Author Archive | Jeanie Croope

Restoring Your Soul After Retirement by Jeanie Croope

I packed the last of the things left in my office into an already too-full box. A poster of Big Bird that had been on my office wall (where I would put it up at home was and remains a mystery), photos tacked to the bulletin board from PBS conferences, my personal reference books and a few odds and ends — a bobblehead of Doc Martin, a baseball signed by Ken Burns and Negro Baseball League legend Buck O’Neill, and a stuffed Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street. (She holds court now in my home art room!)

It wasn’t the first box I hauled to the car but it was the last.

I had made my goodbyes to colleagues, some of whom I’d known for the past 32 years. No, longer — I started working at our public broadcasting station as a volunteer, then a student. How quickly that time had flown by.

But I was tired. And I hadn’t been well for several months.

Our work environment was extremely stressful and had been that way for the two years leading into my retirement. There had been changes in command, office and departmental reshuffling, new supervisors, changing long developed habits. Most of our staff was operating in an environment that combined caution, fear, exhaustion and low morale.

I lived by the postcard of “The Moscow Rules” that had been given to me from a friend who had visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. I kept it tucked in the back page of my daily calendar and I lived by the ten rules rigorously. These rules included, among others:

  • Assume Nothing
  • Go with the flow; blend in
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency
  • Don’t look back; you are never completely alone
  • Don’t harass the opposition
  • Pick the time and place for action.

It is a terrible way to live one third of the day, especially given that another third is spent in sleep, waiting to awake and do it all over again.

The tenth of the Moscow Rules is “Keep your options open.” And it was this one that I had clung to. When I turned 62, the best option was to retire.

I preface this article with that background story because when you know it is time to refresh and restore your soul, you have to consider what you’ve been working with and what you need to be able to make those changes without feeling guilty for taking that very important time to simply “be.”

I knew from the beginning that I didn’t like the word “retire.”It sounds so final – so “sit in your chair and watch TV” boring.

I had worked in a highly socialized and public environment and I was worried about missing that. I knew that I had loads of interests and hobbies and I had a lengthy laundry list of things I wanted to do or accomplish. But I wasn’t quite sure how to begin. How would it feel to not get up every morning, dress for work, feed the cat, drive past the lottery billboard that sent me daydreaming for the last five minutes of my journey to work and not feel terribly guilty about it.

So I did the next best thing. I ran away by myself, heading to my summer cottage, shockingly still and peaceful in September after the summer people have removed their docks and gone home for the season.

I took long walks in the late summer air and read books while digging my feet into the cooler sand. I awoke to the cawing of gulls and big black birds, watched the nightly flotilla of ducks on the lake and took trips into town for the weekly market, quieter without the summer people jostling for space around the best of the September harvest. I savored the sunsets, ravishing with colors of hot pink, royal blue, brilliant orange, changing minute by minute until the sky was an inky black. I set no clock, eating when I was hungry, sleeping when I was tired. I unplugged, calling home but staying clear of the internet.

I visited people I had known who retired in Michigan’s north country and as I spoke to each one I collected a list of tips about handling my new life.

“Make at least one date a week with a friend for socialization.”
“Volunteer.”
“Make lists to start with to keep you on track.”
“Look at classes or workshops to learn a new skill.”

All logical things. But they felt more important coming from those who had lived active lives in the workforce and now were living active lives in their new role. They were the not-so-retiring retirees.

A recently retired friend from home joined me for several days of art. We painted, created, took walks, drank wine, and talked for hours.

Bit by bit my battered soul had begun to heal.

Everyone refreshes, renews and restores in their own way. Some stay busy, never having a moment to spare. Others walk with nature, and still more find their refreshment in travel, a sport or a hobby. And many of us do it combining our passions for action and stillness.

It’s been nearly four years since I walked out that door. Since then I have been remarkably healthy for one with a chronic condition that was severe enough to motivate a major life change. It tells me a lot about what stress can do to damage your body, much less your soul.

I’ve followed much of the advice shared with me by those who had gone before, maintaining ongoing friendships and get-togethers with former colleagues, volunteering and focusing on my watercolors, showing remarkable improvement with practice.

And I still keep the Moscow Rules on the bulletin board at my desk. Many of them hold true for life, like “assume nothing” and “never go against your gut.”

But the one that I think of most, the one I still live by is “Keep Your Options Open.” After all, refreshment comes in many forms — and it’s always good to be ready for whatever comes next.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Spirit Guides on the Ancestral Highway by Jeanie Croope

When you travel down the ancestral highway, the things that cross your path sometimes happen in at the most unusual moments.

