Category Archives: writing

High Hopes

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I don’t want to draw too much attention to my lapsed blogging of late, for fear it will become one other negative thing I identify with, like chronic lateness, procrastination, and a dependence on coffee. Then, it becomes even harder to do better.

That’s why, though I no longer walk every single day, rarely go farther than two miles and almost never at a pace that would qualify as exercise, I still label myself a walker. Though time spent in the studio is limited, and good, productive, art-making days are even more scarce, I continue to call myself an artist. I am still a gardener, though I’ve done little beyond watching the weeds crowd into my perennial beds and overtake my vegetable plot for two years now. And, even though I have neglected this blog for more than ten days and haven’t written much of anything else of any consequence either, I am still a writer.

We’ve had several cold, damp, windy and rainy that are my absolute least favorite kind of day, when it comes to weather. To add to the chill and discomfort, the thermostat on the propane stove that heats my house has quit working. As it’s almost summer, and I won’t be needing to have the heat on then, I decided the repair could wait. I manually turn on the stove when I get up in the morning, and turn it off when the house has warmed up. I do the same thing when I get home from work. It’s a fine system until three days of wind and rain come along to throw a monkey wrench into it. Then, I find myself grumbling around in a damp and cold space, morning and evening.

I spent the Easter weekend on the mainland, catching up with my dear friend, Linda. In grade school, when we first became friends, we’d take our lunches over to Crampton Park. There, under the bridge, on the narrow concrete ledge beside the water of the Flint River, we ate while we talked about boys and bras and the things we could see in the murky water. We’d share stories, laughs and big plans for the future. The many years that have passed since then were evident last weekend. We spent one long day shopping for and visiting with my elderly aunt. Another, we spent wandering through the cemetery. Still, there was lots to talk about, and plenty of laughs.

On days when it isn’t raining and cold, there is a definite scent of spring in the air. My snowdrops and narcissus are already blooming, and early tulips are in bud. The forsythia is starting to show yellow; trees and shrubs have leaves ready to unfurl. I’ve been working around the yard, and in the smaller flower beds. When the sun is out, I grab the trowel and pull the wheelbarrow out as soon as I get home from work. While the dogs entertain themselves with springtime smells and chasing snakes, I work at moving fallen leaves and pulling weeds. There’s an awful lot yet to do, but I’m seeing progress.

I have a couple new venues for my artwork this summer, so am even more determined to get some fresh work to show. I think of it in the afternoon, when I’m stocking shelves and tidying the aisles at work. I imagine going straight to the studio when I get home; I picture the projects I’ll tackle and the work I’ll get done. But, then, by the time I pull into my driveway, my energy is flagging. The dogs need to go out. The yard needs work. Then there’s dinner to think about. And clean-up. By that time, my thoughts have turned to my book, and bed.

But, here is Sunday. A new week is always filled with possibility. The sun was out, but while I’ve been sitting here, it has ducked back behind the clouds. Still, a nice day for a walk. If it’s warm enough, I’m going to open the windows to the breeze, and give the house a good cleaning. Then, I’ll let the weather dictate whether the balance of the day is spent outside in the garden, or upstairs in the studio. Either way, I have high hopes.

Artifacts to Memories: This Pig

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I found her among the ads in the back of a gardening magazine: a cast iron piggy bank. She is different than most piggy banks, with their cartoon-like, gender-less countenance and big fat bellies designed for holding many coins. This is a realistic depiction of a pig, reminiscent of a character in an E.B.White story, with full udder pronouncing her gender and an expression that reminds me of Rodin’s “Thinker.” A noble pig.

I placed my order, with the intention of giving the bank to my father-in-law, Jack, for Christmas. When it arrived, I was so enchanted with it, I couldn’t bring myself to give it away! Jack got homemade slippers for Christmas, and the story of the pig, which made him laugh out loud and tease me with mock offense that I had kept his gift. The pig became a treasured object in my home: useful for coin collecting, heavy enough to act as a bookend, a reminder of the pigs we’d raised as children, and a beacon of hope for the small farm I hoped to someday have. It was also the first of what turned out to be quite a collection of pigs.

The next pig was a wooden cutout, varnished to shine, with an inch of twine for a tail. Then I found a pair of silly pink pig salt and pepper shakers, and a little china sow attached by short lengths of fine chain to three little piglets. I purchased a small David Bigelow intaglio print of a pig strapped into a pair of broad wings, prepared to step off the edge of a cliff. “Moment of Truth” is the title. My husband bought me a larger print by the same artist, titled “Escape from the Cycle,” that has hundreds of pigs rising up out of the grid of plowed fields and pig pens.

