Come away with me

It’s always the geese that give me away.

Every time a new season arrives, each with its own day-to-day delights, I find myself thinking THIS is the season I like best. Spring, with the arrival of the birds, and the tiny flower stalks erupting from the soil; summer, lush with abundance, balmy temps that mean coming and going without vast wardrobe changes; winter, with its landscape-muting snowfalls and stark, photogenic landscapes. Each one is so special, and each one I love fiercely when I’m in the midst of it.

Then fall arrives, and the geese begin to fly, and my heart leaps in a way it doesn’t move for any other season. It’s a poignant season of goodbyes, but with such beauty in those farewells! There’s a wildness to it, and even a loneliness. Flowers droop and fade, birds flock and fly away, trees shout their last hurrah in blazing color before slipping into hibernation. Some people even say the changes bring on melancholy.

Not for me, though. I love the colors of the leaves and the crisp crackle as we walk through them. I love the acorns collecting on the ground in the park, and the knowledge that my garden-weeding days are over. I love not having to sweat with the slightest exertion, and the switch to snuggly PJs and fleece-lined slippers.

But above all, I love the geese. It starts with the ones who live right here,

Low flyers' training session.

Low flyers’ training session.

who spend time on Dunlap Reef or along Little Lake, flying low overhead from one place to the next. As summer wanes, they begin their training flights, morning and evening, flying almost randomly, strengthening their flight muscles and teaching the young ones about formation and wind draft and the cooperative effort of getting to a kinder climate.

These geese are flying low, flying local, like the small private planes that zip around from the county airport. If they had leg bands, I’d almost be able to see them. They’re a prelude to what comes next.

Last week I heard it, ever so faintly, the “bark” of a distant pack, but no pack at all really. The migrating flock of geese was so high overhead I’d not have seen them without searching, and I’d not have recognized them without the telltale V. These

High flyers, calling to me.

High flyers, calling to me.

geese are as unconcerned with our little town and little bay as are the big jets that trace contrails across our sky. They’ve come from far away, they’re going farther still. They’re about the business of migration and the avoidance of winter.

I wonder if they’re a siren song to our geese, the ones who will soon rise higher, and fly longer, and slip away from the local scene until spring calls them back.

I wonder, too, if their appeal is to what’s within me, the remnant of the nomadic hunter-gatherer at the far beginnings of my ancestral line. Maybe the reason I love autumn isn’t so much the colors or the change, but that I can hear the geese calling my name. Maybe that leap of my heart is genetic, ancestral and ancient.

Posted in Human behavior, Reflection, seasons | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Decadence AND a clear conscience

We’re coming up on the season of comfort food. Summers call for salads and fresh veggies and all those things that keep doctors and nutritionists smiling.

Fall and winter, however, beg for warm, rich, gooey foods that ease the onslaught of ice and snow. Calories equal heat, right? Makes sense.

The trouble is, for those of us trying to be healthy, comfort foods can make our consciences distinctly UNcomfortable. We start living in the I-shouldn’t-but…zone.

Thus, my dilemma tonight. I was really, really in the mood for a grilled-cheese sandwich. I had just made a loaf of oatmeal walnut bread, and the thought of some nice, sharp cheddar sandwiched between those slices, done to a golden brown, grew more appealing by the minute. I confess I don’t have a problem with thinly sliced cheddar now and then, but grilling it in melted butter…?

So, I decided to try something different. Maybe people all over the country discovered this long ago, but for me it was a brand new idea. Why not, I thought, grill it in olive oil? That stuff is actually good for you, and I do like the taste of it. Restaurants serve herbed olive oil for bread dipping. How much different would this be?

So, I poured a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan, sprinkled garlic powder into that, and then a very small amount of garlic salt to approximate the salty taste butter leaves on a grilled sandwich.

And that was it. As soon as one side was done, I took it out, removed the pan from the heat long enough to add more oil and garlic, did the other side of the sandwich, and sat down to sample it.

