs, admonishing each of them to “Take good care of things.” I gather up my purse, lunch bag and smoothie, and leave the house. If all has gone well, I make it out the door by 9:30.

My days off are different. I don’t set the alarm, and wake up when sunlight through the window, or a dog needing to go outside, alerts me to the day. On work days, I choose my coffee cup from a selection of sturdy or chipped mugs that can withstand being knocked around in the car and the hardware store. On my day off, I use a small, delicate cup with an image of blackberries that makes me think of summer.

On days off, though I still try to fit in all of my daily habits plus a dozen other plans for personal growth, home and studio, I’m much more lax about my timetable. Today, for instance: at noon, I made oatmeal for my breakfast. I have not yet gotten in a walk or even climbed stairs to the exercise room. I checked the news, at length, then watched a Ted talk, listened to a podcast, read a couple blogs that I subscribe to, talked on the phone with a friend, and now am writing this. I have almost finished a pot of coffee, and have hardly moved from this chair. And, I don’t feel guilty! It’s okay to rest!