It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…

30 01 2009


Best Boy stepped out on the porch on his way to work early yesterday morning and before I knew it,  he was back in the door grabbing another coat.  He said there was a woman out in the street with a tank top on.  Way too curious for my own good, I had to check it out for myself.  Sure enough in all the snow, ice and single digits there she was in a tank top, capri pants and slippers.  It was the two other fashion accessories that really got me – a toothbrush in her mouth and a kitchen knife in her hand.

She needed to use a cell phone – could we help?  Of course…that’s why Best Boy had come back for the coat in the first place.  She dialed her number – commenting that he’d not answer anyway but left him a Tourettes induced voice mail.  It was fairly obvious that she was higher than a kite as she explained that the knife was because she was dealing with a 300 lb.#$%&@*#$ in there!  She thanked us for our kindness, slipped the coat off her shoulders and wandered back down the middle of the street to her house on the corner.  We lingered long enough to see the door open and a lot of punctuated speech ballons like you see in the cartoons rose in the frigid air.  

A few hours later I was at the grocery store when I overheard another interesting exchange.  

“You out now?”

“Yeah, got out yesterday”  

“You on parole or somethin’?”  


“How’s Rashida?”

“She good – you know I gots a baby by her now?”

“Yeah, I knew dat”

And within the next seconds someone else yelled across the aisles to the same person – “Sup cuz!”  There was lots of happiness in all those “homecoming” exchanges with a language all their own.

This is my neighborhood – and I love it.  The diversity reminds me that I live in a real world of real drama…more than the kind that happens within the confines of this hundred year old house. I had just heard a radio interview with someone from Detroit who said that when she saw The Wire she realized she wasn’t alone in the world. Other people were living her reality that was accurately depicted on the small screen.

It is far too easy to get caught up in my drama – the back and forth trips, the too vivid imagination when I am NOT there, two more weeks till the Dr. gets back, millions of things to do around a house and zero motivation to tackle them, and on and on.  

At 10:30 – the same morning – I was out on the back deck shoveling for the gazillionth time when I heard some sweet sounds in the relative quiet of the morning. Feathered friends – living in the same ‘hood – busy about their lives. It is amazing sometimes that so much can be happening all at once in just a few blocks of real estate in a mid-sized city, in a county not far from the Lake, in a northern state of the United States, on the continent of North America. Just think of all the drama you could watch from space!


i think i can…i think i can…

29 01 2009


It is snowing again.  Another 3″ expected today and highs in the 20ºs and we are still in January.  The weatherman said last night that this has been the coldest January in I don’t know how many years and was teasing us with February.  Comparing those coldest first months to what we might have in store next month – some were 10ºs warmer (please God, yes!) but a bunch were 10ºs colder than normal (please God, no!) and on the tease went.

These little crocus candles, tucked under a shelf at the boutique Shop Girl is babysitting while her boss is in India for two weeks, caught my eye yesterday. I know there is something going on beneath the piles of snow in the yard. There are things happening – all is not dead.  It just feels that way about now.  We just have to hang on.  I know we don’t live in Alaska.  I know I complain alot but there is a certain reality to dealing with this day after day with just hints of sunshine (like two days ago – even if it was a high of 18º.)

There is life happening all around me and I can be encouraged.  A good friend is starting a huge new chapter in life leaving the likes of Washington, D.C. for a small farming town in southern Ohio.  A new house, a new job…a new start.

We are still waiting to hear whether or not the filming permits get in on time from Lansing that will determine if the adventure for Shop Girl will or won’t be a reality. Waiting…poised, ready to spring into “shopping” mode when the light turns green.

And I got a new lease on life with a new toy…it holds a power all its own.  It makes the pictures but I have to see them first.  I’ve got to look close and see things differently.  Find the special in the ordinary – the joy in the mundane.

On the brink of February, I choose to remember that in Spain all the almond trees will blossom.  It was one of my favorite things to see. Maybe I will see something just as spectacular right outside my window in a few weeks.