It was great! In fact, it was so great, I can honestly say I prefer it to butter. Proof of how good it was is that I didn’t think to get a photo until I had only a couple bites left.

Dare I call it healthy?

Dare I call it healthy?

If the idea of the cheese bothers the cholesterol-conscious, just remember that small portions, now and then, are considered OK. Or, you could try some other kind of cheese for your sandwich, like part-skim mozzarella.

But no matter what you use for the filling, do try the olive oil for the grilling!

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Chip ‘n’ Dales Tails

It has become almost impossible for me to spend a quiet half hour or so with a book and a cup of coffee on my deck.Coffee on the deck

As soon as I settle myself, the little heads begin to appear: some bold, some timid, some old hands at mooching, some new at the trade. I am, you see, the Peanut Lady.

I thought I had come prepared, just in case. I thought the few peanuts I had stuffed in my pocket would be enough. I didn’t expect the aunts, uncles and cousins to all show up, all so sweetly confident that I would have goodies for them. (Actually, if I didn’t always have goodies for them, there might not be quite so many of them. But that’s another issue.)

Twice I made trips back into the house for more peanuts, my book sitting forgotten, my coffee going  cold. And still they kept coming. And so, of course, I kept shooting. Two challenges in that: holding the camera steady and pointed in the right direction in one hand while holding peanuts in another; and making sure my aim is good enough so the chip gets a peanut, not a finger. But I did it, and here are my chips, in living color.

Staring at me from the railing.

Staring at me from the railing.

Sneaking out from behind the grill.

Sneaking out from behind the grill.

Approaching from the deck steps.

Approaching from the deck steps.

Spying on me from the petunia basket.

Spying on me from the petunia basket.

Watch that finger!

Watch that finger!

Taking it  nicely.

Taking it nicely.

Stuffing his cheeks.

Stuffing his cheeks.

Full load and ready to go.

Full load and ready to go.

Posted in Animal antics, Photography | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Temptation in a pan

It started with a drop in temps, and a photo.

After two days of highs in the 40s, gray skies and off-and-on rain, I could feel that old familiar urge coming on–the urge to kick that oven, lying dormant all summer, into high gear and make something really yummy.

This morning, I sliced up three huge red, vine-ripened tomatoes, made from-scratch bread crumbs, grated cheese, snipped herbs from the garden, chopped green onions, added other savory things and produced a yumelicious tomato pie for our noon meal. The house smelled like comfort food for hours.

Not any more, though. Because after that I saw a picture on Facebook. One of my friends had made THREE loaves each of zucchini and apple bread. There they were, lined up in that photo, brown and chunky and tempting.

I immediately thought of the bag of apples that had been sitting for too long in my fridge. I’d used some of them for applesauce a couple times, but that had been a while ago. It was use them or lose them. Maybe an apple pie? I make a mean pie crust, but neither George nor I need that around the house very often.

That bread, though, that I could do. It can be sliced and wrapped and kept in the freezer indefinitely. It makes a nice side to a cup of tea in the evening, or an extra treat if I have to pack George’s lunch when he’s off at a music gig.

I mentioned the idea of apple bread to George as we were having a quick, light supper. He was due to leave for the show he’s playing in for the next six weeks, and his eyes widened at the thought of coming home late at night and finding fresh apple bread. That means, of course, that I had to go through with it. I couldn’t get distracted and decide to make it another day, not when I had planted that epicurean seed.

So, as I type this, two loaves of apple bread are cooling on the counter.

Monica Sawyn photo

Monica Sawyn photo

The house now smells of apples and cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla. I know I’m going to give in and have a piece of that bread long before George makes it home.

If all this is making you hungry, too, here’s the recipe. Feel free to tweak it any way you’d like.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts, or a couple healthy handfuls
3 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300°. Prepare 2 loaf pans with cooking spray. (I don’t like what’s in those sprays, though, so I pour a little olive oil in the pan and use a brush to coat the surfaces.)

