Sunday, September 30, 2012

romancing the wringer washer

The other day I took off my rose-colored glasses and ... I don't want to talk about it.

I was at the wood pile, preparing to stack a couple more loads of logs in the shed, when the glasses came off. It was an inspiration, much like an inspiration I once had about "living your dream." The glasses crushed underfoot and I realized: If life is good and sweet only because of the rosy lens you see it through, then life isn't really good and sweet, is it? And if life isn't really good and sweet, why go around pretending that it is?

I once changed my life, thought it was time to pursue some romantic notions I had about living differently, living the kind of life I read about in books, out in the woods, starry nights, snug cabins, grazing deer, inquisitive racoons, peace and quiet, and hard, simple work that made a body feel good. Swinging an axe and planting seeds. Reaping the harvest.

Things didn't really turn out that way, so I tried again, and it was about this time I thought: What happens if a person invests everything in a dream and it, like, doesn't change anything? Doesn't make you gloriously happy and content, full of bliss? What, then, do you do? What if there is nothing left to dream about?

The thing is, if you are living your dream and it's not working out, you have no dream to escape to. You are trapped in what you thought was it, and it, it turns out, is nothing. Or maybe even worse than nothing.

I don't want to talk about it. But I must.

It is a scary notion that: It doesn't matter. That whether you live your dream or not, it does not matter.

But is it any scarier than realizing that the only way life is good is if you see it that way?

{Now, aren't you glad you stopped by? Through the end of the year I anticipate writing on Sundays only. And some day I may actually tell you about that wringer washer.}

Thursday, September 27, 2012

taking a peek inside my mother's piano bench

It's piano tuning day, the old Charles R. Walter, "Chuck," for short, getting it's first tuning in we don't know how many years. The piano arrived here in upper Michigan seven or eight weeks ago, completing its journey from California begun just a few weeks earlier.

Oh yes. Now we remember. These poor fellows, moving my mother's
piano. And all they got were a beeswax Buddha and little pine cone ...
Along with the piano, of course, came the piano bench, and how nice it was that all contents of said bench were able to make the trip. I figured there would be some music in there, which would be nice, because all I had left from my previous lives as a piano owner were a Duke Ellington songbook, a copy of Sheet Music Magazine from January/February 1993 (with the music to One Morning in May), Albert E. Brumley's Songs of the Pioneers, and two small booklets of Christmas carols, family heirlooms dating back to our roots in Aledo, Illinois.

Inside my mother's piano bench I found:

Mood Indigo, sheet music, copyright 1931, taped and tattered

Scott Joplin Collected Piano Works, Third Printing 1972. Taped binding; pencil marks; large paper clip on page 27 (Maple Leaf Rag); scrap of paper tucked between pages 30 and 31 (Peacherine Rag); between pages 68 and 69 a folded and tattered page 303-304 along with a newspaper clipping, Scott Joplin: The Life of a Master Miniaturist; large paper clip on pages 235-240 (Reflection Rag [Syncopated Musings] and "Swipesy").

The Whiffenpoof Song (Baa! Baa! Baa!), sheet music, copyright 1944

Satin Doll, sheet music, copyright 1964

Hong Kong Blues, sheet music, copyright 1939

Blues in the Night (My Mama Done Tol' Me), sheet music, copyright 1941, torn

As Time Goes By, sheet music, copyright 1931

Moonlight Serenade, sheet music, copyright renewal 1967

Songs of Kiwanis With Words and Music of Songs for All Occasions, booklet, copyright 1951. "Songs for All Occasions" underlined in blue ink

(When Your Heart's on Fire) Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, sheet music, copyright 1933, a bit tattered

Theme From New York, New York, sheet music, copyright 1977

Vocal Selections from Cabaret, songbook, copyright 1967, tattered cover

Piano Pieces the Whole World Plays, multiple copyrights, no cover, but 224 very clean pages

A-Razz-A-Ma-Tazz, sheet music, copyright 1950, brown and tattered

Souvenir of Stephen Foster "Old Folks at Home", copyright 1916, a piece of over-sized sheet music glued to cardboard

The back cover of a songbook (unknown)

Pages 279-302 of, apparently, a Scott Joplin songbook

Page 277-78 of same as above, extremely tattered

Page 305 of same as above, somewhat tattered

Chlo-e, sheet music, copyright 1927

Two empty plastic sheet protectors

The Point of No Return, typed at the top of photocopied music from Phantom of the Opera, copyright 1986, nine sheets paper-clipped together

