Home for Christmas

We’ve had a delightful holiday. Our sons and wife and girlfriend came from far away so we could all be together at Christmas. On the day after, nieces and their families arrived, making us a perpetual party of 19.  For most of the summers of my sons’ lives, their cousins came to visit here in Door County, so it seemed right to gather again in this place, even if the water was not swimmable and the leaves  were not green.

We had been together in the summer, but like so many places in this country this week, the temperatures outside were subzero.  We had to scrap the plans for roasting s’mores in the firepit or even of building snowmen.  We did take one fairly long hike of over an hour,

and we ventured out to the local tubing hill on another day.

Three of our heartiest went fat tire biking. On our last day together we walked to our favorite lighthouse across an icy causeway that was beautiful but soooo cold.

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And so we spent most of our time inside. We played games and ate, played more games, and ate some more. We put together a puzzle, did a few crafts. Our adult children stayed up late with their cousins, just like they have done for most of their childhoods and teen years together, only this time the parents among them had to get up early.  These people I loved as children have grown into adults that I admire.

New people have been added to our family: spouses, girlfriends, children.IMG_0242

IMG_0111As I watched our family interacting, I realized that one of the best things a family can do is let more people in.  The women in my sons’ lives have made them better. My nieces’ children make us all happier.  Among the 19 of us, there were the occasional irritations, differences of opinion, some tears. ( Really, isn’t that to be expected?) Yet even those, I’m convinced, can save us from the curse of being too fixed, too set in our ways.

We did some looking back- remembering old times, holidays past. But the better part was the new and continuing interactions, the realization that we can be different today than we were in the past and still be loved.

People change us, if we let them. New people change us more than old ones, perhaps because there are no well-worn patterns in which to fall, perhaps because doing things the way “we’ve always done it” isn’t a good reason for doing anything.

My children, et al, are back to their own lives in their own states, far from here.  I’ve spent the day since they left soaking up the quiet and reading a book from start to finish.

I am grateful for the time we had together as a smaller family and then a bigger, extended one. Traditions are well and good, but nothing stays the same, and today, I’m very glad that’s true.

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Poem: Innkeepers

Living in a tourist area has given me a new appreciation for one little aspect of the Nativity account. I know innkeepers now, along with people who run gift shops and clean hotel rooms and serve in restaurants. Theirs are bi-polar lives: a manic pace in the summer, a dearth of activity in the winter.  My friends here are people who like people: they enjoy their visitors and customers;  they like the conversations and the interchanges with vacationers. But I can tell you that they get tired. Nearly two million people come here in the summer and fall, and it’s a grueling pace to keep.

For many years I’ve written a Christmas poem. Now that I know a few innkeepers, the words from Luke caught my eye this season as I read through the advent account.  Here’s imagining…

“..and everyone went to their own town to register…While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room available for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:3,7

 

Innkeepers

They grow weary of crowds, of laundry relentless
of chatter continual, the same questions again and again

When there are no rooms, there’s little to be done
The sty, with the stink of animals
at least was something
 
Who doesn’t know, he was surely thinking
that the town would be full, the hotels all arranged months ahead.
But here is a man, and here is a woman
so ready to burst, so weary.

A midwife had to be found
blood and muffled screams
the girl alone
laboring with strangers

and then shepherds with stories
searching for a baby
chiding the man for the stable
saying give them a better place
saying these people are better than they seem

 

 

 

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Filling up October

It’s been a month since I’ve last written here. Nothing particularly eventful happened in our lives here, so I was a little short on ideas to write about.  A few years ago, I wondered if retired life would feel boring and unsatisfying. But no, it never feels boring. Our month was plenty full, and we are content.

Here are a few of the “ordinary” happenings that filled up October.

I’ve said it before here, and I’m sure I am not finished repeating it: living in a pretty place is constant entertainment, a perpetual gift.   We take walks in the changing woods, exclaim at the colors.

 

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We drive out of our way when we run errands to see if the water is choppy or calm in the harbor, if it is still or wavy on the bay.

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It is pretty driving to the grocery store or library.