By that time, I was officially a “collector of pigs.” That led to gifts of swine in every form, from buttons to pot holders to throw pillows. When I spent my winters in a tiny apartment on the campus of Michigan State University, the pigs dominated the small kitchen. Three dimensional versions marched and wallowed along the top of my bookshelf. Pig towels hung from the oven door, and pig pot holders sat in a basket near the stove. It eventually became just too much pork.

When I graduated, and cleared out that apartment to move back to my home on Beaver Island, I wrapped all the little statues and packed them into a sturdy box, labelled “PIGS.” It sat in my attic here for several years as I contemplated where to display them. Life here tends more toward natural treasures. My windowsills are laden with ever-changing displays of pine cones, driftwood, shells, beach stones, and the occasional bird’s nest.  No place for pigs. Finally, I went through the box, gave several pigs away and donated others to our re-sale shop. The rest, I brought back out for use or display.

I kept the two intaglio prints; the small one always hangs above my desk. I kept a small green tin with a pig painted on the sliding lid. I kept three little squeaky rubber pigs, that my grandchildren used to play with; my big dog likes to carry them around now. I kept the jump rope with carved and painted wooden pig handles, though I doubt I’ll be starting a jump rope routine…ever.

Of course, I held onto my original cast iron piggy bank. It still has a dignified appearance; it is a good place for stray coins and continues to work well as a bookend. It makes me want to re-read the essays of E.B.White. It reminds me of hopes and dreams I’ve grown out of or abandoned. When I think about it, I am transported to a long-ago Christmas, in a much different life. I can still here Jack’s laugh, and picture his expression of mock horror as he asked, “You kept my present??” For all of that, I keep the pig.

 

 

Artifacts to Memories: This Day

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Yesterday, I walked through fog and mist. The Fox Lake Road was slick with ice under a layer of cold water. For surer footing, we took to the corrugated paths made by snowmobiles, that followed the electric lines through the woods. There, the heavy, slushy snow soaked through my boots, and I soon became breathless from the effort of sloshing through it. Though my big dog, Darla, was game to continue, we cut our walk short.

Last night a thunderstorm sent her madly barking from room to room. Finally, she settled onto the rug beside me, somewhat comforted by my hand in her fur as we both listened to the rain.

Today, the snow is on retreat, and a strong wind is drying out the landscape. Spring is once again making an effort at early entry, here on Beaver Island. Like every first spring day before it, this one brings memories as well as hope of warm weather to come. The breezes carry thoughts of other spring days; the fresh smells bring pictures of people and events now far in the past.

There is Dad, up early to pace the garden. Though it’s still too early to dig or till the ground, he would be making plans for when he could. My mother, with a twinkle in her eyes and conspiratorial enthusiasm in her voice, would say, “Feel that breeze! What a great day for drying sheets on the line! Let’s strip all the beds this morning. Think how nice they’ll smell tonight, fresh off the clothesline!” My brother, Ted, would be trying to recruit companions to explore the back field with him, to see what the melted snow had revealed. Suddenly, there are thoughts of Easter dresses, new hats and new shoes.

Overnight, it seems, the grass is green, and the stalks of what will soon be flowers are poking out of the ground. Ice is breaking up in the water. The snow is pulling back from the sun. Soon, warm weather will be here again.

Memories and hope, what more could a day bring? If only a day were an actual artifact, that I could hold in my hands, and pull out for the gifts it offers! If that were the case, the day I would choose to save would be a warm and windy early spring day, just like this one!

A Continuing Saga

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Outside, unseasonably warm weather is melting our winter away. Inside, in a series fits and starts as time allows, my house is getting rearranged, cleaned and organized.

The desk is now moved to the little nook under the stairs. I have put up a new light fixture, hung brackets for shelves and arranged my files around the corner. Already, I take issue with it. The desk is a little crooked, and a bit wobbly. I need shallow shelves on one side, to keep the clutter of necessary small objects up off the small desktop. I don’t have a spot for the portable scanner. All in all, though, this is something I can live with, and improve on.

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Moving the desk out of the dining room has opened that space up considerably. I spent a few hours on Tuesday knotting cord to make plant hangers. Now, most of my house plants are congregated together in the north window where the desk used to be. I think a few glass sun catchers hanging a bit higher than the plants will balance the arrangement. The big old table now sits smack dab in the middle of the room, with space all around. As soon as I clear the mound of papers to-be-filed from the top of it, I’ll take a picture.

