Wednesday, for Example

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Sometimes, a day not spent making art is full of progress-making in other directions. Lately, I have been cleaning, sorting, weeding out excess, and rearranging. It feels creative. Then, there are days where simple busy-ness dictates the entire day.

Wednesday, for example.

My day started at two in the morning when the dogs wanted out. The wind was howling. The electricity had gone out. The moon was muted, under a cover of clouds. The dogs came in, but would not settle. Upstairs and down, from one window to the next, Darla roamed the house, barking. When she stopped, Rosa Parks would take up the charge, sharply yipping from her spot beside me. Neither were calmed by my reassuring tone of voice; nor were they quieted by my scolding. A series of hums, beeps and whirs told me the electricity came back on, just after four o’clock. Wide awake by that time, I got up to reset the clocks.

I made coffee and wrote a couple letters, cleaned the bathroom, then turned on the computer. Email, news, social media (several birthdays to acknowledge, another photo of my brand-new grand niece, and my oldest grandson would like my Lemon Chicken recipe) and one game of Scrabble. Next, a little bookkeeping for my news-magazine. Dogs out, in, out, in. Pack a lunch. Shower and dress. Grind up Rosa’s pill and mix it with a tablespoon of wet food in her tiny blue and white china bowl. Prepare the same amount of wet food for Darla, sans the medicine, and serve it up in her clear, heart-shaped glass dish. Boots, coat, thermos, lunch, handbag, coffee cup, six letters to mail, two movies to return, a final good-bye to the dogs, admonishing each of them to “take care of things,” and I am out the door…just a little late.

Work. A fairly normal, not-too-busy day at the hardware store. Some customers, some phone calls. I hauled a ladder up from the basement and made price stickers for the new windshield wipers. I dressed the large beaver in festive green, and arranged hats and trinkets for St. Patrick’s Day in the front of the store. I took time in the middle of the day to go to the Post Office, and stopped at the gas station to return movies on my way home.

Home. Greet the dogs, and take them outside. It’s cold and I’m tired, so just a wander around the yard. Unload the car, then, of letters and catalogs, purse, thermos and lunch bag. I invite the dogs to sit with me on the couch while I go through the mail. They both think a belly rub is more important than anything to be found in those papers! I get up to start dinner. Macaroni and cheese for my dinner, but I also put together a vegetable soup for my lunch through the rest of the week, and a crust-less spinach and cheddar quiche for breakfasts. In between dicing vegetables, grating cheese and arranging pans in the oven and on the stove, I feed the dogs. I eat at the table with a catalog for company. While I’m cleaning up, the dogs go out and in a few more times.

There is work to be done, still. I have a list of articles to write for the Beacon, and the database – again – needs to be updated. I could start a load of towels in the washer. I need to find that recipe for my grandson. It will all have to wait. Nine-thirty, and I can’t keep my eyes open. Bedtime.

That was the extent of my ordinary Wednesday.

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!

I Give Up

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Yesterday, I made a small delivery to the Island Treasures Re-Sale Shop here on Beaver Island: one large food processor, with all of its parts and pieces, and one yogurt maker. I was a long time coming to that end, but am glad I finally arrived.

Lord knows, I have tried, over the years, to become the kind of person who processes her own food, but it never took hold. I grate my cheese with a simple box grater. When making pie crust, I use a hand-held pastry blender. I slice fruits and vegetables the old-fashioned way. The food processor seemed, always, to have too many accessories, all of which needed to be cleaned and stored when not in use.

I eat a lot of yogurt. Simple, full fat, non- Greek, plain yogurt. I buy it in the quart containers and dish out the portions, to save on plastic waste (I reuse the containers to store my homemade chicken broth in the freezer, for extra credit!). I add my own granola, and sometimes berries or a sliced banana, but it’s pretty basic. Making my own, I thought, would save me a pile of money.

Turns out, making yogurt is not difficult, but it’s kind of a hassle. First, the milk has to be heated in a saucepan to just the right temperature. It is then cooled a specific amount before being combined with the starter. It is then spooned into the individual cups of the yogurt maker which sits on the kitchen counter, plugged in to an outlet. For several hours or a couple days…it’s been so long, I can’t remember. Because, the bottom line is, my homemade yogurt does not taste as good as the stuff I buy. I don’t know why. I’ve checked the label for hidden ingredients that might be enhancing the flavor while putting my health at risk, but found nothing.

So, for many years, I stored a food processor and a yogurt maker in my kitchen cabinet, in case I should ever change my mind about either of them. Then, I started cleaning out and rearranging my living spaces. I was encouraged by my sister Brenda, who told me that the time was right – according to the alignment of the moon and stars – for clearing and reassessing. Backing her up was the Power Path site (www.powerpath.org), which labeled March the month of “Surrender,” but not in the usual sense:

SURRENDER is a word that tends to trigger a definition of failure as if we are surrendering to the enemy and as if we have failed in something we believed in and have been striving for. Our definition of SURRENDER for the month is a giving up, a release of a stance, position, or belief that we have stubbornly held onto for way beyond its useful and practical life. It is time to let go of what should have been, could have been and what ought to be in the future. It is time to SURRENDER our anger, our resistance, our judgement and our need to know.