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The sunsets and sunrises make us get out; often when we see the clouds full of color, we stop what we are doing to go outside to watch. The beauty all around us makes us pause, makes us linger, and in so doing we remind ourselves of what’s good and lovely and true and wonderful in this world.

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IMG_9897Land to table    We live two miles from an apple orchard. We love their honeycrisps, and when they were selling a bushel of their Cortland “seconds” for only $9, it seemed right to buy them and make applesauce from scratch. But that was an all day project.

Books. I’m in two book clubs. Here are my top three favorite books from the past few months.

            The Sparrow. This book has haunted me. I’m not a particular fan of science fiction, but when a team of Jesuits befriends creatures on a new planet and are martyred as a result, well, it’s just sad. Within a few days of finishing the book, I watched “Silence,” a recent (and moving) film about Christians who are persecuted in 17th century Japan. As a person of faith myself, both of these made me think a lot about the ways we share our beliefs with others and  what sacrifices I would make to hold on to faith.

       A Gentleman in Moscow. Much lighter than the previous book, this fictional account follows the life of a Russian count who loses his freedom and his way of life in the Russian revolution. I knew very little about this time and place in history, and it was a good way to find out about it.

            Gilead. This was my third time reading this one. Ten times more would not be too many. Marilynne Robinson makes ordinary lives beautiful. She helps us see that loving the people we know well is about the best possible thing we can do in this life.

Closing up the cabin. There’s a lot to do to shut down a place for eight months. When lots of people have cooked and eaten, played, bathed, and slept in a place, there are signs of their fun. And though we are good about cleaning as we go, the cupboards and the oven had crumbs by the end of the summer that needed attention. Despite the continual vacuuming, there was still sand just about everywhere. The refrigerator door was full of condiments, kindly left for the “next” person, but it’s time to dispose of them. The winter curtains need to replace the summer ones. We’ve already carried up the kayaks and the beach umbrella and the deck chairs. Today we brought in the lawn mower and trash cans; we put away hoses.  I’ll be sad to close it down for the winter, but October was full of cabin chores.

Writing. I’ve finally joined a novel critique group. We meet every other week and send things for review the alternate weeks, so, guess what? I actually have a reason to make myself get over the obstacles and just get working on this novel of mine that’s been in process for about ten years. Yes, I’ve got to rewrite parts. Yes, I need to work out some plot inconsistencies. I’ve even had to change my main character. What I liked eight years ago I don’t like as much now. But meeting with four other authors who are also in process with their novels means I’ve committed to at least making progress. Although that’s a bit scary, it’s also a very important thing I did this October.

The Usual. There’s a lot more: church once a week, a Bible study once a week. Several meetings throughout the month with my favorite non-profit, Write On, Door County. Exercise. A friend needs some help learning to use her new laptop. A dinner out here or there. The demands of a dog who needs way more attention and exercise than we usually want to give. ( It’s a good thing he’s adorable.) Working a little bit in my little consulting/publishing company called Sand Beach Press.   The list of little daily events could go on.

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We are heading into our third winter in Wisconsin, and besides the people that we left in St. Louis, there’s very little that we miss about our old life.   Yes, our lives are slower-paced here, compared to when we worked at jobs and lived in a city. A little less busy, perhaps, but certainly not empty.

All in all, October was a pretty great month.

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Enough

Our latest guests were delightfully happy to chill and relax.

I was a little antsy staying in for so much of the time. I  felt  I should be a better tour guide. There is so much beauty here in this county, and so much to do, so I found myself repeatedly asking questions:  “Wouldn’t you like to go a gallery? See a play? Walk a hiking trail in a state park ? Drive to an overlook? Shall we visit the farmer’s market? Do you want to make a picnic and go to the bluffs?  Should we go out in our kayaks?

But no, they were happy to stay put. And really, the weather was uncharacteristically warm. We could read on the beach, listen to waves. We could sip coffee in our beach chairs to watch the sunrise, sit on the deck for “happy hour” before dinner. We put together jigsaw puzzles; we watched movies at night. We listened to the stories of the ups and downs of each others’ lives. But I kept wondering if that was enough.