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, walnuts and apples in a large bowl. Whisk oil, sugars, eggs, and cinnamon together in another bowl, then add to the flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Pour half into each of the 2 loaf pans.

Bake in oven 60-90 minutes, until toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the finished loaves cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack.

This is also good if you add a little rum flavoring, or even maple. Experiment! That’s what makes each recipe your own.

Now, take a picture, post it on Facebook, and see how many other people we can send scurrying for their baking supplies.

Posted in Food, Humor, Lifestyle | Tagged , | 6 Comments

A candle against the roar

Coffee is perking in the kitchen, and the aroma of hazelnut cream fills the house. One lamp glows in the living room, pushing back the premature grey that presses against the windows.  I’m wearing a warm fleece robe. It’s quiet and peaceful–inside the house.

Outside, in wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour, the trees and even the smaller shrubs are twisting and turning in a frantic dance, flinging water collected from the daylong rains. The incessant wind plays distressing counterpoint to the quiet snufflings of Lady sleeping on the couch. What should be an evening painted in the gold of a setting sun is instead a gloomy, glowering murk.

On my chairside table a candle burns, a blessed candle,

Monica Sawyn Photo

Monica Sawyn Photo

the stub of  one that once burned on the altar at Mass. I usually light it at prayer time; now, it flickers a silent prayer to ward off any harm the storm may be contemplating, a prayer that the winds will abate by the time George heads home from tonight’s performance at Peninsula Players.

The candle isn’t an indication of any untoward fear on my part. Its warm glow is a companion, much like a campfire. In the firearms safety classes I taught years ago, that’s what we told the kids to do if they should get lost: stay where they are, set up an emergency shelter, build a fire, both for warmth and for companionship. It’s not so lonely, we told them, when a fire is flickering at your side.

I’m not lonely, and I’m not worried. But the flame IS friendly, its steady glow a contrast to the bursts of angry wind. And it’s blessed, a reminder that God waits with me, and walks with George and with anyone else who might have to be out on a night like this.

I could turn on the television and prowl through the Amazon Prime offerings, but that would somehow be intrusive. I prefer to drown out the wind with words, here on this page, eventually in the book

Monica Sawyn photo

Monica Sawyn photo

I’m reading, and probably in the psalms of Evening Prayer. Electric noise just doesn’t seem appropriate. The storm is too elemental. It’s best counteracted with other basic elements, like fire, and thoughts, and the house’s silence. How can it be silent in here when I can hear the wind’s roar outside? Tonight, the silence is another sort of companion.

In another two or three hours, George will be home and it will be time for sleep. In the morning, the air will be fresh, and, if predictions are correct, the sun will no longer hide behind overcast skies. Birds, their feathers finally dry, will flock at the feeders, and the chipmunks will come begging to the door.

And tonight’s wind–where will it be? Will it be churning on someone else’s doorstep, or will it have used itself up, tamed into a toothless breeze by the vagaries of weather patterns? I won’t care. It will be a new day, with a new personality, and I’ll enjoy whatever it brings.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Printing myself into history

On the one hand, I feel impelled to do it. On the other, I wonder why I bother.

For a while now, I’ve been warning people that current generations will have no pictorial history because our digital photos are all stored in computers or phones or CDs, all of which will eventually corrupt or become obsolete. If we don’t print things out, someday no one will have access to our memories. How is history preserved that way?

Print some of your photos, I tell people. Choose your favorites, or the most important, have them printed, put them in a scrapbook. LABEL THEM! Even your own memory may fail when it comes to faces and names, and your kids will never figure it out. If it matters.

That mattering is what has me second-guessing myself sometimes.

Chronicling the visit to Mom after her stroke.

Chronicling the visit to Mom after her stroke.