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The living room has a nice new arrangement. All of my bookshelves are lighter, and more in tune with my life. My washing machine is repaired, and I’ve finally caught up on the laundry. The Beacon has, finally and very late, once again gone to press. Slowly, but steadily, I am working my way toward the studio. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the process. My dogs are enjoying the weather!

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Artifacts to Memories: Cabinet Hangers

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img_0036First, and for many years, my kitchen storage consisted of plywood shelves, hammered together and mounted to the walls. They were open to dust, cobwebs and any insects that might wander through. They showed off my penchant for hoarding reusable lidded plastic containers, my mis-matched pans, and my disorganization.

When I finally replaced them with actual kitchen cabinets, I spent an inordinate amount of time planning their size and arrangement. I bought bottom-of-the-line cabinets, because that’s all I could afford. Drawers have to be reassembled and glued back together every few months; there are gaps where the cabinets are pulling away from their backs. Still, I take them seriously.Though kitchen cabinets are fairly stationary features, I have – with the help of my always-game-for-another-crazy-undertaking friend, Chris  – rearranged them twice, and have another major readjustment planned. Alas, Chris has moved away.

The last time we moved the cabinets – two not-young women armed with more determination than either muscle or know-how – it was an all day adventure. We placed a kitchen chair on the counter top, to help “catch” the cabinet when the screws holding it to the wall were removed. Another chair on the floor nearby was what I stood on while I removed the screws. Then, with intermittent  giggling and terror, we lowered the cabinet to the chair and then down to the floor. Then on to the next one. We repeated the process to hang them back up. The lower cabinets were easier, except for the sink. Since then, I’ve added formica counter top, which complicates everything.

I miss Chris. It takes a special person to help with a project like that. First, a devil-may-care attitude about whether we have the proper tools, plan or ability. Second, the willingness to listen to my crazy ideas, and understand that – at that moment – I truly believe a rearrangement of kitchen cupboards will improve all aspects of my life. Third, and most important, one must be prepared for anything we might find in dark corners behind the fixtures. In the past, we have encountered massive spider webs, mouse nest, snake skin, and mushrooms growing from a damp spot of floor. A helper needs to be able to work through it, without showing too much shock or disgust, and without making it the talk of the town. Chris added to her value by keeping me entertained with family stories while we worked.

After several years of use, I painted the cabinets, and added knobs and drawer pulls. I went through quite a bit of angst about whether to get pulls that matched the chrome of faucet and refrigerator handle, or antique brass to match the cabinet hinges. My daughter, Kate, solved the problem. She haunted  flea markets, garage sales and junk shops; she brought me a collection of old knobs and pulls. All different sizes and shapes, some are metal; others are wood. Two filigree knobs are identical except for finish, and are placed side-by-side on a double cabinet: one is chrome; the other is antique brass. I love it!

As a finishing touch in my funky little kitchen, I have baubles and trinkets hanging from the knobs of each upper cabinet. Every item has a story. There is the copper bird, cut from heavy metal and painted by my friend, Sue. The metal came from the old roof of our Post Office. There is the blue and white woven paper ornament that my daughter, Jen, made, in a class taught by my friend, Larry. A short string of red glass beads, each in the shape of a heart, hangs from another knob.

The fat, beaded star ornament that hangs from a red wooden knob over the stove was sewn by my friend, Mary. She is genius in combining striped fabrics to form patterns! On the back, in her own handwriting, “Beaver Island ’96” is written in puff paint. Twenty years ago it was, when Mary had her little bookstore here…when we shared coffee and conversation on an almost daily basis. When we walked together on the beach, sharing secrets, sobbing through heartache and shoring each other up through our struggles. When we shared meals, and talked about writing and art and men.  Though I have to take this fabric ornament down on occasion, and give it a gentle bath in warm water laced with strong de-greaser, I always return it to its place, for all the good memories it brings to me, of a good friend, far away.

Artifacts to Memories: Red Chair

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I don’t know quite how I ended up with this red lawn chair.

Oh, I know where it came from, alright. I had a seven-year relationship with a man who got around, in his job, to  many estate and moving sales. He was not a collector of junk, but of novel and interesting items that caught his eye. I have a row of squat triangles made of limestone, that were once possibly a part of a polishing tool, that he brought to me as a gift. He and I tried for years to revitalize an old, manual printing press that he had picked up for a song. His home was filled with unusual pieces of furniture and accessories. This lawn chair was one of his found treasures.