26 01 2009


My maternal grandfather was a watchmaker.  Half of the “livingroom” of his itty bitty tiny trailer was taken up by his wooden workbench.  Half-blinded by cataracts, he was no longer working when he lived there that I know of…but the workbench was still the center piece of his life.  Staying overnight was an adventure, amusing myself by going through all those little drawers and tinkering with all the tools and half assembled watches.  

Of all the gadgets, springs and gears living in those drawers but by far, my favorite were the magnifying glasses. All kinds of them – eye pieces, hand-helds, big, little, the whole gamut.  Making the tiny look huge was just as much fun as looking through the opposite end of binoculars to make things look like they were a million miles away.  OK – so I’m easily amused.  But I’ve often wondered if all those early experiments with lenses imprinted on me my love of looking through a camera’s viewfinder and manipulating the optics to bring things into sharp focus. If I had my druthers, I’d always choose portrait work over landscapes…coming up closer on things – magnifying life, not broad sweeping vistas.  

Keeping my focus on the task at hand isn’t always as entertaining as playing with those lenses when I was six.  It had been exactly seven days since I’d been here. The weather had been horrid and gray and freezing.  I was reveling in being all alone in my space – all alone. But her voice cracked over the phone when I asked a question. She was being brave but it was getting to her.  

I changed my plans but didn’t tell her.  There is no reason to have her worrying about whether or not the roads are snowy.  And they weren’t anyway.  But when we quietly share this space – she speaks her mind.  Things come to the surface and she tells me why last week was so hard.  Post-non-61st anniversary she was surprised at church when the year-in-review flashed up a photo of the two of them from a few years back – followed by a long, too quiet, winter week.  Grieving is in focus.

I will leave in the morning because there is a very special package being delivered to my northern door step the day after tomorrow…and I’ll have new lenses – ones free of the Sahara sands gritting in their guts – to play with. Trusty little point-and-shoot is on an exotic vacation and has been pried from my grip.  There are those who want me to get serious again about getting behind the viewfinder.

So here’s to new focus – be it magnified hours of loneliness or sweeping new vistas I record on a memory card.

ode to a michigan winter

23 01 2009

pict0286For the last two days, the vast gray expanse of the northern sky has been like the weight of an iceberg on my chest.  This isn’t unfamiliar territory by any means.  You can’t live in these parts and not be affected.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is a reality to be dealt with as surely as the danger of falling icicles. The temps have been around 28º but we are headed back down to the teens for the next few days along with more snow.

I took this picture almost a year ago.  But today, we don’t even have enough sun to cause the hint of glint on that ice.  Icicles are hanging in the same spot though.  No shadows – just gray.  I know it won’t last forever.  I know winter will fade into spring. I know personal circumstances won’t weigh this much every day.  I know…I know…I know…

There was a time a few years ago that the river downtown flash froze over night. Seeing it as I walked from the parking lot to the hotel in the dark of pre-dawn was surreal.  No ice skating there – it was like the surface of the moon with waves and dips frozen in time – all choppy and rough.  It caused quite a mess till nature did what nature does and the melt began.

Maybe these days are for a purpose.  Maybe the imposed hybernation is necessary for some reason I’ll never know.  Days where it seems like all movement gets frozen.  Is it the numbing I mind?  Or is it that underneath the surface of the freeze, my mind is still rushing like the currents that lay on the river bottom?

The ice fisherman are in their glory with their little huts dotting another frozen lake just a mile away.  There are those who find a different kind of joy in this space.  I do admire them.  I do see the beauty.

But today is heavy.  I am alone.  So rarely alone that all the time I’m not alone, I daydream about what I might do and accomplish when I am alone.  By the shear force of my will, I’ll get up and do something small and hope it leads to some inner stream of great energy like the never ending flow toward the sea. Or not. What time does the Ellen DeGeneres Show start?

a squirrely day

21 01 2009

Decidedly, 3 a.m. is too early to get up so I laid there for about an hour before I couldn’t take it any more.  It must have been the fact that I knew I had a 7:30 a.m. appointment to meet someone for coffee.  That is just too much on my mind now that when I’m here in the north – I don’t HAVE to go to work or be anywhere for that matter.  So anything on the schedule is a big deal.  

