After the color

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There is still bright green, cheerful moss on the forest floor, surrounded by a carpet of now dry, pale fallen leaves and pine needles. The mushrooms have all dried and shriveled. I saw one tiny, purple thistle flower on the side of the road today; an accidental bloom.

Holidays are bittersweet. Even after 21 years, I miss my own mom as I navigate changing relationships with my young adult children. Moments of great laughter mixed with moments of strain, heavy dinner table conversations–I still have to tread carefully.

The woods makes me happy. This little lake makes me happy. Even with the absence of color, the gray skies, the bare branches.

I’m not unsure of myself in the woods.

Full circle

In the winter, I resurrected my mother’s old point and shoot camera (a Canon Sureshot circa 1980s). It came to me when my dad moved, I think, and I shoved it into a drawer or cupboard or closet and forgot about it.

A battery was left in it, which had corroded and the corrosion was leaking out. I painstakingly cleaned off the muck with vinegar and q-tips; carefully dried it out; gingerly put a new battery in. When that motor whirred to life I felt a jolt, a sudden excitement, like my mother had tiptoed back into the land of the living.

I put a roll of film in, which advanced as it should. And…

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my daughter as model

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…it worked. It has a ridiculously loud motor that made me laugh when I used it. And there is a unique joy that only a point and shoot can provide. No messing with settings, no choosing a focus, no missing anything that might suddenly come into frame.

In hindsight, I see a circular nature in this experiment. My mother’s old camera. My own old fake fur jacket, given to me by someone I once knew when I was the age my daughter was this winter, when I asked her to wear it so I could photograph her. My son, who developed the roll in his black and white film class a few months later, even though I didn’t have a way to see the images other than to hold the negatives up to the light and squint. And today, the delivery of a film scanner so that I can do more with the negatives piling up in my office because of this new film addiction.

Okay, maybe a sketchy circle. But it makes at least a little sense to me.

I’ll admit I’d been snobby about the idea of a point and shoot. But my mother’s camera was a breath of fresh air, a kick in the ass to remind me that fussy isn’t necessarily better, or more fun. And a way to reconnect with her, if only for the time it took to shoot a roll of film.

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Detroit, Fisher Building in distance

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Sadly the camera croaked when I tried to remove the film. The motor just flat out stopped, and no amount of cleaning the battery compartment or shoving newer batteries in there would coax it back to life. I took it to my local camera repair shop where I’ve had several vintage cameras worked on, and they said it wasn’t worth repairing.

It was fun while it lasted.

 

Summer, sweet summer

I’m in the place on this earth that I love best. The place my dad dreamed of, scrimped and saved for, and plopped down a shell of a house in 1972 that has been evolving ever since.

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the view

I know how lucky I am to have this legacy handed down to me, to be the caretaker–with my husband–of this sacred place. I know how lucky I am to have a career that has evolved so that I can live and work here. I am lucky, grateful, honored to care for and live in a cottage on Lake Michigan for a good chunk of the year.

And like the shores of this lake, which ebb and flow and deposit (or demolish, as is the case this year) sandy beaches, treasures of driftwood and perfect skipping stones, my experiences here change. This summer, after two years of learning to live with no kids in my home, said (grown) kids are here with me for the month.

There is a music festival not far from here that happens in a few more weeks. My kids are working to build the experience for the 40,000 or so people who will hopefully attend this four-day festival safely. My kids wake up to coffee here and spend the day onsite at the festival grounds, then come back to the cottage tired and hungry and not always cheerful (but mostly they are). It’s hard work, and they’re good at it. I am the coffee supplier, the occasional breakfast maker, the baker of brownies and cookies. The goodbye-er and hello-er and the hearer of stories after long days. It’s a little like it was before they left, but different because they are adults. We navigate the sometimes tricky path of communicating in a different way.

I am different here, too. It’s a stripped down way of life, different from the city both physically and emotionally. The days are longer on the lake and the distractions are fewer. I have said it before: I am most myself with sand in my hair, the lake water in my pores. And like the changing relationship with my kids, and the ebb and flow of this shoreline, I am navigating a changing relationship with myself. More acceptance, less chatter, nicer words, less worry. I’m working on these things, anyway.

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oh, hi.

Here’s another thing I’m working on. Or working with. It’s one of the first generation Olympus PEN half-frame cameras. This one is probably from 1960 or ’61. The whole half frame thing intrigues me… You get an image on half of a frame of 35mm film, which means you get double the shots per roll. Who doesn’t like that? I spent the week trying it out and will send my test roll for processing on Monday morning. I’ve got my fingers crossed, because wow, this little thing is fun to shoot. Hopefully I’ll have something to show for it next week.