I’ve always had a curious relationship with the ancestors on my mother’s side, a sense of longing to know them better, physically touch them. I spent much of my childhood time with my dad’s parents, learning to bake at my grandmother’s side, picking vegetables with my grandfather on their farm.

But my mother’s mom died several months before I was born and my grandfather was a rather gruff guy who died when I was 10, taking with him many family secrets. Most of my thoughts about them were filtered through the memories told by my mother and her sisters.

I’d like to think the creative streak that runs in our family came down through Minnie. Her craft was sewing and she would do it hour after hour. All of us kids had little cats made from material that had the front of the cat on one side and the back on the other. Mom would say those cats would line the window sill, straight as soldiers in a row.

As I’ve done some genealogical research over the past year, bits of Minnie’s life have been filled in as I’ve learned a little more about her parents. (I still can’t figure out when they emigrated to America, though! There’s always more to discover. Trying to find records on people named “Wood” and “Granger” in England in the 1800s is not, I’ve learned, a piece of cake!) My fascination with her has continued to grow. Yet the only physical connection I had to this little woman, apart from countless photos, was a stuffed cat.

That is, until one serendipitous moment. Collecting vintage postcards is a passion of mine. I use some in my art, others remind me of places I’ve been or, in the case of the “up north” cards, of the area where my summer house is and where, a short walk away, my mother and her sisters spent their summers with Minnie. I always looked for photo cards that might show the resort where the cottage stood but those that had included house itself were non-existent, perhaps because it was set back further onto the land and in wide shots, the trees blocked it.

As I was going through the alphabetical city list of cards, I picked up those that included lake views and, as usual, most of the cards didn’t appeal. They were too recent. Or they were area attractions that held little personal meaning. They were not the spots on the lake I longed to find.

That is, until I saw one that had a somewhat familiar look. The writing on the front said “Wah Wah Soo,” which was the area of the cottage and it looked like — just at the very top of the card — a bit of the old cottage was visible. Although I didn’t notice it on first glance, I would later discover that an “X” was drawn at the top of the card, with a line dipping into the trees and pointing to a house set back from the shore. It looked very familiar.

I turned it over, surprised to find it had been addressed to my grandparents’ next door neighbor, the woman who served as my baby sitter until I was three. I looked at the faded handwriting in pencil, the date, “Thu., 1940.”

“Dear Grace,

X marks the spot. We have been quite comfortable up here this summer. It hasn’t been too warm here. We will be seeing you all before very long. Love, Minnie L.”

What magical thing brought me to this show — one I often skip — on this day? What led me to this very spot and what was it that brought my grandmother’s handwriting — the first time I had ever seen her handwriting — into my own hands?

Tears ran down my face and I didn’t care who saw.

I’ve long wondered how one can feel so connected to someone they never met. It’s more than a bloodline. It is more than an interest in crafty things or a love of the cottage. I find it deeper and inexplicable. And yet, it is as tangible as the photograph I can touch.

Are we guided by the spirits who have come before us? Do we hear their voices in our heads when we do something we know they’d love? Does their guidance help us form our thoughts and actions, thought we think those thoughts and actions are ours alone?

We’ll never know but I would like to think that’s so. For it seems that Minnie is one of the guides in my life. And with every bit of research — the name on the census document, the death certificate, the marriage license — she becomes more and more real.

My genealogical journey has just started. In less than a year I have found ancestors who were persecuted and died for their religion, another who died in an asylum. I have found farmers and beekeepers, confectioners and shoemakers. I have learned about women who died young leaving large families behind and children who died all too soon. I have even discovered that a dear friend with whom I’d had no sense of family connection was my fifth cousin. But that’s another story.

It has become a quest, this walk down the ancestral highway. It is a dive down the rabbit hole of family trees with deep roots. It can be dark and frustrating and often confusing with information coming from all directions, some spot on, some far off. And yet, with each computer key I tap, there is a sense of those spirit guides, urging me to tell their stories.

And so, down the rabbit hole we go.

 

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Making Magic When the Heart is Heavy by Jeanie Croope

I know I’m not the only one who has ever tried to be merry when it felt the world was crashing down around me.

My dad died in mid-December many years ago, but I remember that time as though it was yesterday.

To put this in context, it would be useful to think of me as The Christmas Kid, Mrs. Claus in Training or The One Who Can’t Seem to Quit. I love the holidays and while I refuse to put up one decoration before Thanksgiving, the day after, all bets are off! I have a rather small house and by the time I put Christmas everywhere, I’m often quite sure it is far too over the top and I should have quit long before. And I’m always glad I didn’t!

But then Dad died. It wasn’t unexpected. I just didn’t think it would happen before Christmas. Phone calls. Funeral arrangements. Just trying to get my brain around what it would be like to have no parents at all.

