Monthly Archives: February 2011


All that glisters is not gold…

My jewelry collection includes beach stones, spirit-filled levels, seaglass, arrowheads, washers and nuts from the hardware store, but not very much gold. I like gold jewelry, but I tend to lose things, and losing a gold bracelet is not a position I want to find myself in. The most valuable pieces I own are the least worn, out of fear. The most loved pieces I wear with pleasure. Since losing them would cause me more unhappiness than a losing costly piece, this is a bit difficult to explain.

I have tried various ways to manage my continually growing necklace collection. When I was ten, I had a pink box with a ballerina that popped up when I opened it, spinning to the tinny notes of the music box. Little one-inch square depressions covered in pink fuzz held my gold-plated Plymouth Rock, a tiny vial filled with mustard seeds, and a silver ballerina. All were suspended from delicate chains. The sturdier pieces were coiled and arranged in the larger area below the removable shelf of pink fuzzy squares. Fresh water pearls, a strand of silver beads, and a souvenir choker of small conch shells started out nestled side by side, but ended tangled and intertwined.

As I grew older, the boxes got bigger. At some point I graduated to multiple boxes. The dyed cocoa bean strands I liked in high school took up a lot of space. The three tiny brass bells on a leather strap were worn daily for almost two years before they disappeared from my locker. Finding a nicely divided box was not easy, and far too often I casually tossed my pieces into their box only to spend frantic minutes untangling them when I wanted to wear one.

As a young adult I had been given an amazing box of costume jewelry that my uncle Freddie won at bingo. A cigar smoking, beer drinking, concert pianist bachelor, he did not consider this a cherished prize. There were green plastic shells trimmed in brass and encrusted with purple glass and fake pearls, a three-inch circle of turquoise and cream colored something and a golden Cleopatra neck ring. I was astounded and grateful my older sisters passed on them.

Between the pieces from Uncle Freddie, and my own flea market acquisitions, the boxes were just not big enough. I bought tie holders at yard sales and mounted them on my wall. My necklaces hung visible, untangled and glistening. This was satisfactory for many years. I just kept buying more tie racks. These are often given as gifts to men who have one or two ties, and so are not unusual cast offs at yard sales. I choose only the all wood ones. The ones with hinged brass holders tended to fall apart.

When I moved to the old farmhouse I renovated in Otter Creek, my tie racks and necklaces came with me. My future husband eyed them. He had a lot of ties, and had never had a tie rack. I had been feeling my tie racks were inadequate.

“Those would be great for my ties,” he said. “You can have them if you help me make a necklace box,“ was my reply. “Of course,” he answered, and before his words had faded away I was unscrewing the tie racks and setting my necklaces on the bureau.

I drew up plans for a hinged box with pegs for necklaces. We mounted the tie rack and hung his ties. My jewelry languished. I put the jewelry boxes on Christmas lists, birthday lists, asked his contractor friend to help, and finally put my necklaces in a plastic bin. They were at least in ziplock bags so they did not get tangled, but I could never find the one I wanted. And ziplock bags in a plastic bin is not a way to celebrate my corals and tourmalines, chunky amber from Mexico, Brazilian topaz and Larimar from the Dominican Republic.

This Christmas a treasured gift was a pair of glistening, glittering gold boxes with pegs, built to the sketches I had made years ago. What delight to free my pieces from plastic and hang them. Many had been buried in that bin for years. Some I had not seen in years.

The plastic tub now stores off-season clothing in the attic, a big tote of used ziplock bags is out in the shed, and every morning I open a jewelry box door and look at them all. I stand still, admiring, until one calls, “Me, me, wear me today.”

I select a necklace to work with my outfit, and look at the mass of bracelets, and bowls of earrings. They are next.


Single Digits

A favorite place for morning yoga

A favorite place for morning yoga

We rarely have days when the temperature drops into the single digits until January or February. We live in Maine, so this is Fahrenheit and single digits are well below the freezing temperature of water. When this cold air arrives, we are ready. We have had at least a month of pre-winter, that nippy, sometimes snowy season that gets us prepared for real cold. This unofficial season is a training period, because every summer long days and a hot sun blur our memory of winter, and we have to learn how to deal with it all over again.

In November, we shiver at twenty-eight degrees, but we are wearing a lightweight jacket and no hat. By January we are tough. We are perhaps even a bit smug. “Look at us,” we say, our bodies sheathed in silk with layers of wool and a windblock topping. “We know how to deal with Old Man Winter.”