So that’s where I am. In my favorite place, working, enjoying my kids, trying out a new camera. A divine start to summer.

Changing of the guard

I have bragged about my good stock. Nothing I have anything to do with, but just my luck. My father’s side, the Italians, are some sturdy folk. My gram made it to 98 and a half, and was pretty razor sharp up until the last several years.

My father is 86 and the second youngest of seven children, and he is still around (thankfully). All of his siblings were still around until only recently, and now the shift has begun. My oldest aunt died within the last year, and now we received news that another of my aunts has gone. It’s not unexpected, they are all in their 80s and 90s–but it is a blow.

The tide is changing; the old guard is moving on.

I feel a need to get the stories from my dad before they are lost. What don’t I know? In the last few months his health has been precarious and I have spent more time with him because of this. I heard stories I’d never heard before, and I realize it’s a dance of asking the right questions, him being in the right mood or right frame of mind to open up. When you’re young, you don’t know anything about your parents. If they are around when you mature, you begin to realize that your own story is intrinsically connected to theirs. You have their hands, their eyes, their skin color, their mannerisms, the sound of their voice even, their quirks. To know them is to know yourself.

My mother died too young and I feel that broken connection, the loss of not getting to know her as a woman beyond being my mother. I don’t want to lose this opportunity with my father. I’m mature enough to want to go there with him.

 

St. Joseph, again

I’m back in St. Joseph again for the weekend, a visit with my dad. While the weather isn’t as magical as it was last Saturday, it’s warm enough for an early spring and the snow is very nearly gone. It’s no secret how much I love the west side of this state, but geez, St. Joseph is just so sweet. I spent the morning walking to the beach and around downtown, enjoying a cappuccino at Tosi’s, saying “hi” or “good morning” to pretty much everyone I passed (they’re friendly here, Karen Thomas, you’d like it!), smooching a 10-year-old golden retriever as I talked with her owner about the joys (ahem) of old dogs. There are crocuses coming up here. I saw some green sprouts. Spring is coming!

The sky didn’t cooperate so much for photos today, but is it ever a bad time to photograph the lighthouse pier? I don’t think so. Well, maybe it isn’t the best time right now as it is still under construction. Didn’t stop me, though.

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from the end of the pier, the outer lighthouse

I thought the pier was closed because of the construction, but as I parked I saw a woman walking across the dune from the big homes on the shore. I asked her if the pier was open and we ended up talking for a bit as we made our way across the parking lot together. She had an accent (German, maybe?), a bright smile and twinkling eyes. She walked with a cane and told me she lives right over there (pointing to the big homes), and that she is 87 and walks this pier twice a day. We chatted a bit more and I learned she used to love to drive, would drive to visit friends in Chicago and Detroit. I thanked her as she ushered me ahead so she could rest a minute before continuing her own walk.

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on the beach, just starting to drizzle

I like you, St. Joe. Let’s get to know each other a little better.

In praise of naps

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the afternoon nap, perfected

This is my dad’s cat, Ginger. Like many house pets, she really knows how to nap.

This is an afternoon ritual. My dad curls up on his couch under a cozy blanket, and Ginger curls up on the back of the couch on her own cozy blanket. They can remain like this for hours, not entirely together, but together.

My dad’s previous cat lived to be 22 and I suspect this one will age just as well. She is spoiled (as all pets should be). She isn’t a lover like her predecessor was, but she is lovey in her own way–she’ll rub your legs, allow you to pet her, purr, stretch and blink and talk at you–but she’s just not a cuddler. They are all different, as are we.

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My dad has always been a napper. I am a big fan of naps, but my life doesn’t allow for many lately and the occasional luxury of one is greatly appreciated. I love a summer nap in the middle of a hot day with windows open and summer sounds outside. I love a fall nap when it’s raining outside. A winter or spring nap when the weather is chill and the days are still short, well, what could be better?

When I do make the time for a nap (or I just can’t keep my eyes open anymore and I have no choice but to nap) my dog is almost always happy to oblige and join me. Then again, she is almost always napping. But if I lie down on a couch or in bed, she’s there almost instantly, filling the empty space behind my legs or in front of my belly. Sometimes even under the covers. She’s my personal furnace like that.

Maybe 2016 should be the year of making time for naps? We should all nap more. What ill could come of this? None, I tell you.

Maybe I’ll try to fit one in today. Just as soon as I finish this pile of urgent editing projects on my desk…