End-of-Summer Day

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

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

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

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

That decided it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Timeout for Art: Weaving

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Recycling.

Re-purposing.

Shredding.

Weaving.

I’ve been pondering how to talk about what I’m doing, to give it a bit of dignity. No matter how I try to dress it up, though, it is this: I gather old drawings, or paintings on paper, or painted papers that have been waiting for a purpose, or unfinished works that, let’s face it, I probably never will finish. One by one, I put them through my office shredder, turning them into colorful and sturdy 1/2 inch strips. Then, just like we learned in grade school, I weave the strips together. I have put some of them on painted panels that were waiting for inspiration. That’s it so far. Child’s play.

Though I like some of the things going on here, I don’t consider any of these finished works. I’ve been having a blast, though, and am happy to have some pictures to share. I’m not sure where I’ll take this idea, or where these methods will lead me. It will be fun to see how it works out!

 

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Challenges

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First let me say that I know there are “challenges” – of the type that interrupt the smooth passage of my days and give me writing material and reason to feel sorry for myself – and then there are Challenges.

I am aware of what’s going on along the Gulf Coast. I’m watching the events unfold with my heart in my mouth, terrified for all affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. I know that my little worries are not even worth mentioning, in comparison. However, the news I see is the same news we’re all watching. I’m sure my fears and concerns are no more enlightened or caring than those of the next guy. I can’t offer anything that isn’t already out there. So, as usual, I write about my own measly problems.

Yesterday, in my little house on the Fox Lake Road, the plan was to get my new vent hooked up to the clothes dryer, so that I could go back to putting laundry through the system. The new vent had arrived via UPS delivery to one of the airports here on Beaver Island…on my birthday, no less! I had read the instructions, puzzled over the placement, and accessorized with the purchase of a right angle fitting and two hose clamps. From the hardware’s “Super Savers” section, I grabbed a package of two stubby screwdrivers, just in case. I was ready…or so I thought.

There is narrow space between the dryer and the stairway wall. A nine-and-a-half inch space, to be exact, when the dryer is pushed up tight against the washing machine. That was the space I had to force my chubby self through, in order to unplug the dryer, so that I could push it forward.

Then, after sweeping out the dust and detritus that had collected there, I removed the flexible hose from the back of the dryer. In its place, I hooked up the new right-angle fitting. Using one of my brand new hose clamps, I attached one end of the flexible hose to that. The other end would fit into the bottom of my new interior vent.

The next step was to attach the vent to the wall. It wouldn’t fit on the wall behind the dryer, as an overhead cupboard gets in the way. It had to be mounted on the side wall, toward the front, so I could access the door to clean it out. I removed a framed drawing (made by my daughter, Kate, when she was six years old); for the sake of venting the dryer, it had to be relocated.

I held the vent in place and poked a purple marker through each of the holes on the back of the box, to mark the spots to put in the screw anchors. Then, because the power screw driver was not where it belonged, and I didn’t want to waste time searching for it, I made four 1/8 inch holes with my hand drill. Then I tapped the four anchors in place. The screws would go through the holes on the back of the vent, and right into the anchors, holding everything firmly in place. For just a moment there, I was feeling euphorically proud of myself.

I had three screws in place, using my new stubby Phillips-head screwdriver, when I stepped back to take a look at my handiwork. Crooked! How the hell had I managed to not see that the holes I hand drilled for the anchors were not in line with the edge of the wall – just inches away – or the floor, or the poster hanging above it?  I hadn’t used a level, but I’m usually pretty good about eye-balling a straight line, especially with so many reference points. I could attribute my error only to the fact that I was crawling on hands and knees in a very narrow space.

What to do now? I clearly could not leave it hanging crookedly; that would drive me crazy! Plastic anchors are not generally reusable, assuming I could get them out, and removing them would leave four additional holes in the wall. I didn’t have extra anchors. Reluctantly, I removed every screw. I adjusted the location of the vent box to hide the unused anchors. I carefully leveled the vent. I secured it to the wall with the screws alone. Not advisable, with hollow sheet rock walls, but it would have to do.

Next, I crawled back behind the dryer to retrieve the flexible tube. I hooked the other end of it to the bottom of the new vent. I pulled the dryer back toward me to plug it in. Then, to get out. Now, to make my way out of that narrow passage, I had to go under the dryer hose and vent box! It was touch and go for a while there, but I made it.

