Author Archive | Jeanie Croope

Sun Spots and Sunsets by Jeanie Croope

I’ve had a heck of a time figuring out what I wanted to write for this issue’s Light and Shadow theme. It should be so easy. If nothing else I could come up with some art-related post looking at the brilliant chiaroscuro techniques developed by the old masters, like Caravaggio and implemented in so many ways in art since then. The brilliant light of the Impressionists. The gray-and-black shadows of Picasso’s Guernica.

There’s something there, don’t you think?

But I couldn’t make it work.

How about writing on how the light changes as we move into autumn? We see long shadows, earlier twilights. Deeper sunsets find brilliant oranges, purples and pinks contrasted with the shadows of the dark clouds and disappearing light, coming in to rest for the evening. Heaven knows I have enough sunset photos in my bank to illustrate an entire photo essay on the subject.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I think part of the problem in nailing this is that I am a “light” person. I prefer to see the light in a situation instead of the dark, even when the dark is pretty murky. it’s not that I avoid reality, I see it for what it is. But I’ve been around enough to know that in all tragedy or dark times, there is the light that comes from goodness, caring, rebirth.

You can call it Pollyanna. (I sometimes do.) There is little good in hurricanes or earthquakes that decimate entire communities. Yet I also see the helpers who fight so valiantly to rescue the trapped, who leave their comfortable homes to go to another place and work hard to help rebuild.

I think you can see that it is very difficult for me to go into the “shadow” mode. I don’t need to add that to bring me down when something is already swinging on the downside.

But recently, after many months of self-diagnosing (don’t do that), doc visits that offered remedies that worked for a few weeks and then didn’t, I finally went to the dermatologist for a very pesky lip problem. When the biopsy came back it was cancerous.

They told me it was no doubt from too many hours in the sun back in the days of long ago. Before sunscreen became an essential piece of summer outdoor wear. (And do you put sunscreen on your lips? You should.)

I know many readers may have dealt with squamous cell carcinoma. Basically, a skin cancer. It’s about as common as a Hershey bar at a grocery store check-out stand. Rarely are these life threatening unless left too long and metastasized. This is not your deeply concerning liver or stomach, ovarian or breast cancer.

Rick calls cancers like these “candy cancers.” You do the treatment, it works, and off you go to enjoy life. It’s a bit cavalier but in a way it’s spot on. No fun, but you probably won’t die.

But when you hear the C-word, one can’t help but feel a bit of a shadow come over things, even when the doctor has assured me that it was on the surface, hadn’t spread and that the radiation would do the trick. There’s a lot of light there.

And I see that and am immensely grateful. I keep reminding myself of that. See the Light.

But has I’ve tried to wrap my head around the fact that now I, too, am part of a club to which I never wanted to belong, there is a bit of shadow. I remember the mother who died before I was a fully-formed person, the friend who battled her cancer for years and died too young, and so many others who fought valiantly and others who do to this day.

Their cancers, I remind myself, were far more complicated than a little curable candy cancer on the lip. There simply is no comparison.

But as I watch the heron on my lake come to visit during the day and again at twilight, and then fly off into the sunset to rest, I am reminded once again to grab every bit of beauty and joy from life and celebrate it, cherish it. Next time one may not be so lucky.

There is beauty in the light of the sun. Blinding, sometimes searing, sometimes dangerous, but great beauty. And there is also beauty in the sunset, the shadows of evening, the silhouette of a blue heron, winging his way through the sky to meet the light again in the morning.

And I hope to meet that light in the morning for many sunrises to come.

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.

In Search of the Peanut Butter Power Bar by Jeanie Croope

The other day when I opened up my blog-reading notifications, I noticed a post from Jenna, a wonderful artist who also shares loads of recipes. The title was Peanut Butter Power Bars. (Link here if you want the recipe!)

Now, I’m no stranger to power bars. In fact, it’s one of the things that always goes in Rick’s Christmas collection — sometimes in the stocking, sometimes a box of 12. They help provide the energy a cyclist needs to get over that last hill or make that last sprint worthy of the green jersey.

But I’ve yet to find the “recipe” for a power bar that can give you the energy to create when you are feeling uninspired, to pick up the house when you’re having a down day or to move you off the couch when you’d rather be a slug. (Maybe I shouldn’t say “you.” Maybe I should cut to the chase and say “me.”)

Recently I returned from my summer house to spend a week back in the city. The city. Makes it sound like New York, doesn’t it? My city is a small one, a state capitol, to be sure, but not a particularly large one. There are museums for artistic stimulation, walking paths, an arboretum, lovely gardens. You’d think the inspiration would flow.