On my several trips to Kansas City to see my sister, I took tons of photos. When my mom got sick last January, I documented our trip to visit her. When we gathered for her 90th birthday the year before that, I snapped everything in sight.

I love looking back at the memories–but will anyone else? Will my kids care? And if they do, what happens after that? Unless I become famous, who will be interested in seeing Mom blowing out her birthday candles, or my daughter cuddling with her dog on the couch? In a hundred years, some historian might like to see what ordinary life looked like in the early 21st century, but I can’t imagine that any of my photos or albums will survive that long.

Nevertheless, I have been systematically converting some of my digital images to printed books, via sources like Mixbook and Vistaprint and even Walgreen’s when it’s a small project. I like the idea of a bound book, with pages containing photos and story. When I left my longtime home in Minnesota, I did a book containing my memories of the North Shore. When I lived in Chicago for a while, I documented the sights and surroundings in a bound volume. Just recently, I finished a 49-page book containing the photos and stories of our life during the past year.

A 90th birthday party that became a family reunion.

A 90th birthday party that became a family reunion.

When you’re a photographer the temptation is to choose only the beautiful photos: the tulips, the colored leaves, the vistas seen while traveling, the birds dining in the backyard feeders. And I did choose some of those. But as the old newspaper adage says, “names (and faces) make news.” Friends who look at the albums, my kids who will someday inherit them, aren’t going to be interested in page after page of scenery and flowers. They’ll want to see people; they’ll want to see the stories in the lives of real people they knew, see them laughing and interacting, working and playing.

So, my latest printed book leaves out the vast majority of my “artsy” photos. Unless I become a famous photographer, no one will really be interested. It does include pictures like George in the barbecue apron I made for him; George peeling apples for our Christmas pie; our musician friends performing on stages throughout the county, Christmas morning presents strewn around the living room, lawn mowing with our beagle “helping.”

I’d like to think that someday, when I’m dead and gone, my kids will get a

Photos remembering the past year of my own life.

Photos remembering the past year of my own life.

bang out of all those images and the stories that go with them. And maybe, just maybe, one or more of them will find their way into a library archives or a museum as a bit of history, my contribution to preserving the life and times of very ordinary people, doing ordinary things. That’s REAL history, not the battles and elections and political machinations we’re force-fed in school.

Until then, I can leave the albums on the coffee table for us or our guests to peruse at will, as permanent a record of our lives as anyone can manage. No matter how much technology may advance and change, it takes no special equipment to read a book or browse a photo album.

And in the end, if it never matters to anyone else, it matters to me now.

Posted in Human behavior, Lifestyle, Memories, Photography, Traditions and customs | 4 Comments

A laundry love affair

I heard the washer give the sigh and click that signals the end of the cycle, and felt a little jolt of anticipation: time to hang the first load on the line.

Some people would read that and think, get a life. Others, I suspect, would know exactly how I feel. There is a mysterious sort of satisfaction that comes with hanging out clothes. In fact, it’s SO satisfying, that I think I might have written about it before.

The WHY eludes me. It’s a very mundane task, and lugging heavy baskets of wet laundry out the door, down the deck steps and across the yard certainly isn’t labor-saving. But once I plop the basket down on the ground, unfold the umbrella spiral of lines and grab for the first clothes pin, I can feel myself relax.

I have a system for hanging, and I’m careful to use up every space on each line to assure there being room for the loads to come. My mind sometimes wanders as I pin one item after another, planning dinner, or remembering conversations, or thinking about the character in whatever book I happen to be reading.

My dog and my laundry--all the comforts of home. Monica Sawyn photo

My dog and my laundry–all the comforts of home. Monica Sawyn photo

Sometimes, though, I’m simply aware of this shirt or that pair of pants, thoughts riffling through my mind like the wind through my linens. There’s George’s tux shirt, so blindingly white and needing always to be ready for the next formal gig; the tie-dyed t-shirt with the guitar on it, made by an online friend we’ve never met; my white knit top that George especially likes; my caftan where I spilled some homemade chocolate ice cream; the cherry-print shirt I made for George that’s always a hit here in cherry land; my plaid seersucker pants that are–HOW old?! They still look great.