I pushed the dryer back in place, inserted the filter into the new vent, and dried a load of clothes. Finished! All told, it took two hours yesterday, and a lot of cursing. I am newly, excruciatingly aware of how lumpy and inflexible my body is. I see the importance of having the correct tools, and of (for heavens sake!) double checking for accuracy. Still, I count the whole venture as a successful challenge. Ta-daah!!

 

It’s Complicated

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Maybe it’s too complicated, even, to convey in a story. Where to begin?

I’m behind on laundry. Fortunately, it’s been a little chilly, so I don’t look totally out of place when I pull from my fall and winter wardrobe. I have a load of darks in the washing machine, and a big basket full of whites and colors to be washed. I don’t, at this time, have a dryer. As rain has been in the forecast, I haven’t wanted to put clothes on the line.

I do have a clothes dryer; I just can’t use it until I get it vented. When this house was first built, the dryer sat inside the south wall of the house, and was directly vented to the outside. When I did some remodeling about twenty years ago, it was moved to an inside wall. The venting ran up inside the wall, across the floor of the attic space that runs beside the upstairs rooms in my story-and-a-half house, and out through the soffit.

Some time ago, I realized the dryer wasn’t venting properly. Loads were taking too long to dry. On investigating, I found that the vent in the wall was completely clogged with dryer lint. The attic space had been filled with cellulose insulation (blown-in insulation) a while ago when the house was winterized, so I could no longer access the venting system to see what was causing the problem. I pulled out the dryer lint and as much of the vent pipe as I could from the hole behind the dryer. Then, I patched the hole.

Then, I got one of those indoor venting systems that use a lidded bucket filled with water to collect the lint. Aunt Katie recommended it. She used one, and said it did a fine job.

Well, it never did a fine job for me. I found there was a constant layer of fine dust over all surfaces in that area of the house. Even in the winter, when there should be no dust coming in. Also, the clips that hold the lid on were made of plastic, and broke easily. I’ve gone through three of them in the last few years. Too cheap to buy yet another one, I have been making do with the latest one, long past what would be reasonable.

After putting clothes in the dryer, I would fill the bottom – bucket section – of the vent with water to the indicator line. I would then spend an ungodly amount of time trying to fit the top part on correctly. Since it had a broken clip, I had to hold it in place while I started the dryer (an acrobatic feat!). Then, to keep the lid in place, I had to fit the dog’s nyla-bone into one of the vent holes, and balance it there just right to hold the lid on. And, the issue of dust prevailed.

When Aunt Katie died, my sister mentioned that the space under her old refrigerator was clogged with dryer lint, due to that venting system. I took that as proof positive that the dust in my house was caused by my interior dryer vent. Something had to be done!

The dryer can’t be moved. Closets now line the south wall of my laundry room, and the electrical connection is no longer there. It sounded much too expensive and labor-intensive to try to vent up through the wall again…not to mention the fire hazard when it doesn’t work properly.

On Amazon.com, I found a better vent. That’s the name of it, actually: “Better Vent” It was certainly more expensive, but worth it if it works. It has a two-filter system enclosed in a rectangular box, that hangs on the wall. No bucket of water. The clips that release the door to clean the filters appear to be sturdy and seem to function easily and properly.

Now, to hook it up. That has had me stymied for a week! First, I needed to buy two hose clamps in the four-inch size. Then, I needed to find my screwdriver. Next, I bought a rigid right-angle to attach to the dryer, as the booklet said that was necessary. The instructions also said to be sure not to make more than two right angle turns with the dryer vent hose.

Above and behind the dryer would be ideal, I thought, once I’d determined that I could reach it to clean the filters. Not enough space there, though, between the top of the dryer and the cupboard that hangs above it. That means it has to go on the wall beside the dryer, in the narrow space available there, enough to the front so that I can open the door to clean the vents. That is perfectly possible, if I move a picture that hangs there. And if I don’t count right angle turns to get there.

I’ve now been at this for a week. I have the next two days off. If I put everything else on hold, and give this project my full attention, I ought to be back in the laundry business soon. I hope.

Why does every little thing seem so complicated?!?

Time Out

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

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

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

Turns out, I did none of these things.

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

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

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

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

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Not Quite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

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