I had already scheduled a Christmas party for several days after the funeral. I toyed with cancelling. Everyone would understand.

But I needed those people. I needed to be busy making snacks and cleaning the house. I needed the energy of those who loved me surrounding me with good cheer. And smiles. Because smiles were pretty tough to come by that Christmas. I could — and would — cry later.

I am grateful to have a strong friendship network. Several of those friends knew Dad too, visiting him in the hospital or nursing home, giving me a badly needed night off. All, at one time or another, had joined Dad and me for Christmas dinner.

Christmas dinner. My favorite meal of the year. The Spode dishes, mom’s silver, lots of lights. How could I do dinner without dad?

And I didn’t. One of that friendship trio, Bonnie, invited us all to her home for dinner. It was warm and friendly and a safe place to simply “be” and a gesture I will never forget.

Facing down the holidays during sad times can be a challenge for any of us. That “sadness” may not just be the death of a beloved family member. It can be a divorce or separation that sends a family into divided loyalties and deep grief. It can be the loss of a job or a tragedy, like a house fire. Perhaps a dear family member is in the hospital or has recently faced a catastrophic diagnosis. It may even be despair about the state of the world. We all have our triggers, our life occurrences.

Every one of these situations — and many others — can send that happy holiday heart into the dumps.

If there was a set combination of solutions that would work for everyone, I would patent it and be a wealthy woman. The fact is the glorious differences that make us unique mean that no one set of rules can ever make us, if not happy, at least at peace with the situation and be able to recognize and engage in celebration.

Here are some ideas that have helped me and others I know during these times. Perhaps they’ll resonate with you. If you have other suggestions, feel free to enter them in the comment section.

  1. Try to surround yourself with people who are aware of your fragile state and will let you be you. That means that if you want help with the heavy lifting they’ll be there with that casserole or help with the dishes. But they will also recognize that sometimes it might help you to be busy and “have a job.” (Those of you with grieving friends, take note!)  They will also recognize that if you aren’t your usual life of the party, it’s OK. They won’t try to jolly you out of a quiet moment.
  2. Try something new. That Christmas dinner at Bonnie’s helped save my holiday, putting me with good friends in a spot that wasn’t quite so raw with memories. The support, the new surroundings that year, all made it an easier holiday.
  3. Do unto others. Maybe this is the year you find a cause, volunteer at a soup kitchen or take cookies to a senior center. Wrap presents for needy children or volunteer at the food bank. Practice random acts of kindness. It’s amazing how giving back can help fill a hole in the heart.
  4. Try to remember the good things. Light a candle each evening in memory or revisit memories in photo albums. Honor that experience by remembering the best of times. If your house is burning or your love is in ICU, that’s not easy and maybe not possible. But we often have the opportunity to reframe how we think of an experience.
  5. Try a little “creative therapy.” If you write, scribble your thoughts, coming any way they like. Let your heart purge its pain. If you draw or paint, try to put your feelings on paper using a visual medium. Grab your camera and photograph something that offers a reflection of your feelings or your hopes for the future.
  6. Live in hope. It’s can be difficult to see the light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel, but have faith that it is there. Recognize that these intense moments are the “now” and not the “always.” Find a talisman to carry in your pocket — a stone or bead, piece of jewelry or cat toy — something you can touch reminds you that person is with you and that peace and healing will come. You simply have to open your heart and let it find its way in.

There is a Native American saying, “The soul would have no rainbow if they eyes had no tears.” It’s hard to remember that at the holidays — but hold fast to the hope that the rainbow will appear. It may not be in the bright, shiny lights on the tree or the dangling baubles. And it may take awhile. But the rainbow will return, bringing that spectrum of life from black and white back into color.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Finding My Creative Soul During the Holidays by Jeanie Croope

Most months of the year, finding time for me to be creative isn’t all that difficult. This is, in part, because I don’t have a day-job. Though I have obligations, as you do, I can generally build a good deal of creativity into my daily life.

And then December arrives.

I love Christmas. I love the parties, the presents, the wrapping, decorating, get-togethers with friends, baking, lights, candles, music, the memories, the magic. It is my holiday and my holiday runs from the day after Thanksgiving until the day the trees come down. (And that may be well into January!)

jeanie-dec

But with all the making merry, grabbing time to be creative can be a challenge. I’ve had to rethink my definition of creativity and how it applies to me. As I’ve been muddling this for a few weeks, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve come to realize.

First, there is more than one way to be creative. One of my pet peeves is when someone says to me, “You’re so creative. I’m just not. Not at all.”