Yet I found myself wandering from room to room in my own house, trying to decide which thing to do next. Shall I pack up things for Goodwill? Clean the guest room? Paint the ceiling in the shower? The weeds are growing like — well, weeds! In a week filled with appointments, book club, a gallery opening, and a birthday (arranging several celebration elements), I couldn’t find the time to paint, couldn’t find the time to write, couldn’t get my brain to settle in and do it.

Couldn’t? Or wouldn’t?

A little bit of both, I think. I needed a peanut butter power bar.

Inspiration. It sure doesn’t strike on cue, does it? One of the most talented young artists I know has trouble finishing. I sometimes have trouble getting started.

And then, I returned to the lake. A beautiful summer afternoon, hot but not stifling. Sunny but with enough passing fluffy clouds to offer protection from the heat. A lake as smooth as glass, cool but not cold — perfect for a good swim.

I brought my bags into the house, fed the cat (freed at last from the bondage of her carrier), turned the radio to my favorite classical station and within fifteen minutes had started to paint.

It just came. The colors fell together. The drawing not perfect, but not bad. The end piece? A remarkable resemblance to a sweet little baby who happens to hold court inside my heart.

What is it that lets us do what we want to do, freely and expressively? Is it the lack of competition for time and brain cells? Is it passion? Discipline?

I took a break from cottage time to check out an exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs at an art center about an hour away. They reflected the photographer’s work in two periods — early photos and later ones — and featured some of his best known work, classics you see on Christmas cards and calendars. While not every photo had a lengthier backstory printed out beside it, some did and they were fascinating.

Adams did not have an easy job. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to climb mountains to capture the perfect image. It takes physical strength (along with balance and a good deal of confidence) to make it up the mountain carrying a forty-pound camera and the additional equipment required. And it took a certain amount of vision to know that making this hike would be worth his while.

Then when he returned to his studio he had to carefully work to manipulate the negatives into the exact look and feel he desired. The process was long and painstaking and he wasn’t always satisfied. And yet he continued to persevere.

The exhibit didn’t speak much of his personal life — did he have a family? A home to maintain? A basement from which to purge the accumulations of a lifetime — out of date clothing, home decor, books and childhood toys? Obligations that pulled him away from his work? Probably. (Note to self: Add an Ansel Adams bio to the summer reading list.) But the fact of the matter, so plainly clear on those gallery walls, is that he didn’t let those things distract him from his work.

I do know that the creative process is different for everyone. There are those who create in chaos, those who require total silence. Some must have it all in front of them, others are more contained. Adams visualized the finished piece before he even started. He defined this as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure.”

When I begin, I’m never quite sure what the end game will be.

But seeing how I felt when I left this quiet haven where I seem to create more easily in both words and in paint and then venturing back into the familiar and beloved environment of home, was revealing. I lost something when I left here. And when I returned to the less frenetic environment of the lake, the ability to move forward was renewed.

Maybe I have found my peanut butter power bar.

But how do I pack it up to take on the road?

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.

(A)-Typical Tuesday (Holiday Edition) by Jeanie Croope

Let the summer recharge begin! Here on an inland lake in Northern Michigan I have settled for the better part of the summer, taking in big breaths of fresh, clean air and enjoying (mostly) blue skies and warm days.

The return to the cottage always brings about a certain amount of work with it and when we arrived for our first visit a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t list “relaxing” as a key word. There were screens to put on, porch furniture to haul out, linens to change, cupboards to wipe down (yes, mice seem to prefer inside to outside in the cold Michigan winter), and bags to unpack.

There’s also a beach to weed, but that’s part of the never-ending story of summer!

But that’s done and now it’s Tuesday, July 4, a very atypical Tuesday!

The morning begins with birdsong. Gulls and other lake birds start their chatter early in the day, just after sunrise, and the quacking of the duck family isn’t far behind. As soon as there is action that indicates someone may be getting out of bed, Lizzie-the-Cat adds her own chorus to the music of creatures and her calls are well heeded.

For Rick, it’s coffee; for me, Tab. (Yes, people still drink Tab. For breakfast.) Something for breakfast. And then it’s off to our typical July 4. Rick is a cyclist in training for a ride to Quebec City this summer. He’ll be off on a hundred-mile jaunt to a small town about 50 miles from here. Once he’s out the door, I will gather a book — or more likely, my watercolors — and spend some time on the porch “doing my thing” while he does his.