Finally, my friend reminded me of something important. “You forget, Ann, that we don’t get to see this all the time,” my friend rightly told me. “We are perfectly happy being right here, doing nothing except enjoying this beautiful place.”

And of course, she was right. I do see this water every day of the year.  I routinely watch cranes and hummingbirds, pick wildflowers and berries, gaze at clouds, stars, the moon. There is never a day without breathtaking beauty.

Last week’s sunset for example.

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Or this scene, earlier this summer, from a friend’s dock.

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And, oh, you know, just driving to a concert on the other side of the peninsula.

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Or this swale, only a few minutes from our house, whose quiet always mesmerizes.

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May it never be that my reaction to beauty turns ho hum- or that these scenes I see before me every day are not enough to satisfy.

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Summer, oh summer.

It was not a long-enough summer.

Yesterday, the Monday of Labor Day, there was a steady line of cars heading south, leaving the peninsula. There were literally hundreds of cars in a line as far as the eye could see. Not all, of course, but many of the “summer people” took with them their boats and their trailers, their suitcases full of souvenirs and happy memories and went home. Schools in Wisconsin start this week, so it’s not surprising that the exodus occurred. Most of my teacher friends in other states have been back in their classroom already two weeks.

So I should not be so surprised that we are on the verge of fall. But I am still not ready for the air to turn chill, for the leaves to drop, for the sun to rise later.

Because summers here are pretty much perfect.

Here’s a few things I love about summer in this place of beauty where we live. Here’s what I will miss.

  1. Water warm enough to swim.

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2. A beach where my family gathers year after year.

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3. Getting onto the water in boats: a fishing boat, kayaks, a stand-up paddleboard.

4. Eating outside.

5. Conversations with people I love who come to visit.

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6. Children at play on the beach.

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7. The influx of creative people who flood here in the summer. Art galleries are stocked with beauty on walls. Three theatre companies perform.  Musicians play concerts in parks, in homes, in auditoriums. Writers and scholars teach classes.

 

8. Sunrises that are early, sunsets that are late. (Lots of daylight, in other words.)

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9. Summer evenings warm enough to lie on the sand and watch falling stars.

10. Flowers.

11. Reading in the sun on the beach.

12. Pretty much perfect temperatures. We had one day over 90; the average daytime temp in July and August was 78 degrees.

13. The most beautiful and delicious food, right from our garden or farm stands or farm markets.

14. Gulls whose wings catch the setting sun as they fly over the water.

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IMG_3131The autumn will be gorgeous; I am sure of it. The winter will be cold and dark, but we have friends who cheer us, and we have projects to keep us creative and happy. We have made plans to travel and break up the months that are not summer.   I have no right to be sad – one day in this glorious summer is a gift- and I have had thirty or forty of them.

And summer may linger a bit- I will likely swim a bit more, and we can still eat outside. We have friends arriving still ( yay!) so we aren’t in our “recluse mode” yet.

But I nonetheless feel a sense of loss as I see the leaves turning yellow and red. Will heaven have seasons? If so, I‘m in favor of a Door County summer. All of the time.

 

 

Walking the Land

The owners of the vacant land behind us allow us to walk on their property for most of the year.IMG_9546

Others who also have permission think it best that we are not there in the fall- for the months leading up to the ten days of deer hunting season. They think we might scare off the deer, although I think the deer are hardly bothered by us, evidenced by the fact that this morning, three were in our yard just feet from our house, eating apples from our trees.

But that is another story, another topic. In spring and summer and winter I delight in walking on those forty acres behind us. I walk the land almost every day.

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Besides deer, there are turkey. Sand hill cranes come in the spring and mostly stay close. We’ve seen a fisher. We occasionally hear coyotes howling, yelping at night. We’ve put up birdhouses, hoping to attract bluebirds. ( It hasn’t worked.)

IMG_9554Turtles lay eggs in the spring.

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It’s rocky, not particularly fertile, and definitely not arable, so the plants are mostly scrubby- cedars and junipers, barberry and weedy shrubs.

But there are flowers. In the summer, it turns to meadow, and I watch the progression: first daisies,

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then Black Eyed Susans.