I don’t believe that for a minute about anyone. The person who might say that to me could be a marvelous cook or a mathematician whose daily work would tie my mind in knots. And while one might say there are rules to both of those, I would say that any discipline has its so-called “rules” but the creative part is when you bend them to the situation. Modifying a recipe. Thinking outside the box on a scientific research experiment. Violating the principles of the color wheel. Would Einstein have discovered the theory of relativity if he didn’t think outside the box?

So my first thought is to think of all you do as a potential venue for your creativity to explode. The way you decorate the tree or hang your garland. The craft you might reluctantly be drawn into could find you reveling in the joy of creating something lovely. Those Christmas cookies — why not try fun-with-frosting instead of just the sugar sprinkles? Or a new recipe you’ve never before prepared?

Second, think of every holiday experience as a potential jumpstart for your creativity. When you attend your community’s tree lighting or drive through the neighborhood looking at lights, don’t leave it at that. Go home and write down five or ten thoughts about the experience. What did it look like or feel like and what does it mean to you. Chances are, you have just written a poem — or something that could be a poem.

jeanie-december-postAnd the best part about this one is that you can do it with anything — the family gathering, your best friend’s party, the experience of baking cookies with the kids.

Take those thoughts a step further. Write them on bright paper, cut them out and hang them on a tree, put them in a scrapbook or make a “what’s this?” game from them. (Put the phrases into a pretty box. Players draw a phrase and have to figure out the experience.) Make your own rules! Does anyone really know all the official Scrabble rules?

Seek out a creative play date during the holiday, a time when you give yourself a few hours to engage in a creative activity. It might be an afternoon workshop where you paint Christmas cards or a gathering to make a wreath or holiday ornament. Maybe it’s the cookie exchange, but instead of putting your cookies in plastic bags for others to take home, wrap them up in style!

Each December, I attend a workshop that begins with a a lovely dinner followed by a project like this year’s “ice berry wreath” and “bucket o’ greens.” The group engages in a relatively simple activity that ends up looking great — and is useful. Many garden centers or craft stores host classes where you will leave with decorative holiday project. Look for card-making workshops or Christmas cookie-baking classes.

It’s a double win. Creativity without guilt. Not only do you carve creative time into your holiday, you also do something productive, something to be proud of. When you hear compliments on your wreath or baking you’ll have an extra smile because you had the experience of creating to go along with it.

I think of my friend Susan’s wrapping party. She served up cider and soup, tape and scissors and some paper and ribbons. Everyone brought their gifts and their own packaging and when the evening was over, much of their wrapping work was behind them.

Then there was my family’s Christmas wrapping contest. One gift would be wrapped “creatively” — that was the only “rule.” A poster took on new life as a trumpet. Rolls of old movie film turned into a bow. The year my mother was on a felt gingerbread-man stitching blitz inspired my dad to make a giant gingerman that looked like her small ones, and, leaving a small opening on the side, stuffed it with the earrings he gave her. That gingerbread man tops my kitchen trees forty years later.

Don’t forget the Internet. Thanks to blogs, Pinterest and Instagram you’ll find plenty of inspiring ideas for easy and fast projects, many done with a minimum of expense or time. Some of these projects can be done in the company of others — maybe your grandchild or your best friend. From simple ornament ideas to easy-to-make tags, you’ll find plenty of instructions to get you started. Chances are you even have most of the supplies you’ll need right at home!

Creativity and thoughtfulness can go hand in hand. Consider wrapping something you might give the person standing in the snow on the corner something in a pretty package — and include a thick Sharpie so they can actually make a readable sign.

Our creative souls don’t disappear during the busy season. Sometimes they go into hiding, just waiting to be coaxed out. And when you give yourself permission to let it go, you’ll not only have fun but you may discover new traditions in the process.

Now, I wonder what pile the watercolors are under?

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Packing Lighter by Jeanie Croope

Japan. February 1999. One of my first memories of the trip Rick and I took to Japan was that of maneuvering my overpacked suitcase on the train, up the steps, down the sidewalks, everywhere. And it became harder as I went along, filling any extra air pockets in that bag with souvenirs from the trip and gifts from our Japanese friends.

Rick was not impressed. That suitcase slowed me down big time. It was horribly clunky and heavy — definitely not an easy thing to haul up steps.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that impressed, either. While I had no real way of knowing what to pack for two weeks away in a country half around the globe — in the winter, when wearing warm (and bulkier) clothing was more essential — I discovered early on that I had brought far too much and I was paying for it every time we hit a train platform!

That was our first big trip together, taken four years after we started being a couple. Both of us brought more than our share of baggage to the relationship.