After coffee, I had some errands to run – stupid little things that I had to go to a bunch of different parts of town to do.  Then there was lunch – something half way decent for the Dr. since he leaves tomorrow for the better part of a month. He’ll not be encountering any spanish tortilla where he is going.  So we do certain comfort foods before and after these trips.  It only makes sense.

I was “reclined” on the couch, checking email and thinking about a nap, when I heard a racket on the front porch.  I ignored it at first but with such persistence I thought maybe someone was stealing half the plastic furniture (no big deal, I might add).  

With MLK day on Monday, we thought that our garbage day would be off by a day. We are the only idiots in the neighborhood and wouldn’t you know it – it was a recycling day too.  You’d be surprised at the amount of stuff we can accumulate on a bi-weekly basis.  But we missed it.  Now I know there was a greater purpose to be served.

img_3810A brown bushy tailed squirrel had helped himself to the Planter’s peanut container that had been in the recycle bin.  He was dragging it across the porch and when it would fall out of his teeth it would clatter around the porch.

img_38074I got the mouser involved to watch the fun.  (note: the can is under the chair in the middle and the squirrel is back up on the wall).

The squirrel very adeptly started chewing off the blue plastic snap-on lid and once there was a big enough hole…I knew where this was going…in went his head and it got stuck.  He jumped off the porch wall, head stuck inside the can and shook it off.  Kitty and I were laughing hysterically by then.  Well, at least her tail was beating up a storm.


Next the clever rodent jumped back up on the wall holding the can in its mouth, only to continue the leap to the pine tree.  Once in the tree, he started climbing…till it all started to slip and he was hanging by this back feet.  



img_38203They both had a soft landing in the snowy yard so there was no harm done.  I’ll have to go check to see if the squirrel just gave up on the bounty or if it is over on the neighbor’s roof which is a mid-way landing spot between big oak trees.

I’m quite sure that there was nothing left in there to eat.  I have half a mind to just find some nuts and toss them on the porch as a peace offering.  That was a lot of hard work for no reward.

a new day

20 01 2009

pict0408We can play dress-up.  We can invent things that make us feel like it is the real deal. We can dream dreams to wake up one day and find it all came true.

So what? Sew buttons!

19 01 2009


I’ll have to ask her where it really came from.  It was painted a minty green in the 70’s – I know that.  It’s always been tucked in corners of the house, not taking up too much room but has always been the safeguarder of all things sewing.  I opened a drawer the other day to find a gazillion pairs of scissors and asked if maybe she could get rid of a pair or two.  “No, they are all good and they are mine.”  Good to know.


As I was falling asleep the other night just around the corner from this little mini-cupboard, I thought about what was tucked in the bottom drawer.  The beloved button jars.  Two vintage glass peanut butter jars jammed with buttons of every shape, size and color.


Early matching game for bored youngster or a chance to count out large numbers – I remember playing with the buttons and feeling like I wanted to eat them they were so pretty.


Now I think about all the frocks they bejeweled…where are they?  What happened to them after they lost some of their sparkle?  Were the buttons saved when the material wore out?  Were the buttons found in the vacuum cleaner bag or in corners of dark closets?  Are some of these buttons hand-me-downs from a Grandmother I never knew?

Yeah, they are just buttons.  A lowly tool we use a million times a day and barely think about.  I learned to never take that for granted when I worked in the rehab hospital and would sit in therapies where people would have to re-learn that skill that for you is barely a blip in your brain.  But it can be lost as I remember all too vividly watching Billy struggle with those “little buggers”.  “How can I be such a nincompoop?”

Like arrowheads tucked into the mud…remnants of lost civilizations, I hereby commit to be the keeper of the buttons.