Each year when we unearth our winter paraphernalia we need to reacquaint ourselves with all the bits and pieces. There are balaclavas and goggles, glove liners and mittens, ice creepers, snow suits and warm furry hats. There is the world’s best foot cozy, neoprene Stormsocks that will keep the most wimpy feet in snug, dry warmth. We swagger, decked out in our winter wear, and we go out to play. Snowshoeing, skiing, standing on the ice fishing for hours, having an evening cocktail at twelve degrees by the bonfire, following animal tracks, how wonderful winter is we exclaim.

Winter is when we prefer to go to the family camp. We stand on the ice watching eagles and pulling up the occasional fish. If we get enough they will be dinner, but we always have a back up steak. Today we watched an eagle feed on a grey squirrel, saw a herd of seven deer chased onto the pond, and found that the beaver lodge that was active last year has been abandoned. We caught some fish, did yoga on a frozen cove, cooked eggs and toast on the woodstove.

Deer running on ice. Photo by Joyce Carey

Deer running on ice. Photo by Joyce Carey

The day has been long, most of it spent on the ice. It was nine degrees when we went out before breakfast, and was less when we headed in after sunset and a taste of peppermint liqueur. This last was supplied by a neighbor who came by on his treaded four-wheeler. He gallantly plucked etched shot glasses from his pocket as he shared his bottle with the few of us on the ice. We watched the golden orange clouds as the sunset, listened to the eagles chirping, and nodded appreciatively to each other. “Not many people have the chance to enjoy this,” we concurred.

Back in camp the snow that has come in during the day still sits in clumps on the kitchen floor. We have kept the woodstove going, the corner of the camp near it is warm, and soon the steaks are sizzling. Single digits a worry? We are in an uninsulated cabin, spent most of the day outside, and the colder the better. We heat water for washing and think with sympathy of those who live in a part of the world that has no word for ice.

Juvenile eagle at Toddy Pond

Juvenile eagle at Toddy Pond

We will go back to our other life tomorrow, but tonight we will peek at the moon on the pond through windows coated with frost, and recall our favorite cold night here.

There were no year round neighbors on the pond then, and no house lights could be seen when we looked out the window.

We came to camp with two of my husband’s grandchildren. The fishing was tough. We leaned into the wind to get on the ice, and made a wall of shingles to keep the freezing sleet from filling in the holes. It was the kind of cold that reminded you the elements are king, not us. Any mistake on our part could be fatal. This sounds melodramatic, but people die every year from forgetting winter is different. Each fish caught means peeling off gloves to pull it in, and all our hands were red and numb by the time we headed back in to camp for dinner and charades. The thermometer read -12, wind chill was well below that.

The kids tucked into sleeping bags were a few feet from the wood stove. The youngest said he would keep the stove going and he did. The brutal wind and openings in the walls sucked the heat out and he had to stuff more sticks in the stove about every half hour. Camp is at the bottom of a steep, and in winter, icy road. If we needed help it would not have an easy time arriving. By eleven the valiant grandchild was sleeping with deep sweet breaths, and it was our turn to man the fire. We sleep in a curtained alcove, and not much warmth reaches there. Ice on the inside does not melt. Under piles of down we are warm and content, but leaving that steamy cocoon to cross a cold floor to the wood box and back to the stove is not a pleasant task.

I said our turn, but it was not I slipping out from hot coziness every half hour. I did not even awake for many of the stove ministerings but when I did I offered drowsy encouragement, “Hurry up, you’ll freeze!” I called, tucking the blankets about my chin.

Long before light D. again put a few logs in the stove. I heard the stove door close, but he did not return to bed. Eventually, perplexed, I wrapped a blanket around myself and crept out into the frigid air. He was by the kitchen door, which still had snow mounded on the floor, and was pulling on his snowsuit. Shocked, I asked what he was doing. “I need to go out,” he said. This was the darkest hour before dawn. Probably wind chill of minus 30.

“No, no,” I said, “Use the chamber pot.” He looked at me blankly and repeated, “I have to go out.” He does sometimes talk and walk in his sleep. We have some very odd conversations; we call it talking on Channel One, as the first time this happened he said he was going to be interviewed by Channel One.

I tugged on his arm, soothingly, and started to lead him back to bed.