Gloomy Sunday, four photocopied sheets, no paper clip, copyright 1936

Stormy Weather, sheet music, photocopied? copyright 1933

Try to Remember, photocopies, six loose pages, copyright 1960

Front and back cover for 59 Piano Solos You Like to Play, taped, very tattered

Manhattan Serenade, sheet music, copyright 1928, mild wear

Josephine, sheet music, copyright 1936, mild wear

All the Words to All the Songs in The Reader's Digest Treasury of Great Show Tunes, a booklet, copyright 1993

Frankie Carle's Piano Conceptions, songbook, various copyrights, loose binding, very tattered. Blue ink doodles on front cover include solid triangular eyes for Frankie and one blue-outlined tooth. He also has a faint, penciled scar complete with stitches down his left cheek

Three Russian Melodies: A Song of India, sheet music, copyright 1922

28 loose pages of photocopied sheet music that will take a while to sort through. Includes selections by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Irving Berlin

An unidentified page of sheet music, extremely tattered, torn, one edge taped

59 Piano Solos You Like to Play, copyright 1936, no cover, though I'm sure it's here somewhere

Broadway Musicals Show by Show 1917-1929: A Musical and Historical Look at Broadway's Biggest Hits Based on the Best-Selling Book by Stanley Green, copyright 1991. Paper clips at page 85, Manhattan (from "Garrick Gaieties"), page 95, The Birth of the Blues (from "George White's Scandals of 1924"), and page 99, St. Louis Blues. A 3x5 post-it stuck on page 145, Why Do I Love You?, with a handwritten list of page numbers and song titles. A yellow, laminated bookmark printed with "Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson and a blue, bow-tied ribbon attached to the top, stuck between pages 148-49, How Long Has this Been Going On?

Aha! A large white envelope printed with the return address for Walter Piano Co. Inside:
Service Order and Invoice from Perfection Piano Co., Downers Grove, Illinois. The total for the piano with the trade-in of a George Steck baby grand was $4,000. The date of order was 3/26/01.
Brochure and Owners Manual for the Charles R. Walter
Miscellaneous scraps of paper with notes
Business card for Perfection Piano Company
Receipt for the refinishing of the George Steck baby grand (light walnut, oil finish flat) 1991
Receipt for the rebuilding of George 1992
Begin the Beguine, sheet music, copyright 1935

Basin Street Blues, three loose, photocopied sheets

Sugar Blues, three loose sheets, but not photocopies, copyright 1919

In the Mood, sheet music, copyright 1934

Lawrence Welk Favorites for Honky-Tonk Piano, songbook, copyright 1958

All I Ask of You, four loose photocopies, copyright 1986

Cover for Piano Pieces the Whole World Plays

The Butterfly, sheet music, no copyright, worn, tattered, taped, falling apart

Frederic Chopin Works for the Piano Impromptus, Fantaisie-Impromptu IV, sheet music, copyright 1943

A sheet of file folder labels for a dot matrix printer

Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg, sheet music, copyright 1942

The Illinois Loyalty Song, sheet music, copyright 1907

Christmas Carols and Hymns, a booklet

Christmas Carols, a booklet, Virgil Anderson, Aledo, Ill. Nine copies, the same booklet I have two of already

Phew. Reminds me of peeking inside my mother's golf bag ...

Thursday, September 20, 2012


In the morning, there's nothing I love more than solitude. Even these dark mornings of fall; the dark and cold mornings of winter. Perhaps I especially love it then, when I stir up the embers of yesterday's fire, add fresh logs, rekindle a blaze, huddle under a blanket in my chair with tea waiting for the house to warm.

By evening, I am lonely. Not every evening, not even most, I suppose, but some. Some days it happens after a full day of people; some days after a day with no one. Some days it creeps up - I can feel it building all day long - and other days it hits fast and hard. Maybe it comes after a good day of satisfying work. Maybe it comes after a long day of frustrations. Once, while on a date, in college, with a guy who was more of a friend - an unlikely friend, to be sure, but a friend nonetheless - I was told: "You are the loneliest person I know."

This morning, I stare into a fire that I built from scratch. I write this. My mind wanders, wraps around ideas, unfurls thoughts, curves and bends. It is peaceful, lovely even, and it is good. At its core, it is solitude. But, what will it be this evening?


