Tag Archives: Summer

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!

 

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This Moment…

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Yesterday afternoon, I took the dogs down to my Grandpa’s wood lot, so that I could gather blackberries. It’s the end of the season, and the bushes are pretty bare. Many of the berries are hard, dry and seedy, or show signs of having been nibbled on. I walked a mile to gather a meager half cup of fruit where a month ago I could have filled my bucket standing in one place. That’s okay; I don’t mind working for the last fresh berries of the year.

A month ago, yesterday’s weather would have been frowned on, too. It was damp and cool; the sun didn’t show itself until mid-afternoon, and even then it was hazy. Not good, compared to the beautiful warm days of summer. Compared to the weather that’s coming in the next few months, it was a treasure of a day.

I am making an effort to be more appreciative.

It’s easy to get caught up in the past. Not only this summer, now gone, but other summers and other years. The older I get, the more “past” there is to dwell on. I tend to be sentimental, leaning toward maudlin.  Memories and cherished moments of when I was young…or of when my daughters were babies…or when my grandchildren were babies…can fill whole days, if I let them. A simple act of pulling out an old address book or decorating for an upcoming holiday can send me into a tailspin of reminiscences. Sadly, loved ones that have died seem to occupy my thoughts more now than when they were alive. We engage in frequent conversations, in my mind.

The future is always looming, too, in my mind and on my schedule. I run through what I have to do in the next few minutes and in the next hour. I have lists of what I want to accomplish in this day, this week, this month…this life. There are places to go and books to read, subjects to write about, things to make and things to do. The plans are never-ending. If I get a week’s vacation…when I get caught up on this project…if I win a million dollars…one thing always leads to another.

I could be out on a sunny day for a nice walk with my big dog, beauty all around me, and my thoughts will be on what I need to do as soon as I get home…or on something that happened twenty-five years ago. I’m working on it. I have started a [tiny] meditation practice. I give myself five minutes, first thing in the morning. No plans, no memories, just be present. When a thought arises, I just send it on its way. It’s amazing how long five minutes can be! If I could live more in the moment, would all time seem to expand in that way?

I don’t know. I know that yesterday, in the chill fall air, gathering blackberries in the woods while the dogs rolled in the grass, that present moment was all that I wanted.

Assessment

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Now that I’m home from my little trip, let me look at what I did with my two days on the mainland.

  • I had a mammogram. It was overdue, as I’ve neglected to schedule the procedure for a couple years now. It will ease my mind and quiet my hypochondria-fueled fears and imaginings.
  • I walked. More than five miles one day, and at least two the next.
  • I slept. Though the mattress was not the best, I enjoyed both an afternoon nap and a long night’s sleep in my little motel room.
  • I watched Jeopardy. It was the second and last day of the finals in the Teacher’s Tournament, one of my favorites. I knew the answers to the first five questions! Though my success rate dropped of drastically after that, it was still an enjoyable program.
  • I read. I am reading The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, and it’s a hard book to put down. I also went through several magazines – unavailable on Beaver Island – that I picked up while I was over there.
  • I shopped. A trip through K-Mart resulted in a wrist watch, a canvas purse, B&B cream, toothpaste, disposable razors, underwear, ibuprofen and O magazine. The grocery store yielded items from Aunt Katie’s shopping list, two cans of soup and a Real Simple magazine. From the three bookstores I visited, I came away with three note cards, books: A God in Ruins by Kay Atkinson and Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins, and magazines: American Craft, Dwell, and Spirituality and Health.

 

Now that Labor Day is here, what did I do with my summer?

  • I worked. Long hours and many days each week at the hardware store. I spent too many (yet still not enough) hours working on the Beacon, or doing bookkeeping or other things to support that business. I cleaned at Aunt Katie’s. I gave what I could to my own lawn, garden and house.
  • I managed some creative work. I wrote every day. I completed thirty small paintings. I did my radio broadcast.
  • I walked. With a new dog that likes a walk, I have happily reintroduced walking to my regular schedule this summer.
  • I read. In stolen bits of time over lunch, in the bathtub, or before sleep at night, I managed to get some reading in. I finished a couple good books and have several others underway.
  • I enjoyed time with family and friends. Sue, who runs a seasonal gallery here on Beaver Island, and I have had several good chats and a couple good meals this summer. Mary, my friend since grade school, visited for a long weekend. My grandson, Tommy, came for two weeks and my daughter, Kate, surprised me with a short visit, too. My sisters, Brenda, Cheryl and Amy, came with children and grandchildren, spouses and loved ones for a wonderful week of laughter and fun. Aunt Katie and I managed to squeeze in a few good conversations…a couple of them while eating ice cream. Before the season was over, Lois, Pam, Shirley and I made it out for our annual dinner.
  • Other stuff. With company or on my own with the dogs, I made it to several beaches. I attended two concerts, saw one movie, and went out to dinner a half-dozen times. I had a thrilling, short boat ride out into our harbor to see – close up – the Viking ship that was anchored there. I went on the Garden Tour. Though I have not been swimming or climbed Mount Pisgah, there are still a couple weeks left of summer.