For Rick it was negotiating a new life after a marriage he hadn’t wanted to end, seeing his kids only part time, as so many divorced dads did in that time. The 50/50 shared custody was much less common in those days.

For me, it was a history of relationships that were far from perfect and had left some battle scars on the heart along with the deaths of both parents and some dear friends. We were both far from perfect people, survivors of our pasts — but shaky.

You could have told either one of us “that was then, this is now.” We would agree — but it wouldn’t change a thing.

We all evolve in our relationships and if all systems are go, we evolve in a way that makes being together all the better, the reward for the days that didn’t go so well in the past. When we allow ourselves to move forward, to step a bit out of our comfort zones, to be a little less afraid, we open ourselves up to wonderful things. We modify our expectations, we learn from mistakes in the past and celebrate the differences.

It took me a long time to learn to pack lighter for travel. Even on my first trip to France in 2009, I was loaded down. And that was arriving. Just imagine after shopping for two weeks!

It took awhile for both of us to release our personal baggage.But after twenty years together, Rick and I have learned to adjust to most of one another’s quirks and preferences.

We both value our personal space, living two blocks apart but connecting every day. Our living styles are different and there was no reason to force them to combine. This, alone, makes us happy — and the envy of many of our friends!

We’ve learned to respect each other’s interests. I’ll never want to ride my bike across Canada to Vermont as Rick did this summer. And he will never understand all my crafty bits. But we accept them and revel in the things we love and share.

As we began to let go of the things that tied down our hearts, things that were part of the past, we could be free to have a relationship that is enviable, one I had never thought I could have.

I’ve always held onto things, both the tangible and intangible. The warm memories of my childhood and family. Friendships from long ago. I collect. One look at my mostly out-of-control house and you might guess that I have separation anxiety. Marie Kondo’s “tidying” book all but gave me hives. When it comes to art supplies, china and books I border on hoarder status. A trip to the lake doesn’t involve just me, a cat carrier with Lizzie, a small cooler with the weekend’s food, a pair of shorts or jeans, a couple of tops and clean underwear. There are contingency plans — extra books and art supplies, clothing for all weather, a computer.

But in recent years, I’ve been wising up a little bit.

I’ve started to declutter the house (well, I’m starting in the basement so no one can tell but me — but I know!). I’m trying to part with things I no longer use or care about and make newer purchases more carefully. When I went north this summer I decided to focus only on drawing and painting and took only the supplies I would need for that, leaving behind the piles of mixed media bits, yarn and other supplies that I had brought along in previous years, just in case.

There was an added benefit to this — by focusing on one medium instead of doing bits and pieces with several, I actually improved in my art work! It was a bonus.

Rick was right to be frustrated by my overpacking in Japan. And, while he still thinks I bring way too much when we travel, I’ve managed the last few (including three weeks in France in 2012) with a small suitcase that can fit in the carry on rack. And while he’s not sure why I need to pack my pillow, he appreciates that I sleep better that way — which works out nicely for him, too.

I believe with all my heart that we are built as much from memories of the past as we are with all the wonderful things we absorb every day. Those memories can be good or bad and sometimes they are, oddly enough, both. Just as I will always love and mourn my Marmelade Gypsy Rose, the sweet cat for whom my blog was named and who died four years ago, I wrap my heart around his successor, Lizzie Cosette, who is so unlike Gypsy it rattled me for several months. But she is her own Lizzie, not Gypsy 2. I believe Rick will always love his ex-wife a little bit and has come to look at part of the past with a smile, remembering the good times and grateful for the two boys they share, the two young men in whose lives we now all share.

We are packing lighter now. One day, perhaps I can travel with a backpack instead of a carry-on. But for now, I’ll stick with my small suitcase — and pillow. And a heart ready to be filled with all the exciting new experiences that await.

Postscript: Not long after that trip I wrote this poem for Rick in a poetry yearbook I create for him each Valentine’s Day. I’m no Mary Oliver when it comes to poetry — it’s a pretty simple style. But the words say it all.

Packing Light?

Everything I’d ever need

Went with me to Japan.

The bubble wrap,

Books to read.

Umbrella, gifts

And food to eat.

Clothes for warmth

And clothes for dress,

A pillow small and blue.

All was in my suitcase,

All, that is, but you.

And so I lugged it

By my side,

While ribbing I did take.

I’d do it all again, I bet

Although my back did break.

I’d really try to pack it light

So I could make you proud,

And not to have to hear you gripe

Alone or in a crowd!

I’m learning how to pack my bags

Much lighter than before.

I’m leaving fear and history

And anger at the door.

I’m trying hard to keep

My insecurities at bay,

And only pack the good things

I’ll need on any day.