Now, we’ve had about three weeks of Queen Ann’s lace.

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The solidago and bergamot are also plentiful.

 

A few weeks ago, a for sale sign went up on the property. Yikes!  Or, more accurately,  Sh*t!

I shudder to think of condos, or a subdivision, or just about anything that will come into this lovely view.

Of course, we don’t own the land, so there is little we can do.  Of course we’ll have to adjust to change, if it comes. Until then, we’ll appreciate the beauty. For now, I’ll walk the land, grateful for what it gives.

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Cherry Jam, Cherry Pies, Cherry Nostalgia

It’s cherry time in Door County.

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Orchards are abundant here, and we love watching the changes of these trees throughout the year. In late winter, when it still feels drab and hopelessly dreary, the trees begin to tinge red.

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And then, in late May the blossoms are worth a drive around the county just to see the spectacle.

 

And now, red fruit. Thousand upon thousands of cherries hang, ready for picking.

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Or, more accurately, ready for shaking. The growers have a machine that grabs the trunk, shakes off the cherries into a inverted-umbrella-type net and then collects them into the crates where they are taken for processing.

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For most of the years of my life, we came here in summer, in cherry season. And though most of our days were spent on the beach and in that blue big Great Lake, for at least one afternoon we would put on old shirts and shoes and head off to a pick-your-own-cherry orchard. In less than an hour, our hands would be stained with cherry juice as our pails would fill. The ladders were fun to climb. We’d work side by side in a tree or compete for whose pail could fill faster from opposing trees. And always, it seems, we’d comment on the sight of those bright red cherries and deep green leaves against a backdrop of indigo blue sky.

And then, all those years of my childhood were repeated when I took my children back to the orchards each August to do exactly the same thing.

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Then it was home to the cabin at the beach where we’d set up tables on the porch and begin pitting. All those hundreds of cherries! We’d rinse them, then one by one stab out the pit from each one with a toothpick. There are cherry pitting gadgets, but toothpicks work the best.

 

But this task, too, became a game, or at least a not-unpleasant activity. Because we’d chat. Sometimes grandpa would help. Sometimes an aunt would be there, or a parent’s friend, or our friends. To them, it was all new, so we’d see it through their eyes. And how bad could any chore be when the waves of Lake Michigan were the background noise, the lake breezes our fan?

The picking and the pitting culminated into something expected but nonetheless wonderful: cherry pie. My grandmother first, and then my mother, and now me: there is no question that we make them and serve them to anyone who is here during cherry time.

 

And beyond the pies, there was jam to be made. The next day or even later on that evening, we’d make jam. I can see them now in my mind’s eye; the particular pots my mom would use to boil jam, heat jars. I can hear her voice asking my dad to be ready with his watch to time that crucial one minute when the jam must boil ( full rolling.) I’d help her ladle hot jam, wipe rims, screw on lids. I’d help her dunk the jars into the boiling water, remove them a few minutes later, turn them upside down. Turn them right side up, and listen for the oh-so-welcome “pop” which let us know the lid had sealed.

I have lived in other places where fresh fruit grows, and I have made pies from that bounty, too; the occasional peach or apple cake or cobbler. But there is nothing in my life quite so steeped in memory and nostalgia and tradition as these cherries.

Was it that, on vacation, we had time to bake and process jam- time we didn’t have the rest of the year? Was it that the beauty of those cherry trees all around us was irresistible? Was it that the tradition of families working together in a kitchen to “put up” food was every bit as integral to vacation as those card games at night or the beach fire to watch the falling stars?

Today, I live four miles from a processing plant. For the past three years I’ve stopped by and picked up tubs of cherries as they’ve come right in from the orchards and straight from the pitting machines. Yep, already picked and pitted. So I’ve skipped a few of the traditional steps.

But today, as my hands are slightly stained from cherry juice that came as I was cutting cherries for jam and freezing cherries for the pies that we will serve all year round, I find myself nostalgic for my mother, gone now four years. She would be happy that I’m making jam, making cherry pies. She would be glad, I know, that I’m living all year round in this place of cherries.

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