I feel the sun on my back, I hear the jays screeching from one tree while goldfinches mew gently from another. Thank you, little birds, for leaving my wash spotless, despite all the times you fly overhead. I smell that lovely combination of damp cloth and summer air, so fresh and clean. There’s no better fragrance for bedding.

Then of course, there are the chipmunks.  We started feeding one, and then there were two, and this year a crop of young ones learned about the humans who carry peanuts with them. It’s not long, as I hang the clothes, that I hear a rustling behind me and turn to see a little brown head peeking out from under the shed, bright eyes riveted on me.

No peanut too big, no cheek too small. Monica Sawyn photo

No peanut too big, no cheek too small. Monica Sawyn photo

I quickly offer peanuts in their shell–one for one cheek, one for the other, and a third to be grasped by the front teeth. Off he goes, tail straight in th air, feet flying, peanuts rattling audibly in their shells, to his lair. He’ll be back. As long as I’m out there hanging clothes, he’ll be back.

Sometimes I confess I walk outside just to watch the clothes swinging in the breeze, knowing that I’ve given them new life, and I’ve done it not just because it needed to be done, but because I like doing it. I like knowing that George will open the closet and know he’ll find clean, ironed shirts and folded, paired socks. It’s so domestic it’s almost disgusting; but then, doing things for others is what brings joy to life.

And maybe, in the end, that’s the answer. Line drying keeps me involved in a way that dumping clothes in a machine doesn’t do. I’m not willing to extend that to the wash part; you won’t see me hunched over a scrub board any time soon. But give me clothes line and clothes pins, a soft breeze, singing birds and begging chipmunks, and I’ll be eminently satisfied.

Posted in Animal antics, Lifestyle, Reflection | 2 Comments

You can’t be blind for this date

My camera and I have been angling for a date with the big fella for a long time. He’s always got an excuse.

Either it’s too windy, or there’s too much cloud cover, or it’s too cold, or it’s too late. Finally, the last time there was a full moon, I said, “This is it. Show up, on time, no disguises, and smile brightly at me.”

So, of course, I was the one who couldn’t make it. He was due to ascend over Burlington Bay around 4:10 p.m., casting a pearlized path along the water all the way to the shore.  At that time of year, the sun wouldn’t even have set yet. That’s perfect. Good light for the moon, good light for the landscape, the best of both worlds.

But I couldn’t be there then. You might know he’d save his biggest-this-year performance for a Saturday night when I had to be at church.   But maybe, I thought, maybe when he’s done flirting with all those other folks who’ll be there for the grand entrance, there will be time enough for him and me, backstage. I was counting on it.

I knew the rendezvous wouldn’t be at Burlington Bay, though. By the time I got out of church, at 5:30 or so, he’d be too high in the sky. He’d be smaller, and it would be darker, so there would be no surrounding trees or landscape features to enhance him. Our tryst would be too much in the open. Trysts need ambience, and we needed ours.

The answer lay south just about a quarter mile. Two Harbors’ big red lighthouse, sitting on the point of land that divides one bay from another, might make a perfect foreground. A newly rising moon would be hidden by the lighthouse, but one that had been up for an hour or so should be in just about the right location.

I had prepared. The tripod was in the van, and my camera was with me in church so it would stay warm. As soon as Mass was over, I headed out.


It was an evening made for the moon and me.

Monica Sawyn photo

Monica Sawyn photo

He was full of himself, and Lighthouse Point was awash with his glow. So was I. The haze in the sky only diffused his light over a wider area, spilling it onto the lighthouse and the snow-covered landscape. I could see my camera controls because of him, and I knew he was feeling photogenic.