Finally, in trying to get off the island last week, the weather didn’t cooperate. I spent one whole day waiting at the airport, and one day waiting in my home, before finally getting a flight out on Sunday morning. Saturday, I spent sorting and filing while waiting by the phone. Then, I tackled a kitchen cabinet. Everything came out. The shelves were scrubbed. Only the things that I honestly use went back in. Except for the crock pot, which I’m still trying to integrate into my lifestyle.

I’d like to think of myself as a yogurt-making, food processing whiz in the kitchen…but I’m not, and it’s time to surrender that notion. What I am is a person who has one very clean cabinet, feels good about a charitable donation, and is lighter in self-imposed expectations. Happily, I give up!

No Apologies

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As I was waking up this morning, in my own bed after five days away, I was thinking “I should apologize” as I’ve neglected this blog lately.

I missed Tuesday’s “Artifacts to Memories” post. I woke up at my sister’s house that morning and enjoyed a long (part business, part pleasure) conversation with my daughter, Jen. Then, I put away the book work, dressed, and was off to visit my daughter, Kate. Halfway there, it occurred to me that it was Tuesday: a day I’d committed to writing this year. I put it right out of my mind, then, and never gave it another thought.

I missed Thursday’s “Timeout for Art” blog. Or, the “Whatever I’m Doing When I’m Not Making Art” blog that it has morphed into. After a state-wide change in the weather brought snow, ice and blizzard conditions on Wednesday, I had research to do before getting on the road for my long drive. Weather conditions had delayed my trip off the island by two whole days. If I were going to be stranded, I’d rather be in my sister’s cozy home than in a motel along the way.

First, I checked the webcams: Powers Hardware has one that faces down Main Street on Beaver Island. The airport has three views: two of the airport in Charlevoix, and one of Beaver Island. Gaylord, Michigan – which sits solidly in the snow belt, and where my travels lead me through – has a camera downtown. I called the airport, to make sure it looked good for flying. I called Aunt Katie, to let her know I’d be on the road, and when she could expect me home.

Next, there was the packing up of things I’d brought down (too many clothes for a five-day trip, plus computer, files, books and paperwork), things I’d accumulated (one large bag of hand-me-down clothes from Brenda; four pretty saucers to put under plant pots, that I picked up in a second-hand store), and things I’d borrowed (a good James Patterson mystery from Brenda’s bookshelf). All of it had to be loaded into the car, the car scraped of snow and ice, then sad good-byes before hitting the road.

It was after I had filled up with gas, found the correct controls for the heater, navigated my way through the busiest traffic areas of Flint, Saginaw and Bay City, and stopped for a cup of coffee that I realized it was another day on which I had committed to posting a blog. Maybe I’d find time in the evening, I thought. But, no. Between getting my mail, checking the hardware schedule, picking up the dogs, dropping purchases and keys off to Aunt Katie, making calls to let folks know I’d arrived safely, unloading the car…that idea went right out the window!

Evidently, this year I am cutting myself some slack when it comes to my writing commitment. Last year, I never missed a day; this year, I’ve already missed a few. I don’t feel guilty. I don’t even, now, feel the need to apologize. This unscheduled post, I put out there just to explain my absence. Sometimes that’s enough.

The Good Things

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I am a pessimist, I admit. I see the benefits in it. If I am always prepared for the “worst case scenario,” I will avoid disappointment. Often, when things work out better than expected, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I have read studies that suggest that, for those reasons exactly, pessimists are generally happier than optimists.

I am a realist, I tell myself. No sense in wearing blinders; no reason for flawed vision.

I have no trouble seeing what’s wrong, no matter what the topic. My face or my figure, my personality, habits or disposition. My homestead, outside and inside. My job: any one of them. The government: local, regional and national. The world, whether the discussion goes to economy, education, health or the environment. Give me a subject; I’ll make a list of the flaws.

I have a more difficult time, often, seeing what’s right. I’m working on it.

I feel like I’ve spent a great deal of time grumbling, worrying and complaining lately. An unseasonably warm day in the middle of February causes me to stress over the condition of the polar ice cap. An easy winter, and I spend it mulling over everything I know about global warming. Too much rain, or not enough, or any extremes in weather conditions…and I am bracing for the end of the world. There is reason to be afraid, and certainly reason to be aware. There is work to be done. Still, I think I’d like – now and then – to just enjoy a bit of spring-like weather in February…without the angst.

There’s a lot going on in this country that scares me to death. There are good reasons for sensible people to be angry, worried and watchful. I am going to continue writing letters and making phone calls. I will continue to direct my spending to where it will best support my ethics and beliefs. I will not be silenced! I am, however, going to work on being a little more generally quiet about it all. Those who disagree with me are weary of hearing it, and unconvinced. Those who share my opinions don’t need to be convinced. I’d might as well save my breath…and my energy…for where it can do the most good.

On the home front, and on a personal level, I am trying to stop looking at all the things that are wrong, or that need repair. I am trying to concentrate on the things that are right, and appreciate the improvements I’ve made. I still have long lists of Things To Be Done. Those show a slightly improved attitude adjustment, though, over the lists of What Is Wrong. I’m working my way…slowly…into the habit of, instead, listing What Is Good. When it comes right down to it, there’s a lot of that in my world, too.

 

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.