Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So that's where I get it...

I've loved to make collages since I was in about 7th grade and it was the only project in art class where I truly felt that I deserved/earned the grade I got. There was something about the composition of words with images and the contrast of light and dark, the combining of fanciful with real and then putting it all together. We made copies on an old copy machine and then colored some of them in. I think the original collages were 11X17, or at least bigger than 8.5X11, so we were able to make a copy that only showed part of our image, and I saw that, too, as an opportunity to crop something out that I didn't particularly like, or make a decision about only showing half of the picture of my family. Not sure what to do with these copies, I wrote letters to friends on the other side, and I'd be surprised if any of them remain.

But through that assignment, the practice of making something new out of pieces of something else was kindled for me. Like quilting, but not as useful.

Grandma died (I've written about this before) and we made the trek to the farmhouse when the ground was still cold and the rhubarb was just beginning to emerge, bulbous and deep red, from the rich black dirt-turned-grey. We kicked through leaves and hid our tears and stood gazing off into the distance over acres and acres of soil, of dirt, of land that has been in our family since they staked the claim and said, "Here." And then we turned the key and budged open the door with our shoulder, with our hip, stumbling a bit into the entryway with its cracked linoleum and little sink -- where for generations people "washed up" before sitting down at the table.

We poked around and pulled books off the shelves and sometimes someone would sigh loudly and a hand would reach out to the shoulder, rub-rub-pat. And I opened the door to the basement, the damp smell of earth greeting me, sharp and a little offensive. I pulled the chain for the light bare light bulb and inhaled that earthy smell quickly. In the years that it had been since I'd ever opened that door, and for the first time probably ever, I noticed that all of the walls and the ceiling in the space heading downstairs were covered with pages from magazines.

I pulled my mom over and simply pointed, my eyes asking questions and my body finding comfort in this collaged room. "Oh yeah, I remember when she did that," Mom said. "Your Great Aunt came out one weekend and they spent the whole time tearing pages out and pasting them on the walls, and the ceiling." She paused and looked around, shaking her head. "Making do with what they had," she said. "Pretty amazing, isn't it?" And then she closed the door.

I went back to that land of history last week, to do the final sort through what hadn't been burned onsite last summer. There were a lot of memories wrapped up in newspaper -- fragile plates that had hung on the walls, a lamp, a dish and jar that used to water chickens and now resides with me in the suburbs. "For when we start raising chickens," I told my husband when he raised his eyebrows at me.

And there were five boxes full of old magazines, mostly from the 1930s -- Woman's World, Life, Hampshire Herdsman, Successful Farmer -- all addressed to my grandfather, who has been dead for almost 50 years. I took a few of them -- interesting ads, things I could frame, stories of communism.

My mother has saved stacks of magazines. I have saved stacks of magazines. Covering the walls with the magazines was my grandmother's and her sister's way of doing something with what they had already read, piecing together bits of history to bring color and protection to the walls.

Monday, August 27, 2007


It's become the cliche of my life -- oh, how we take for granted those things that we have until we don't have them anymore. Health, home, convenient access to anything, electricity. We lost our power Thursday afternoon. Sunday afternoon it reappeared. Three whole days without the ability to turn on lights, cook, check email at home, look anything up online, do laundry, dry my hair, watch TV. So quiet without that background hum. So dark at night without even the streetlight lit outside.

I've never wanted to cook or do laundry so badly in my life. Clearly part of my brain lost power, too.
However, no water entered our basement -- lest I have no tales to tell of an entire baseball card collection lost, having to rip up the second carpet in less than a year, or filling the curb with bags and bags of soggy things. It was not uncommon to hear stories swapped of this nature -- 3 inches, 10 inches, 3 feet of water.... evidently a litter box floats at that level.
And, we had water during the whole ordeal -- and due to an older water heater, our showers were warm -- hot, even.
I've truly never been so happy to see lights on in the living room as I was last night upon returning from dinner with friends. The trucks had been outside when we left and I said a sincere, "thank you" to the nice worker man before he climbed up the pole at the end of our driveway.

He looked me in the eye and said, "Don't thank me yet. Just because I'm here doesn't mean your lights are coming on." Talk about a deflating moment, but my thank you stood. There were nearly half a million people without power after Thursday. We were among the faithful remnant of 40-thousand or so folks still without it on Sunday morning. That's a lot of work that those workers did in not always pleasant conditions.

So, today we do laundry, empty our refrigerator and freezer of nearly all their contents, retrieve our salvaged frozen items from a friend's deep freeze, and start again taking for granted things like checking email from home, using our cordless phone, and being lulled through our day with that quiet hum that means things are running.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I love to get mail. As a child I ran to the mailbox to see if I had anything -- fortunately I had godparents and penpals who indulged me, or at least occasionally sent me something so that I could bounce back up the driveway. Returning from a week away from the office meant returning to a very full mailbox -- not to the point where my mail had been shifted to an actual box on the counter, but I did have to compress it in order to get it out of the slot.

Much of it went straight to the recycling bin, but even this brings me a little bit of joy, though I hate the concept of junk mail and how it offends the environment -- both the ecological and the aesthetic as it wastes away in piles upon my desk. But there were little delights -- thank you notes, handwritten correspondence, invitations to continuing education events, magazines to look forward to reading, etc. I have done my initial sort -- recycle, read later, read now, and file in my "someone loves me" folder.

This return to my office is also marked with a sense of satisfaction, as I remembered before I left, to wash those nasty, nasty coffee cups that had already started sprouting when I washed them. I'm afraid that my office would have needed some serious decontamination if I hadn't washed them, but there they sit -- gleaming and clean, just waiting for fresh hot coffee.

Perhaps I'll make coffee and read my mail. My work days this week are more contained this week as we're juggling daycare being closed, and my thought is that I'll be more productive. So far that's not the case.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

All God's Critters....

Got a place in our building, I guess.

There's a new friend in the building.

A cricket.

Perhaps this other friend will take care of it. Because by the time someone got around to calling someone else to take care of that friend (and this was after multiple viewings by multiple people), taking care of that friend was prohibited due to the season.

I'll take the cricket any day, but it's sure loud.