 

Now, already 10:00 on my day off, I’ve accomplished nothing so far except for drinking three cups of coffee and this bit of writing. I’d better get busy, or the end-of-day assessment will be a disappointment!

 

Quiet Morning

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Suddenly, it’s over.

Yesterday, I stopped at the Holy Cross Hall after work to pick up my supper. Volunteers were manning the long outdoor grills, filling the air with the tempting aroma of roasted chicken. Others were hustling around the kitchen doing prep-work and clean-up. At the back of the hall, long tables were set up with the beverages, chicken, side dishes and desserts; ladies wielding large spoons or tongs waited to help each visitor fill their plate.  There were others at the front entry, selling raffle tickets and collecting the very reasonable fee of $14.00 for a half chicken, grilled, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, corn, bread and a lovely dessert. I chose not to eat there, at any of the long tables set up for diners, but to take my meal home to reheat after I’d walked the dogs and settled in. I paid for my ticket, then went around to the kitchen door to pick up my food, packaged for travel.

This is Beaver Island’s “Homecoming Dinner,” offered every year, the second weekend in August. It is a traditional reunion weekend, for all old islanders that have left their home here to live ad work elsewhere. It has changed over the years, but is constant in that it marks the end of our tourist season. Oh, we’ll continue to have vacationers, through Labor Day at least, then color tour visitors and those that come for hunting and fishing, but the huge influx of summer people is now, too quickly, over.

The last of my sisters left yesterday, too. The arrival of my family was divided into three ferry trips over two days last Saturday and Sunday. The week was filled with sunshine and laughter, beaches and games, food and wine. The days sped by! The departures were spread over several days. On Thursday, Nicole, Jim, Hannah, Kristen, John, Danielle, Lily and Cash left on the boat. The next day, it was Todd, Tammy, Cole, Cade and Chloe that boarded the ferry to go home. Saturday, it was Amy and Dennis, with their two little dogs. Yesterday, Keith, Brenda, Cheryl and Joel left on the morning  boat that was the busiest boat of the whole season, carrying people away.

Nicole cried when she was leaving. “I hate good-byes,” she told me. “Oh, Sweetheart, then you could never live here;” I told her. “on Beaver Island, in August, it seems like we’re constantly saying good-bye!” It’s true. Every boat carries people away. Many will be back in the spring, or in the heat of summer for their next vacation. There are always some that we will never see again. The hugs are always heartfelt; the final waves from the rail of the ferry are always sad. No matter how you look at it, it’s hard to say good-bye.

This morning, I woke up slowly. I have no place that I have to go. The dogs watch me suspiciously, still not sure that I won’t run off again, to come back hours later smelling like the water, and whatever my sisters gave me to eat and drink. Today, I’m staying home. I’m going easy on myself, and not worrying about my long “To-Do” list. I’m munching pistachio nuts – a gift from Brenda – for breakfast, and drinking my third cup of coffee. I haven’t yet moved far from this desk chair. Some days, a quiet start is best.

 

 

Back to North Branch

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I didn’t ever plan on getting divorced. That wasn’t how I’d intended for things to go. I didn’t know what to expect, from myself or others. “Divorcee” had never seemed like a particularly flattering term, and I was uncomfortable with it. That first winter, my girls and I lived in two rooms at the Erin Motel. They walked to school, came home, did homework and chores, and struggled with the state of our family. They missed their Dad. I walked back and forth across the street, from home to work. Sometimes, after my morning coffee drinkers left for their jobs, I’d weep in the empty restaurant until it was time to pull myself together to serve the lunch crowd. I was constantly worried, always broke, often lonely. We just kept going through the motions…until we couldn’t stand it any longer.

In the middle of  February, we moved off the island, and back to North Branch. My in-laws had helped me find a house to rent there, and they would put me to work in their restaurant. Though they weren’t happy about the situation between me and their son, they never abandoned me. They were always helpful, always supportive. The house I rented, on Huron Street in the town of North Branch, was listed for sale; it was only available for rent until a buyer came along.  Before I left the island, my in-laws bought it, so I’d be renting from them and wouldn’t have to worry about losing my home if it were to sell.

The house was an older structure on the sidewalk lined main street, just a few blocks from the shops and restaurants downtown. It was not far from the railroad tracks, and across from a small park. The front door led into a small foyer that opened into the living room. There were windows on the left, that looked out onto a driveway, alley or side street (I can’t remember!). On the right were two doors leading into bedrooms. A doorway at the back led into the kitchen. I believe there was a back porch, possibly screened in, and a basement, too, though I don’t think i ever used either one. We only stayed until spring.

The girls were able to see their Dad on a regular basis. It did them good to be closer to grandparents and other family, too, to ease the transition. My in-laws owned a restaurant that specialized in pizza, but served three meals a day. My mother-in-law ran the business. She put me right to work, and was a great boss. I walked to and from work. When I had a dollar or two to spend, I’d stop at the flower shop on the corner and buy a single carnation to brighten my day. When I could get a ride, we’d go to my Mom and Dad’s house for Sunday dinner. That winter, I completed registration and other paperwork to start at Michigan State University. My plan was this: we’d spend the summer back on Beaver Island, getting things in order there, then move to a family housing apartment on campus in the fall. “That will be our last move,” I told my daughters, “we’ll stay there until you finish school.”