Like courage, humor, spirit.

Faith and peace and joy.

Trust and laughter,

Hopefulness

Are what I could employ.

I’m packing lighter than I did

The other times before.

Now if only I can do so

When I hit the road on tour!

 

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

The Calming Nourishment of Same by Jeanie Croope

lake sunset (Jeannie) I’m writing this at my summer house in Northern Michigan, tapping on my laptop in a document because I don’t have an internet connection.

Outside it is dark and the only sounds I hear are soft waves, gently lapping on the shore, the occasional fishing boat and soft music coming from my neighbor’s porch. Lizzie the Cat is perched on the back of the chair in which I sit. The table beside me holds the book I finished and the one I started a few hours ago while sitting on the beach enjoying the last bit of a gentle sunset and the dusk that follows. On the table across the room you’d find my art journal, my watercolor brushes and palette and a few more books.

In other words, it’s pretty much the same as always.

I’ve come to this lake since I was a baby and my mother and her family came here for decades before that. When I was 13 they bought this cottage, a short walk from the old family place where my cousins now vacation. They bought it furnished — even much of the art was on the walls.

mantel at the lake (Jeanie)

Over the years, some of the furniture has been replaced — more often than not from castoffs at home — crewel-work still lifes and oversized posters were swapped for new finds from art fairs, special gifts or my own photography. The newer stove and refrigerators were sorely needed birthday gifts from Rick. The bathroom was remodeled — not necessarily for the better, in retrospect — and the old steel sink in the kitchen removed and replaced with nice stainless one surrounded by a second hand cabinet. A porch added on when I was 14 has been rebuilt with a newer model and last year’s project was replacing the screens.

But you’d still find the same braided rugs, the evocative photo of the Au Sable River over the fireplace mantle, the maple buffet hutch and dining cabinet and even a couple of the original end tables. You’d see two old prints of Dogs Playing Poker because it just seems wrong to have an old cottage and not have these iconic images. The bookcases are filled with VHS tapes that moved north when the DVD player was added at home and packed with the books of my childhood, along with mysteries and novels left by — well, I’m not sure.

When I leave the city for weekends or an extended period at the lake, I don’t seek the new, the stylish, the avant garde. I seek the safety and nourishment of “the same.”

Although I have always lived within the same city, I’ve lived in a variety of spots — my parents’ house, the dormitory, college and post-college apartments, a duplex and finally a house I love. With each move there have been the changes one would expect — packing and discarding, accumulating new furniture or art, learning about new neighbors or where things are most conveniently located.

lizzie at the lake

But when I head north, it’s rarely change I seek, except for a change of locale. I walk into the cottage and I know where I am. I know its quirks — tricky windows, for one — and the sounds it makes. (I’ll never forget the time I was reading The Shining alone on a windy night and the tops of bushes scraping against the screen gave me a shiver!) I can count on being awakened by noisy gulls (or grackels?) and going to sleep listening to the sound of the water.

The pressure is off. I’ll make the bed, be sure the dishes are done and on occasion will sweep sand from the rugs. But more likely than not, I’ll settle into a comfy chair or chaise lounge with a book or perch myself at the end of the table on the porch that serves as a temporary art table — at least until dinner.

I’ll walk around the circle road, woods on one side, lake on the other. Lake people wave if they pass you in a car or greet you with pleasantries if you pass on the road. I might stop to visit friends or family in cottages along the way or just do the circle. And my mind is free — free to welcome a new blog post, writing project or art idea.

In the years since my parents have died, I have made few changes to the cottage. Old treasures of my mother’s sit on the shelves, though I’ve added pieces that catch my eye. The dishes in the cupboard are the same, but new placemats or a tablecloth will cover the table. The mishmash of cooking bowls and pans have been accumulated over years, everywhere from my parents’ wedding pans to yard sales.
lake tree heart (Jeannie)

I don’t come north to have the life I have at home with a dishwasher and garbage disposal, cable and yard work. I come north to simply “be.” I grow here. I think, I slow down my mind and listen and in doing so, take in ever so much more. Changes are made gradually and I live with the comfort of welcoming each day with a degree of familiarity, one that can be modified to be sure, but at my whim.

A moth is dancing around the light beside me. Lizzie has seen it and soon will be on its trail and if she doesn’t capture it, I most certainly will before the light is turned off for the night. Tomorrow is supposed to be nice again. I’ll pull some weeds on the beach, take a dip (or two or three) in the lake, work on another painting and run into town for cat food.