He pulled away and reached for the door. I shook him, “You are sleeping” I said, “Come back to bed.” I tried to pull his mittens off. He pushed me away. “It is minus 20” I said a bit loudly, and then, more loudly, “You cannot go out!”

He looked at me and said, “I started the car this afternoon, just to be sure to warm it up. I forgot to turn it off.”

I opened the door for him.

The Witch's House, an abandoned camp near ours

The Witch's House, an abandoned camp near ours.

More about camp: Why does my hair smell like bacon?

Why does my hair smell like bacon?


Thirty-six eyelets, or, these boots were made for walking

Winter in Maine and the annual Clam City Ball is again crowded with rhinestone sparkling women and top-hatted men. Boas drip off shoulders, and a fox grins its last grin coiled around a swanlike neck. Taffeta skirts swish, and gloved hands keep time in softened claps. We are all decked out, and loving it. This ball has been going on annually for over one hundred years, with the same set of songs, and never varying intermission sandwiches provided by the men. The food is crab rolls, egg salad and chips, and I am glad I ate before I came. The dances are circle and line dances, and I would rather hike up my skirts and swirl and twirl. But I am not here for the food or dance. I am here because I can dress. I have ringlets in my hair, elbow length gloves, paste earrings, a full flowing skirt, and my soft leather lace-up boots with thirty-six eyelets.

These amazing boots were given to me by an antique dealer friend of my mom when I was a sophmore in high school. How I had the patience to lace them up then I cannot fathom, but I did, not everyday, but when the mood struck. I wore them with frayed bell bottom jeans or long Indian print dresses. The soft leather molds itself to my foot, the short heel gives support, and these are about the most comfortable shoes I own. They are over one hundred years old.

I treasure them, although I do not care for them as I should. But they are forgiving. They have trudged through snow, gotten soaked in puddles, the laces have been replaced several times, and they are still in fine shape. At one point I decided to retire them thinking I did not have the right to wear out these fine historic specimens, but I could not resist donning them yet again. They just never seem to show abuse, and now I wear them without guilt. I do not know what adventures they had before hooking up with me, but I am sure they danced, went shopping, visited friends, and raced through a rainstorm or two. I am also pretty sure they will outlast me, and go on more adventures when mine are done.

I don’t like to think I have a shoe fetish, but I do own a rather large number. In addition to the thirty-six eyelets I have rain shoes, garden shoes, swim shoes, comfy shoes, rhinestone studded heels, silver, gold, red, lots of black, sandals, flip flops, pointy toes and squared. Red suede flats, turquoise beaded pumps, and my mother’s alligator kitten heels sit side by side with my white leather Jill Sander ankle boots, a steal at Marden’s discount store. These last were originally marked $678.00. My entire shoe collection couldn’t be much more than that, and I am not sure I know anyone who would spend that on one pair of shoes.

Oh, and boots, I have red Hunter boots, and a pair of furry white goat boots I have named Schwani and Snowflake after the goats in Heidi. There are zippy ankle boots, lace=up work boots, waders for fishing, thigh high seven league boots for fencing, and fins for swimming. There are Sorel Joan of Arctics in which I can stand on the ice for hours in cosy-toed comfort. I have snowshoes, too, of course. So many choices, and I do wear them all now and again, but I tend to rely on a few core pairs.

For comfort, my Merrells come a close second to the thirty-six eyelets. I am on my second pair. The first, classic brown jungle mocs, have worn out to the point they are saved for dirty work, and not worn in public. They are close to fifteen years old and I have no complaints, but they will clearly not live to be one hundred. They are the kid’s version, since I have small feet, and designed to be tough. I wore them hiking, gardening, and just out and about. They went to the horse barn to visit my daughter, forded streams, hopped rock to rock keeping up with my fly fisherman husband. They were with me stacking wood, and foraging for mushrooms. They biked, since even with all those shoes I have not yet opted for fancy bike shoes. They got stuck in the mud, and stepped in something stinky more than once. My socks are now peeping through cracks, and they have a few spatters of paint and house stain, but they sure are easy to wear.

They will get tossed out at some point, though. This is what happens with most of my dress shoes. They just do not have the stamina to keep up with me, or with anyone.

It would be expecting a lot from a scrap of leather or synthetic to go the course, and I tend to run when I could walk, walk when I could ride.

At some time I may pass them on, or they may end up in an estate sale or thrift store. But whatever their next destination, these boots have a lot more walking to do.

