These Changeable Days

It is a cloudy morning, but a springish light is in the air. Despite it being January. We’re all discombobulated by the weather, bouncing between thaw and freeze, rain and snow, sun and clouds. In the words of They Might Be Giants, “Everyone’s excited and confused.”

Lonely piles of snow still linger in the cold and sheltered places, but much of my world is a dull wash of brown and faded green. One day I walk our little chihuahua mix with her plaid coat on and worry about her little paws and ears freezing. The next she goes out naked, splashing through puddles of meltwater, going ballistic when she sees a squirrel.

This is January?

There is a tall and slender dead ash tree in the back yard that is listing northwest, aiming for the garage. It looks like a rope and a couple of determined guys could pull it the rest of the way down. Part of me worries about it and part of me is rooting for it. But it’s not big enough to do enough damage so that we’d have to replace the garage and might be able to claim some insurance money to get the job done. 

I worry about the fence as well. Katy is small enough to fit through the spaces between pickets. The fence needs to be replaced — it is rotting in spots, pulling away from the posts. But on one side the neighbors have a new metal fence Katy can get under and through with little effort. A tie-out is one solution, though it’s apt to get tangled up in bushes. A mostly invisible wire fence along the neighbor’s metal fence is another. For now, we take her out on a leash.

There’s a strange, unsettledness to life right now. We have more orphaned socks in our sock bag than ever before. I’ve been washing dishes by hand every day as we figure out a solution to a dishwasher problem. The workroom is clean, yet there’s sawdust being tracked through the house. The outdoor Christmas lights lie in a pile by the door, drying out before we can put them away in the attic. The far end of the dining room table is gathering an assortment of papers and Legos and headphones and items with no home. Desks are almost clean. Laundry is mostly done. Books are all half read.

And I have started writing a new novel. A story about sisters and identity and a hiking trip that will go very bad, but ultimately be good.

I don’t know yet how 2018 feels to me. I do know that eventually the seasons will figure themselves out. Eventually that dead tree will come down, one way or another. Eventually the fencing issue will be resolved.

Ultimately, it will be good.

Blessings in the Midst of Burdens

During the long weekend, my little family piled into the car and headed for Tennessee to visit dear friends at their new house. Somehow we didn’t get the news that a massive winter storm would be sweeping over our entire nearly 700-mile trip down on Friday, or that another winter storm would be sweeping over much of our nearly 700-mile return trip Monday. I guess being rather more disconnected from social media has its disadvantages.

Fortunately, we grew up driving in Michigan.

Unfortunately, most of the other drivers we encountered did not.

And apparently the Tennessee Department of Transportation doesn’t understand how to properly salt their roads. Or, you know, salt them at all.

We were so grateful not to have been stuck on I-40 West, which was closed for hours and hours due to a crash that involved 16 semi trucks, and on which some people were stuck in their cars overnight. (There were still stranded and overturned semis on the highway when we left three days later.) We had gotten off that highway early on and taken a dark, winding, icy state highway that was mostly empty, rolling into the Jackson, Tennessee, area around 9pm. We should have gotten there by 4pm, had it not been for the weather and traffic snarls.

But we did get there. In one piece. And that is a blessing.

We had a delightful couple days hanging out, eating good food, smoking cigars, watching movies, and marveling at how an entire state can be so unprepared for winter weather events, even though apparently it does snow occasionally and, sometimes, intensely. (The lady at Wal-Mart had never heard of using salt to melt ice, and while the store was well-stocked with gardening gloves and grass seed, there was not a snow shovel to be found.)

The trip home was rather uneventful and far less stressful, though the roads were still sloppy part of the way. We were happy to be reunited with our newest family member, who I introduced in my latest email newsletter. (Aside, if you’d like to get on that mailing list for future monthly newsletters, you can sign up here.)

Then this morning when my husband was taking my son to school, my car got a flat tire. And I felt grateful all over again that it didn’t happen on an already long and taxing multi-state drive down treacherous highways.

Sometimes we have to look past our inconveniences to see our blessings.

We had a terrible drive — but not as terrible as some.

We visited the South on the one weekend in years that it was experiencing the kind of winter weather we always experience and, by January, are usually pretty tired of — but it meant that we spent all of our time in the house with our friends, and that’s what we wanted to do down there anyway.

We got a flat tire — but in the scheme of things, that’s not really that big of a deal.

Storms sweep through our lives — but in the midst of them, we can still praise the God who brings us through.

And next time we visit our friends, we’ll be flying down.

The 3-Month Painting of Manido Falls

Hello, stranger! It’s 2018 and I have a moment to breathe. In fact, it’s my 38th birthday, which means I have the day to myself. Because of winter break, I never went to school on my birthday, so when I joined the working world, I decided I would never work on my birthday either. I take the day off and putz around. It’s marvelous, especially after the craziness of Christmas, my wedding anniversary, New Year’s Eve, and taking down the Christmas decorations. Added to it all this year were two and a half trips to Grand Rapids, with much of the way during one of those trips being in near-constant white-out conditions; one trip to Bay City; two funerals, which were emotionally draining; and a low-level sickness of some sort almost the entire time.

BUT, it’s my birthday today so I’ll do what I want to.

And I wanted to paint.

Back in October, before the kitchen renovation project got underway, I started a new painting.

I got this far.

And then I screwed up. I had to paint over my mistake and wait a couple weeks for the paint to dry so I could continue. Then the holidays happened.

Today I dove back in head first. I added the waterfall I had previously botched.

And when that seemed to go well, I added everything else.

I’m really happy with the results. The subject is Manido Falls, which you may remember from this post about the tail end of my epic Upper Peninsula road trip this past June.

It’s not an exact representation but an interpretation. I’m trying to break myself of attempting to recreate photos and instead consider a painting on its own terms. In this case that meant added red tones to the rocks that weren’t that strong in the original photo in order to complement the greens of the trees.

Once this is dry I will list it in my Etsy store, Erin’s Artful Life.