Yes, some things always stay the same.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Online Friendship: Feeding the Creative Soul by Jeanie Croope

The other day I was responding to a comment on my blog. It was to a woman I’ve “known” for a long while online and after replying directly to the comment, I continued with what would seem more like a letter. Remember letters? Those lovely missives on creamy paper or a carefully chosen card, written by hand, carefully addressed and sent in the post with a stamp?

woman-865111_1920I knew that in due course I would receive a reply that I would answer and the circle would continue. And even before those words were typed, I was excited and eager for that reply.

When I began blogging on The Marmelade Gypsy eight and a half years ago, the last thing I expected was a network of friends who would enrich my life in so many ways. It isn’t that I was a recluse, not by any means. At that time I was working in a fairly high profile job. By day I enjoyed the company of creative and clever colleagues and in the off-hours the company of a variety of good friends. I had a group of wonderful woman friends, all of whom were creative and communications oriented, caring and compassionate. Our conversations were passionate and enthusiastic. My book club consisted of intelligent, spirited women who would be perfectly willing to throw over the literary conversation should one of our “Savory Sisters” require a feedback zone. There were two or three very close friends with whom there were hours of conversation covering every topic and in Rick, a wonderful partner whose presence was always welcome.

I didn’t need more friends. (Well, we all need more friends!) And yet, it was through this group of strangers that I found a unique support system, one that remains non-judgmental, encouraging and unquestionably motivating. I realized that those we don’t know face-to-face can still help provide the nourishment we need to do our best work, to be our best selves, to reach out beyond what we thought we might settle for.

I’ve tried to look more deeply into these relationships — most of which have never been face-to-face — to discover just what it is that I find so energizing about them. Perhaps it is the give and take. When I visit a blog and discover something beautiful or a new technique or a photo, story or outstanding writing that moves me, I come away from the experience enriched. I become motivated to not just “put up a post” but to try to put up one that truly pleases me. It might not be prize-worthy; it may be silly or share a bit of creativity or a family moment, but I want it to be one that pleases me — and that I hope will, in turn, please my readers.

It may well be the encouragement. Not long ago a longtime reader commented on how she had seen my art and drawing improve over the years. I was floating on air for days because I didn’t see that. I saw only that it wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. It wasn’t as good as … well, as many others. She saw that it was better and I felt as though I could live on those words for a month.

I think most all of us are fed by praise. Genuine praise — not just kind and friendly words but those we know are from the heart. When I see that kind of feedback, I smile. Call it feeding the fragile ego, call it stoking the creative furnace. It fills me up.

And I don’t mean all praise and good words. I am equally motivated by someone’s shared experience or a constructive difference of opinion. “Have you tried this?” Or “That reminds me of …” That kind of dialogue fosters understanding and relationships. It helps us to grow.

I can take a long walk on a beautiful day and let my mind run, perhaps tumbling over a new idea or two that will manifest in words or pictures. I might watch the waves lap on the beach and feel the warmth of the sun and piece together bits of a future composition. And I may smile.

But I can tell you that as I answer a comment and especially one from a stranger who has become a friend over years of shared online interests and ideas, family stories and who knows what, that I am smiling. I am “seeing” a face I may have seen before only in a photo on my computer screen. I am smiling at them and I’m pretty sure they are smiling back at me.

And I am nourished.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

The Fleeting Moments of Now by Jeanie Croope

JeanieC_Now (3)

Over the course of the past month or so, reading the inspiring posts on Modern Creative Life, I’ve been thinking more and more about “What’s Next?” There is, of course, a list as long as a garden hose — working in the garden being part of that list! It includes more purging for Goodwill, taking the online art class I signed up for, catching a lot JeanieC_Now (1)of good theatre in our community, a few gatherings with friends and of course the never-ending family heritage project that has evolved into a family history book of shared stories. All too quickly it will be time for summer road trips and joyful days at the lake where I will park myself on the porch with paint and glue and create things.

All these future activities are noble efforts, fine projects or fun activities and I look looking forward to most of them (the basement purging a little less so!)

But I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t ask “What’s Now?” “Next” will be there today and tomorrow and the day after that.

But “Now” is so very fleeting.

I realized the other day that spring has finally come to our town. Flowering trees are popping into bloom everywhere, forsythia is abundant and driving through what will soon be an JeanieC_Now (2)arbor of deep green leaves is like now passing through a cloud of soft, misty chartreuse. The world is waking up.

I realized I have been looking so far ahead that I didn’t quite realize what was “now.” And now that I have, I simply want to drink it in like the thickest milk shake (made with real ice cream, please!) or a perfect glass of wine, rich and fragrant.