 

Dancing on the Lawn of What’s Left of Summer

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That title is not my own.

It’s a line – I think from a poem – by a writer whose name I should know but don’t.

I think I have an idea where I could find that information, but I don’t dare go looking for it.

If one more single thing distracts me from the task at hand, I may as well throw in the towel.

Trust me…it’s not my line.

I came home from my short day of work today with the very best of intentions.  With the next three days to get caught up on everything, I was determined to give it a good go.

I brought a wall clock home from the hardware store, to fill the blank space on the kitchen wall where a clock used to be, and that I look at a dozen times every day, expecting to still see a clock there. It wasn’t as nice as the one I’d had or the one I wanted as a replacement, but it would serve the purpose.

It turns out, it takes almost an act of Congress to get through the packaging on that ten dollar clock!

First the hard plastic, impenetrable clam shell…and where did I put the scissors? Then two Phillips-head screws had to be removed to detach the clock from the display box.

I spent a half-hour looking for a Phillips head screwdriver before digging my electric drill out of the closet – which needed to be charged before it would work – and finally used a table knife to loosen the screws and release my new clock.

By that time, neither I nor the dogs wanted to be in the house any longer, so we headed down the road.

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We’ve had several days of wind and rain, with an autumn-like chill in the air…but when did the season change?

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By the time we got home, I was sure we were facing frost.

Tonight!

I grabbed a bucket, and picked whatever blackberries were ready for picking. I gathered every green bean,  pepper and summer squash that was out there. I picked all the red tomatoes, then all the nearly-red tomatoes, then any that – if I get terribly lucky – just might ripen on a window sill.

With the day’s vegetable harvest, I started a pasta sauce.

I also began writing the first of four reports I have to complete over the next couple days.

Because I’m crazy, I also started rearranging the living room furniture.

And a few other incidentals.

So, with the dogs attentive to all the goings-on, coffee brewing, laundry in the washing machine, compost to the bin, sauce simmering, paperwork in progress and – no kidding – the sofa halfway into the dining room, I happened to look outside and notice the marigolds.

Four nice marigold plants, blooming exactly where I’d planted them, on the corners of the beds near the beans, pumpkins and tomatoes. There they stood, ready to repel whatever pests their scent is supposed to repel, or suppress whatever blight in the soil they are supposed to suppress.

Working.

Not knowing that – if we get frost tonight – this is the last day of their lives.

I grabbed the scissors from where I’d used them to wrestle the clock’s packaging into submission, and headed out the door.

Sensing excitement, the big dog came, too.

Detecting a hint of Italian sausage in my mostly vegetable sauce, the little dog opted to stay in and guard the stove.

I cut every bloom.

I snipped all the buds. They may open, yet, inside.

A bit past your prime? Don’t worry! Come hang out with the young ones!

A little raggedy or crooked? No problem! Come and join the party; there are no rejects here!

We’re having end-of-the-summer spaghetti and sauce, and my marigold friends are the stars of the show!

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Days Gone By

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Here it is, the first of September.

Another summer season gone.

Where?

These flowers open and bloom for one day.

Sometimes I notice how beautiful they are.

Sometimes I pay attention to all of the blossoms, and how many buds are waiting to open.

Too often I see how many spent blooms need to be removed.

Maybe that’s the gardener in me.

Maybe it has  more to do with age, or just my perspective of the world.

I find myself – too often – looking with pensive sadness at days gone by, unretrievable, rather than the days ahead.

Rather, even, than this present, precious day.

September is a time of change on Beaver Island.

The Labor Day weekend marks the end of our tourist season. Children are soon going back to school. Summer residents and visitors are packing up and closing cabins. There is a hint of Fall and the premonition of Winter in our cool nights and chilly mornings. The growing season is nearing its end.

This is a time of good-byes.

My birthday, falling near the end of August, gets my mind going to times past and years gone by.

The melancholy persists with the end of Summer and all the changes it brings.

Punctuated, this year, by the death of a dear one.

Bill Cashman was a good friend to Beaver Island. Map-maker, builder, writer, historian…Bill wore many hats, and wore them all with a dapper sensitivity to this island and its people. He had a keen knack for seeing and encouraging the strengths of any individual. He was a champion of lost-causes and long-shots, and often doggedly pursued an idea that he deemed worthy when all around him were prepared to abandon it.

Bill was a long and good friend to me. He hired my husband and took an interest in our family. He supplied some of the materials to build our little house. He supported me early on in my artistic endeavors, and later helped to set up a website to feature my Collagraph work. He visited my house several times to see my new work and  take notes on my processes. Bill encouraged and promoted my writing, through all my lazy, procrastinating tactics to avoid it.

I ran into Bill in the Post Office just two days before he died. Both on the run, we exchanged pleasantries.

He’d been battling cancer for quite some time. He was skinny and pale, but had a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye.

“Good!” was his emphatic response to my “How are ya?”

Bill knew how to appreciate the present moment!

As we move into the shortening days of Autumn, through sad good-byes and seasons past, I aspire to do the same.