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Savoring change

There's a change in the air. I feel it on my skin in the mornings, just a cool, light slap up the side of my head and a shiver and tingle on my arms. I see it in the fields that are taking on dull hues of brown and yellow, spotted here and there with lavender aster, and the fields are less full, a sense of space seeping in, a defoliation, a subtle vanishing, oh yes!, dear fields, you are losing your hair, going bald, getting old.

The field.
I hear it at dawn, scraping frost from the windshield. The scritch, the scratch, the cold futility. And I hear it in my voice as I curse the frost and curse the futility and blast the defroster and mumble into my collar. Later in the day I will stretch and purr as I feel the warmth of the sun on my back.

I hear it in the geese honking  hello and farewell and get out of my way as they pass overhead.

I see it in shiny apples nestled in bushel baskets, and I see it in mottled apples dripping from trees. And the roadside trees and the forest trees and the backyard trees are all like the fields, finding new colors, the brave - or the dieing - being the first to display leaves of such gaudy reds, such garish oranges. Soon all the leaves catch up, thinking it great fun, I suppose, to splash and play before waving goodbye and realizing too late, oops, oh no, I'm falling, and I can't get up.

Roadside apples.
The change is there in the brittleness of the wildflowers, and I smell it, too, but this I can't describe. The smell of autumn you know, and you could say: cinnamon and apple and pumpkin pie; you could say crisp, dry leaves; you could say damp pine and football games and brisk, fresh air. But, it isn't autumn I smell. Not quite yet. It is change. At once enticing and melancholy. At once something you don't yet know and something you remember all too well. It's anticipation. A promise of something new that comes with the comfort of old shoes.

The other day, though, stacking wood, I did catch a whiff of autumn. It swirled up from the wood pile and caught me off guard. It is, after all, still summer, late summer, and the forecast of cool rain just promising drops of ink on paper. For now, summer holds on, despite the frost on the windshield. And every dry summer day becomes a day of preparation for ... winter: It is not good to stack wood in the rain, nor to stack wet wood, so you do it now. You mow the grass - will it be the last time? - now. You take advantage of the sun and the dryness and the warm breeze and hang laundry out on the line. And, if you have a garden, you now hurry to bring in your food.

There's a change in the air. You savor it.

{Thanks for visiting! I've been keeping a blog since 2008 - it only took me four years to get regular! Which, believe me, isn't quite the same as normal. Welcome to my life the Upper Peninsula.}

Thursday, September 13, 2012

skunk, water, toothache: a thursday comparative

Oi! Toofache!
Or is it a jawbreaker?
It's been an odd week. While visiting family in California, the left side of my jaw swelled up from an abscessed tooth, and even though I was in an area bursting with people and stores and traffic and everything, the only dentist I could reach was more than 2,000 miles away in the remote area I fondly call home. Yes, luckily, that was my dentist. Actually one of the office workers handled it all for me - office workers do make it happen - and soon I was popping the prescribed antibiotics and ibuprofen and slowly feeling better. But, once back home, said dentist said I needed a root canal and now here I sit, post procedure, with a completely numb left side of my head.

Ta da! Pepe Le Pew
Also, the cat got skunked. Lightly. But. Nonetheless.

And the water heater's on strike.

But I remember when I didn't have any water at all. Except in buckets. From the rain. Or in gallon jugs filled at the artesian well behind the post office. Hot water came from a black, heavy plastic bag I placed in the sun, so only on sunny days, and on cloudy days from a pot on the borrowed propane camp burner I kept on the stove, the stove itself not yet working. (To get it working required weeks, months even, of soaking things in vinegar.) This was just last year, last September, when my home, my cabin, was yet a few months shy of hitting water. I was waiting on the money I would get at the closing on the house I was moving from, but that was delayed due to a flood plain issue that involved a land survey and FEMA and 637 people with 637 stories on what exactly it was all about and what exactly I had to do to fix it. (The only certainty was that even though the house was unlikely to ever experience flooding it was in an Official Flood Plain and resolving the issue would delay the closing for months and even longer if I dared to call FEMA to get the straight goods and that, the part about calling FEMA, eventually proved to be untrue.)