I looked at my “list of things to do” last night and buried somewhere in the middle was “Call Marie.” Marie is my father’s 92-year-old first cousin and the only living relative left on his side of the family that I know. We’ve talked about going out to the family graves of my grandparents about an hour away for too long. The trip seemed delayed for many good reasons — an illness on her part, weather unsuitable for tromping through a cemetery, busy life that gets in the way.

And it hit me that if I don’t make that “next” now, maybe I’ll call to find it is too late.

And so this morning, I called. And the answering machine picked up. It could be for any number of reasons — a doctor appointment, a haircut, a visit to the store, a nap.

But I will worry until we connect.

“Next” can be so exciting, filled with great expectations.

But “Now” is really what we have at this very moment. “Now” are those moments when you pull the cat closer and JeanieC_Now (4)hear a loud, contented purr as you stroke the satiny fur. “Now” are the moments on the phone with a far-away friend, the warmth of the body next to you as you drift off to sleep, the fragrance of the hyacinth blossom you hold to your nose as you deeply inhale its sweet scent. “Now” is watching in awe as Harry the Heron makes his springtime debut, bringing with him the promise of all the beautiful days that will be “next.

“Now” is hitting redial and leaving the same message.

And so, while I wait, I look at that list and think “what do I do now?” And I click on the link to my online class, find the video for the first lesson and hit “play.”

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

What’s Next? by Jeanie Croope

 

I’m looking at my desk right now. You wouldn’t want to see it. It would make you crazy. It makes me crazy! But I know that underneath my calendar, a jar of scrabble tiles, six paper mache boxes that didn’t get jazzed up for

Christmas, a couple of notepads, a few pieces of inventory from my last art sale, a Pandora catalogue and way too many pens I will find the family tree I scribbled from an online site that I couldn’t get to print last night.

That family tree chart is part of “what’s next” for me. Well, not quite next. Almost next.

Next is a poetry book chronicling the past year Rick and I have spent together. This project is an annual event and by the time you read this, hopefully given and cherished. The concept began early in our courtship as a collection of poems about our travels, the kids, the events and places we shared together, illustrated with — well, whatever I happened to be into that year! It might include photographs or drawings, watercolors or printing. The books ranged from the converted journal to handmade books, folded and stitched by hand (with more than a few unprintable words — sewing is not my forte!

Next after that is is trying to pull together a piece on the power of creativity to enhance mental health for my blog. (Although there is something ironic about stressing out to pull together a piece on creativity’s positive affect on mental health.)

And then Next is finding and ordering a new camera to replace the poor thing that was dropped on its head too many times. I have come to the sad realization that a poor camera does not make for good photographs, no matter how carefully they are framed.

And finally, next is some sort of art journal piece, perhaps a prototype for something larger, that will incorporate some of that information I’ve been ferreting out of this family history site and that one. Maybe I’ll use photos or maps. Who knows? I’m barely getting to know the names of these people who somehow, generations ago, made relationship decisions that would end up in my DNA.

Focusing on any one thing during the white world of winter — even a light one — is not something I find easy to do. It’s a wonderful time to be inside if you’re not a snow bunny, a time to read, paint, draw, print, write. I look at the two tall columns of books, the blank page of the journal, the glare of the computer screen and think, “Maybe I’ll go play ‘Chopped’ today.” Yes, that’s it. Throw some chicken stock in the pot, add some onions and celery. What else is there in the fridge or the cupboard? Mushrooms! Yes, that’ll do. A can of pumpkin. Oh, and what about shredding that chicken breast from last night. A squirt of sriracha sauce. No, make it two. And some ginger. Or cumin. Yes, cumin. It may or may not be tasty. But it will be creative.

During my professional career, I had to be creative on cue. I had to write everything under the sun and under deadline — and to be honest, I found the deadline a blessing. A mixed blessing, sometimes, but nonetheless, it mandated focus. I could juggle multiple projects simultaneously but if the clock was ticking down I knew where to put my energies and exactly how I would do it. The deadline imposed a powerful discipline that I find I often lack in my more recent independent life.

And so, in these last days of winter, as we look forward to longer days and brighter skies, I also look forward to the deadlines I must impose on myself. A Saturday class doesn’t wait until Monday, nor does any assignment that comes from it. A party scheduled is a date that must be honored. And as I begin to again maneuver through a schedule and follow my calendar, I suspect I will find play dates on my calendar, a few more “assignments” that I must “turn in,” if only to myself.

And yes, I know. I have made these deadlines. I can break them. No one cares if I do a new art journal page or a canvas but me. There is a bit of comfort in that idea. But somehow, I think I’ll stick to my plan pretty well. After all, there’s a lot I want to do and probably more than a few things that will lure me away to something new. I can work with that. And now, a deadline is looming for my poetry book! Onward!

 

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

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