I remember when he brought it home. I know he made some minor repairs on the folding mechanism. I recall his decision-making process before he decided on red paint. I just don’t remember how it came to be at my house, in my yard.

Unlike my husband, who asked for nothing when we separated except for his “Rock Shaped Like a Foot” collection (Not the good couch that I bought him for his birthday! Not the afghan his mother had crocheted! Not the old army trunk he had gotten in a trade! Not even  the little unfinished house he had built with his own hands!), this man had a clear sense of what was his. Years ago, I might have added, “to the point of selfishness,” but I’m beyond that now. Still, when we broke up, there was little that we had accumulated during our years together that stayed with me. I transplanted two grape vines and three peonies that I had planted at his house before he sold it. And, somehow, I ended up with the red metal folding lawn chair.

Years ago when I had a yard sale, people skirted the long tables of knick-knacks, books, clothes and old toys, and honed in on my red chair. “How much for this?” I heard throughout the day. Disappointment followed, when I said, “That’s not for sale.” Though I have others, this lawn chair is my favorite. It is easy to bring along when I go to a summer concert, or for the long day at “Meet the Artists.”  In the summer, it sits in a prominent position in the garden, ready to give me rest between bouts of weeding, or support when I need to sit and think. In the winter, clearly, it braves the snow.

Artifacts to Memories: Bunny Rabbit

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This bunny rabbit is not a personal artifact, but it’s been in my home for quite a few years now. Memories attach themselves to objects, and this little raggedy soft toy is no exception.

I brought two of these little bunnies home, when my dog family consisted of Maggie and Clover. Clover was a joy to watch with a new toy. She tossed it in the air and caught it in her teeth; she gave the toy a good shake before tossing it up again; she’d bring it to me coyly, inviting me to play, too. Maybe tug-of-war? What about fetch?

Maggie, on the other hand, was just a hoarder. She’d impatiently watch Clover play, until she could grab the toy away from her. Then she’d stand, chest out, on her bed, daring anyone to try to take anything away. She was the oldest, and largest, of the dogs, so she always got away with it. While I was away, she’d settle in and chew the stuffing out of any soft toy, but she didn’t otherwise engage with them. She just wanted them. All of the toys. On her doggie bed. All the time.

By the time Maggie passed on, Clover had lost interest, mostly, in toys. I’d try to engage her in games; she try to comply, for my sake, but the joy was gone. She preferred just a good walk. The collection of beat up chew toys and stuffed animals sat neglected in a corner.

Then, little Rosa Parks came in to our household. She was young, curious and ready for adventure. What were all these toys, gathering dust? Could she, with her keen young nose, detect a whiff of another dog…one that she had never met? As the toys were dragged out, one by one, Clover engaged with them as well, just to let the little dog know she knew what they were for. Mostly, they just got them all out, and strewed them around the living room.

As the years went by, though, both dogs lost interest. By the time Clover died, the toys – with a few additions – were occupying the neglected basket again. Rosa Parks, who had engaged in all kinds of games and play with Clover, was a hard dog to entertain, on her own. Often, I’d drive her down to Fox Lake, just to see her tail wag. There the water, and the memories of squirrel-chasing play, always put a spring in her step.

It seemed like Rosa Parks needed a companion, besides me. So, mainly as a gift to my little dog, I adopted Darla. Turns out, both Darla and Rosa Parks would have preferred to be the only dog in my house. Or so they thought. For my sake, they put up with each other. It took a few months for them to learn to enjoy each other’s company.

The toy basket, though, was an immediate success! Darla loves a toy. Her tail wags just snuffling through the basket, trying to pick just the right one. If she has gotten into the trash while I was at work, and she hears displeasure in my tone, she’ll bring me a toy. If that doesn’t do the trick, she’ll go get another. Once, having exhausted the toy basket while I was still picking up scraps of paper from the floor, she brought me a throw pillow!

Darla always likes to carry a toy outside with her. When she goes tearing out of the house, growling, to chase wild turkeys out of the yard, she often has a cute toy dangling from her jaws. Stuffed animals come on our walks with us. Until a chipmunk or a smelly piles of leaves distracts her, Darla will carry a soft toy in her mouth for a mile or more. I try to pay attention to where she drops it, so that I can tuck it in my pocket for the walk back home.

This stuffing-less bunny rabbit and all of his soft companions have a new lease on life, and  are getting out more, now, than they ever did before!

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