My old stove. Nothing a little vinegar couldn't cure.
I slept on an increasingly hard and lumpy futon sofabed in the cabin's main room, a room that was filled with flies and wasps during the day and mice and bats at night. (OK, there was only one bat. But he sure got around.) Most of my stuff, or what remained of it after various sales and give-aways, went into the garage until I could find storage space inside. Until I could finally construct at least one closet. It was kind of chaotic, moving piecemeal in the van, finding a place to shower, not knowing when or if the house I had sold would actually sell and give me the money I needed for so many things, like a well, for water. But then it was also quite peaceful, bathing in the river, washing my hair in the rain, dreaming of a bathtub filled with bubbles and hot, hot water. And I had chosen it, the cabin, over all other options, and if mice, flies, wasps, a lumpy bed, a FEMA hassle, showering on the fly, and one bat flying around inside on a full moon night while coyotes howled outside came with it, well, so be it.

Not that I was really so nonchalant about it all at the time.

A year ago I didn't have a skunky cat. Or an abscessed tooth. I did, though, have an old water heater sitting dusty and unused in a corner of what would become my bathroom in a far-fetched, far-flung cabin. Maybe the water heater would work. Maybe it wouldn't. Or maybe, as it turned out, it would work for a little while and then, once again, I'd try something new.

New on Etsy!
I seem to be getting into sets ...

Set of four beeswax pine cones.

{Thanks for visiting! I've been keeping a blog since 2008 - it only took me four years to get regular! Sunday posts are about my beeswax business and life in a log cabin in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Thursdays are for lists of sorts. Usually. Not all the time. Anyway, come back soon!}

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My first time in a bee yard

While I am nursing an abscessed tooth and flying across country home, please enjoy this reprint of my first bee-related post from May 2008.

bee smoker
The bee man's smoker.
The other day I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in a bee yard surrounded by dandelions, long grass, sunshine, and honey bees. The yard was a raggedy green space dotted with 40 or so whitewashed  hives, each topped with a large rock. I wore a white bee suit topped with a pith helmet and veil. The bees were busy, as they should be in late May, and their comings and goings crossed my line of vision every which way. They flew back and forth, north to south, east to west, zig to zag. Their hum filled the air, and for a moment there was nothing else.

I think of bees; I think of chaos. Look into a bee hive and you see thousands of bees in a mad scramble crawling over and under and around each other. Outside the hive they dart from bloom to bloom. They move with a kind of kinetic imbalance, heading one way then another, as if constantly catching themselves before heading off in the wrong direction.

But to associate bees with chaos is wrong. A bee is not aimless. A bee is the embodiment of having a job to do and doing that job with no superfluous movement, no meandering thought. A bee is single-minded, and its role in a hive well-defined.
A worker bee collects nectar and pollen, starting the transformation of nectar into honey within her body. In the hive she transfers the nascent sweetness to a honeycomb cell to store as food or passes it on to another worker, who feeds it to the larvae, the bees to be, who are also snugged away in the cells of the comb.

The queen, after her one mating flight in the spring, lays eggs, one to a cell, more than a thousand a day.

A drone, after his chance to mate with the queen, doesn't do much. (But perhaps that's a purpose in itself?)
A healthy hive grows and grows until there are so many bees making so much honey that there is enough to share with others who covet honey such as man, such as me.

I was in the bee yard helping a beekeeper move some of his hives from nucleus boxes into larger, standard hive boxes. Not that I was really much help. I couldn't stop my mind from wandering, from being fascinated by the bees and their movement. He told me so much about what he does and why - he was telling me about bees and being a beekeeper so I could write a story - but so much of what he said flew in one ear and out the other. Certainly, I thought, I'll retain some of it. Certainly I'll be able to make a story out of it. After all, that's why I am here; that is my purpose. But alas, I know, I am not as purposeful as a bee.

As we were leaving the yard a bee landed on my hand and I raised my hand to get a closer look.

"Just shake it off," the beekeeper said.

So I did.

{Thanks for visiting! I've been keeping a blog about the Upper Peninsula, beeswax, myself, my dogs, my cats, ad nauseum since 2008. I began posting regularly on Sundays and Thursdays around July 2012 when I set up my Pea Pickle Farm beeswax shop on Etsy. Join me?}

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tracking the wild honeybee, in California

Honeybee entering the clay lion hive.
I'm staying with my sister Penny and her husband Jim at their home in California, and along with the beauty of the flower gardens, the bounty of the orchard and vegetable and berry gardens, the fantastic views of the mountains and ocean, I am entranced by two groups of wild honeybees* in happenstance hives. The owl house hive is in a large Monterrey Pine just beyond the old chicken coop, and the clay lion hive is at the top of the drive, just outside the door to the pottery studio.