So how is it I am still wearing shoes from the 1890’s? I do not know the answer, and they aren’t telling. They do not look tough. The leather is thin and soft. The soles are hand-stitched and also a seemingly soft leather. They have endured more and lasted ten times longer than my next toughest shoe.


Finding things

What delighted surprise, what eye-widening happiness, what an unexpected burst of joy accompanies finding something you had thought lost and out of your life.
Finding solutions to problems, the path to happiness, or a new recipe are all certainly fine, but they lack that brilliant moment of discovery and the spontaneous exclamation that unexpectedly finding a tangible, touchable thing generates.

Today was a day of finding. The snowshoes had been missing for several weeks, along with a snow shovel. They were not in the barn, nor in the car, nor up at the garage where we keep some things. We concluded they had to be leaning against the woodshed, which was now covered in two feet of snow. New snow beckoned, so we hauled out the guest pair again and tossed them in the car. We finished shoveling the path from the house to the parking space and tackled the taller than me mound left by the snowplow. Clank. It was the snow shovel. We jumped up and down and shoveled with renewed energy until we dug it out enough to pull free. With mounting excitement we probed deeper, and soon had both intact and ice-coated snowshoes unburied and back into circulation. The joy of finding them had us smiling and thumping each other like kids. We had been very pleased when we bought them a few months ago, but finding them was far more fun.

The other find was our cat Drosselmeyer, although he might object to be classified as a thing. I was in a workshop all day Saturday, and came home to be told there was bad news. Our cat was gone. It is winter, and he dashes out a few times a day to avoid a litter box, but spends most of this season in a ball near the fire. He had gone out in the morning, and it was after five when I returned home. We called, rattled food, looked in shed, attic, basement, any place he might have gotten shut into, but no cat. I wandered the street, checking with neighbors, but no Dros. Well after midnight we went to bed, assuring each other he was holed up somewhere waiting out the snow. The morning was clear, the snow had stopped, and there was no cat at the door. I was told a bobcat had been seen lately, and coyotes and fox are always a threat. “Might have been a fisher, too,” my husband said. “He’s gone, I’m so sorry,” and he gave me a sympathetic hug. Wiping the counter after lunch I paused. I didn’t hear anything, but knew I had to check the basement again. I went outside, opened the cellar door, and out popped Dros.

Finding things when looking for them is rewarding, Other finds come completely out of the blue, and astonishment adds to the pleasure. I donned a coat for the first time in months, and reached in the pocket to find the mate to a favorite pair of earrings. And I still had the odd one.

Another find was my brand new slick, light and gorgeous black biking jacket, worn twice. How can you lose a biking jacket? It wasn’t in the closet, in any of the bike bags, or in the laundry. I tossed everything out of the closet looking for it; I opened all the suitcases in the attic. Did my husband borrow it, or put it away someplace strange? I was sure he had. I, of course, could not have left it someplace and forgotten. Biking up the hill near the house one day I looked right, saw the small building Acadia National Park uses to house tools, and I remembered that hot day six months ago. We had started on a ride, and I was overdressed. “I’ll leave my jacket here, and get it on the way back,” I said. Six months later, memory jogged, I went around the building and there it was still tucked in the corner where I had left it. But oh, that jolting moment when I saw the shed in my side vision and was slammed by the knowledge my jacket was there. I had biked by it dozens of times without it clicking, but then, not quietly but with a loud hurrah, the memory (and the jacket) came back.

After eye surgery I treated myself to some outrageous and probably unflattering sunglasses, and wore them only a few times before they left me. I searched coat pockets, car, asked friends, but they were gone. Periodic random searches subsided, and like the seventh stage of grief I accepted their loss. Sunglass season ended without them, and the winter passed as well. That spring I was clearing the little artificial stream in the yard, scooping up heavy wet leaves, when up came my oversized, round, tortoise-framed sunglasses. How, oh how, I wondered, did they get there? They must have unobtrusively slipped out of a pocket as I was unclogging the filter, or rearranging a rock.

Few things in life give such happiness for so little. There is no planning, you needn’t do anything, go anywhere, make any effort. One moment life is simply moving forward. Then, totally unexpectedly, something lost has decided to come home. It does not just slip back in quietly, but re-enters with a shout, and mouth dropping surprise.

Just wish I didn’t have to lose something first.