I value this period of quiet creativity, listening to the morning ripples on the lake just yards away from where I sit with two jars of water (one for rinsing brushes, the other for mixing), several pans of my favorite paints and more likely than not a blank page, waiting for the first marks. Will it be a landscape? An animal portrait? A whimsical bit from my imagination? Who knows?

About an hour or so before he’s due to hit his halfway destination, Central Lake, I’ll pack a picnic for us to enjoy. Thick sandwiches with deli meats, veggies and cheese, a confetti orzo salad  with bright bits of red and yellow pepper, radishes, green onions, black olives, fresh herbs, feta and a non-mayo dressing so that we’ll have no worries on food safety. We’ll round it off with chips, big cookies or brownies and cold drinks. Then I’ll hit the road, picnic in hand, camera in my bag (along with a good book, just in case I get there first!).

The July 4 parade in Central Lake has become a tradition for us. The town itself is very small, one Main Street and a lake just steps from the four corners. I’m not sure where they find all the people to be in the parade, much less those crowding the streets. And yet the sidewalks are packed and the parade itself is fairly long, reminding me of something I would encounter in a Garrison Keillor story. If one has a dog, a tractor, a truck or is a clown, they are in the parade. Good candy-tossing arms are a requirement! Queens from neighboring communities ride on floats, sweltering in their gowns in the noonday sun and yet waving with cheer.  Children from area churches and Sunday Schools ride on the back of flatbed trucks, singing. Every high school band within 30 miles or so is represented, some more tunefully than others, but all with great spirit. There is red, white and blue everywhere, along with plenty of smiles.

As the parade draws to a close, we’ll find a shady spot by the lake for our picnic and when we are satiated, he’ll take off on two wheels. I’ll take off on four and explore antique stores, art galleries and fruit stands on the way home.

I will certainly beat him home and in an effort to do something that appears to be productive, I might take another stab at pulling out the weeds from the beach until I’m oh, so very warm! And then I’ll be glad to jump in and swim my “route” between the neighbor’s buoys, making sure to be out of the water by the time the boat parade comes along.

The boat parade is a longstanding tradition. Those with power boats on the lake (and a few intrepid canoe or kayak enthusiasts) deck them out with streamers, balloons and flags and at least begin circling the lake’s shoreline. I say begin, because they do tend to drop off after a bit. Being only about a mile or two from the start line, most are still in place as they pass by. Of course we wave as they honk and shout happy greetings.

By now on this atypical Tuesday, Rick has returned and soon it will be time to fire up the grill. It’s definitely a white-wine-night, well chilled and refreshing. If we’re lucky, we’ll have guests for dinner, guests who will stay for the fireworks later in the evening.

The lake is at its best as it begins to quiet down. The jet skis have moved on and most are home, enjoying their holiday meal as well. It’s a festive atmosphere. Neighbors are in chat mode, there’s likely to be music. In the air you can smell grills getting a workout — burgers and dogs, chicken and ribs. Summer may have officially started two weeks before, but July 4 seems like the kick-off to a season of refreshment.

More likely than not, there will be a spectacular sunset, with the sky taking on various shades of orange and gold and gently edging into cobalt blue. As dusk closes in and stars begin to emerge, so do boats, settling into the waters across from the County Park (and in front of our cottage) to get prime seating for the fireworks display. It doesn’t get fully dark till nearly 10:30 at night at my little spot in Northern Michigan, but the revelers don’t care. And really, why should they? Being out on a lake on a beautiful  evening doesn’t require fireworks. It is simply the frosting on the cake.

And then that first burst of color. Another, and one after that. The fireworks will bring to a close this atypical Tuesday, dropping streamers of purple and gold, red and blue into the waters with approving honks from boat horns for a particularly spectacular display. As the grand finale draws the evening to an end, the horns join together in loud appreciation of a day well spent.

There will be campfires after and more fireworks set off on beaches along the way. Lizzie-the-Cat will hunker down under the quilt that covers our bed, even if the temperature is 80-something and humid, only to emerge when the noise quiets or she is hungry (again) — whichever comes first.

As for us, we’ll tumble into bed, smiling and satisfied from a beautiful holiday celebration and eagerly anticipate the next day of art and bicycles, books and swimming, ice cream and a very vocal cat. And if we are wise and honest, we will acknowledge that our atypical Tuesday at the lake really isn’t too different from any Tuesday on vacation — it’s just a little louder and a little more festive.

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.

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.

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