Both hives have sprung up on their own over the past couple of years. Penny and Jim didn't do anything in particular to attract the bees, but no doubt an acre or two of avocado, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, plum, peach, apple, blood orange, tangelo, cherimoya, pomegranate, and persimmon trees, numerous flowers, a vegetable garden, and assorted berry patches appeal mightily to the honeybee. It is a pastoral setting loaded with nectar and pollen.

The Story of the Owl House Hive
The owl house hive.
Honeybees took up residence in the owl house in early spring 2011, about two years after the house was nailed about 12 feet up in the tree. Jim and Penny had been hoping to attract barn owls to help with a glut of gophers, and the house was designed and built by a good friend and neighbor and given to P & J (as we will henceforth call them) as a birthday present (Penny's is April 13, Jim's April 15). The house measures about 15 inches high by about 6 or 8 inches wide and deep, and the entry hole has a diameter of about 2 inches. The top is hinged. Before hanging, Jim lined the bottom with dry leaves. Alas, no owls came to enjoy.

When the bees moved in P & J deliberated a bit about what to do and decided to let them be. The bees have thrived. They have covered the entry hole with what  may be honeycomb, though from the outside it is smooth, and they fly in and out in droves through a little gap left at the bottom. P & J said that recently they've seen bees bearding on the hive, hanging and dripping off the front like honey. Many people, including me, have expressed interest in opening the top of the owl house to see what's going on inside, but no one, including me, has yet done so.

The tree the bees live in was P & J's first Christmas tree at this house, given to them by Jim's father in a 5-gallon bucket. After the holidays, Jim planted the tree and ever since has tended to it just once a year at Christmastime when he lops off and wires together a few branches to make a holiday tree.

The Christmas tree that harbors the owl house hive.

The Story of the Clay Lion Hive
Honeybees set up shop in the clay lion early spring 2012. Jim made the lion in 1972 when he was a student at the Santa Barbara Art Institute. The lion is kind of like a big, hollow, red clay ball with a slightly comical lion's head on top - the lion is sitting on his haunches, head back, nose to the sky. Overall it is about two feet around and 3 feet tall. The lion sports a snarly grin, and the bees come and go through a hole that is one corner of the lion's mouth.

The clay lion hive.
For many years the lion resided at Jim's parents' house. When it moved to P & J's it first hung out by a plum tree, but for the past 15 years or so has been in a small garden at the top of the drive, being quite quiet and beeless. Then the lion began buzzing and so many bees were coming and going that P & J thought they might have to move it away from the house. The bees' flight path collides with the people path that goes from the house to anywhere, and Jim said he and Penny eventually got used to the bees ricocheting off them as their paths crossed. Early this summer activity in the clay lion slowed down; perhaps the bees swarmed when P & J were away for a few days.

According to Jim the lion has an open bottom. If tipped over, one should be able to see what is happening inside. But tipping has yet to happen, and for today, anyway, the wild bees come and go in peace.

* Or escaped domesticate bees, if you prefer.

{Thanks for visiting! I've been keeping a blog about the Upper Peninsula, beeswax, myself, my dogs, my cats, ad nauseum since 2008. I began posting regularly on Sundays and Thursdays around July 2012 when I set up my Pea Pickle Farm beeswax shop on Etsy. Join me?}

Sunday, September 2, 2012

sometimes you don't know what to call it

There are times in life when you change gears a little too fast. There may be a grinding noise. There may be a kick, a choke, a stall.


Or, no noise at all.

Mist up ahead.

Hold on, then, to the steering wheel. Is that right? Or do you let go? But wait - I'm thinking of a spin, a fishtail, a swerve, not a stall. A stall is easy. You stop. You let go. You grip harder. You bang the steering wheel and curse or wait patiently, start again.


In a spin, what is intuitive? To go with the spin or against? And which is it you are supposed to do? Turn into the skid? Or away?

A celebrity in our midst.

So now it's a skid, is it? From stall, to spin, to skid.

Do I smell beeswax?

What's the difference?

Rick makes a birch bark quiver.

Sometimes I wonder what has prevented me from becoming a real character, the kind of person about whom people smile and say, "Oh, her! She's a real character!" I'm toying with the idea. I think I'd like to be a real character.

For sale: angels and canoes.

But I don't know. Maybe it's too late.

Did you think I was going to crash?

{Thanks for visiting! I've been keeping a blog since 2008 - it only took me four years to get regular! Sunday posts are about my beeswax business and life in a log cabin in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Thursdays are for lists of sorts. Perhaps you'll join me.}