Cold hands – Warm heart at -16º

16 01 2009

img_38082Seven years earlier her mother had died and it forced a move to a new life in a new state, new school, new city.  The day after she turned 21 her daddy walked her down the aisle.  Those were the days when the entire congregation would show up to see two of their own wed and there was no shame in hanging over the balcony to see the bride in her gray outfit made by a seamstress. 



Her brother, his brother – her two friends; one in burgundy and the other in teal, both cut from the same pattern as the bride’s.  A simple reception in the church basement – post-war, no one expected more.


The woman next to her dad is a stand-in to balance the photo…I think she was the wife of the Pastor.  


Off to Chicago for a night in the Stevens (now the Chicago Hilton and Towers).  Sixty years that love lasted. They weren’t perfect people…but  it was a choice they made day after day – moment after moment.  And together they were – right up till the end of Billy’s days.  

Why love if losing hurts so much?

We love to know that we are not alone.  

                                                                     C.S. Lewis

I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long.

If we’re in each others dreams, we can be together all the time.

                                                        Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes

we wish you many happy returns…

15 01 2009

img_3814Right now it is -11º.   Add to that 11 mph winds and it feels like -31º.  That is the kind of cold where they tell you not to go out unless absolutely necessary. I hesitated to even attempt to make the trek today. Every county along the Lake (and that makes up about 75% of the trip) had lake effect snows slated to receive about seven inches.  I decided to just take it very easy on those snow covered slick roads and the normal two hour trip took an extra hour. I never even told her I was coming because that would just be stupid.   An important lesson – don’t tell toddlers or old people what you MIGHT be doing…

But I’m here and it’s her 82nd birthday and tomorrow would have been their 61st wedding anniversary.  These aren’t dates that she should be alone.  At least not for the first time around.  And after tomorrow…we will have passed all the important dates just five months after Billy left us.  

Billy’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, her birthday followed the next day by their anniversary…the first ones “alone” are now history. Mile markers on the path whether it is a path we would have chosen or not.  Sort of like the candles on a cake – whether we like how many are there or not – each stands for a year’s worth of life lessons that are there for us to celebrate.

So after I sang to her – I launched right into:

We wish you many happy returns on this the day of your birth,

 may sunshine and gladness be given, 

may God in his mercy prepare you on earth

for a beautiful birthday in heaven. 

“and I’ll be with Bill!”, she added through a teary smile.

on pins and needles

12 01 2009



Shop girl got a message the other day that someone she had worked with on a film project last Fall referred her for a job.  With more investigation, she learned that it is a low-budget feature film being shot here in Grand Rapids.  She’s scrambling to get her “picture book” put together so that when she meets with the director this week, he’ll be able to see the things she has done for wardrobe.  It’s all about getting your foot in the proverbial professional door…getting your name into the mix – especially in a smaller talent pool like we have here.

There has been a lot of courting of the movie industry by the state of Michigan over the last few years.  Kooshy tax incentives have brought a number of production companies here.  If she could get a couple of bigger projects under her belt, she may be positioned for some good things in the future.

Somebody was talking out of both sides of their mouth about her and the grape vine being what it is, it got back to her.  Someone was bad mouthing the situation since it wasn’t a huge Hollywood budget and recognizable names.  I challenge that particular person to name four or five of the principles involved in Slumdog Millionaire.  There is untapped talent in the world…

But I wouldn’t expect that person to know much since they thrive on being SEEN out and about town but not BEING a person of integrity.  It’s all about reputation. Doing a good job, the best that you can, as if it is for the greatest director ever-even if they can’t afford your full day rate.  Because truth be told, there is no formula for what makes it and what doesn’t. Some things may be resume builders.  Remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding?  That and a few dozen other “sleepers” fast-tracked lots of people’s careers.

It is about being creative regardless of the renown it may bring.  It is about being creative because you have to be.  It is about doing your best even if the world doesn’t know your name.  It’s about character.