I have no idea why I was the only one out there. The night was still, with temps in the 20s—balmy, by most of the winter’s standards.  I knew that whitetail deer likely hovered just out of sight; and an owl or two probably surveyed me from some unseen perch. But human critters were conspicuous by their absence.

Those who weren’t here were inside somewhere. To them, nighttime was the dark specter pressing against their windows, the black hole that had absorbed their view of the world. To them, nighttime in winter is the end of activity. It’s the time for fireplace fires and television shows. Oh, what they’re missing.

I glanced around the deserted space and congratulated myself for having the good sense to be out there when I could have it all to myself. I looked up at the sky and saw myself reflected in a few scattered stars through the breaks in the haze. I felt as infinitesimal as they seemed to my eyes.


I fiddled with the exposure, knowing that where I metered would matter. Aim for the big guy and everything else would silhouette; aim for the dark, and he’d turn into an overpowering glow. I settled for something halfway in between. Photography is often a compromise. A graduated neutral density filter might have helped, but I’m shy on equipment and big on making do.

As I clicked, readjusted, clicked again, tried a vertical, tried a horizontal, refocused, and snapped— he kept smiling at me. This date had been a long time coming, and it sure seemed like we were both having a good time. I went home feeling pretty special.

(With apologies. This is a column from my archives, which first appeared elsewhere, back in the days when I lived in Two Harbors, Minn.)

Posted in Humor, Photography | 2 Comments

Photography for Dummies

I’ve never checked, but I’m sure by now someone has put out one of those “…for Dummies” books about photography.

They’re bound to be better than those horrible manuals that come with most cameras—the kind where a term on p. 20 refers you to p. 50 which again refers you back to p. 20; or that tells you what a particular setting means, but doesn’t tell you why you’d ever want to use it or even how to use it. Those should be called “Manuals BY Dummies.”

For most photographers, the important lessons come in the field, by trial and error, by happy accident, by necessity or sudden inspiration. I’ve made a list of my favorites.

  • No matter how much you love your dog, leave him home when you’re serious about taking photos. You’ll either spend all your time wondering where he is,
    Monica Sawyn photo

    Monica Sawyn photo

    watching him scare off that deer you were hoping to shoot, or muttering under your breath when he’s just come to investigate with his big feet whatever it is you’re peering at so intensely with your macro lens. And unless you’ve trained him to sit, stay and don’t move, photographing with a dog on a leash is an exercise in futility.
  • Be counter-cultural when it comes to the weather. When you wake up and hope to take photos, and you look outside and see sun and blue skies, go back to bed. It might be good picnic weather, but the sun will make the photos too contrasty unless you have a lot of fancy filters, and it will ALWAYS be shining in the wrong direction when you’ve found the perfect subject. A nice cloudy day gives you lots more options. Even better than that are the stormy days, when the clouds are angry and create great backdrops; or—my personal favorite—foggy days, when ordinary scenes become mystical when shrouded in nature’s damp veils. Here’s a rule: if you want good, dramatic photography days, think “duck hunting weather.”
  • Develop the 180-degree rule. When you’ve just composed a great shot, turn around and see what’s behind you. I’ve been surprised by that simple maneuver many times. I remember shooting a glorious red sunrise, then turning around and finding all the birch trees behind me
    Monica Sawyn photo

    Monica Sawyn photo

    awash with a pink glow. The resulting photo was almost better than the sunrise. Another time, after shooting an angry Lake Superior, with white caps and wave surges and a glowering sky, I looked behind me and saw a lone pine tree on a hill, standing straight and strong against black storm clouds creeping up behind it. Again, the resulting photo was more dramatic than the first one.
  • Take one last look. After you’ve gleaned an area for all its good shots (a silly thing to say, since you’ll never get them all) and you’re heading back down the trail, or to your car, or back in the house, turn around and take one last look. It’s a bit like the 180 rule. But in this case, you’re not really looking. You think you’re done, your brain slips into another mode—and that’s when Nature throws one last opportunity at you. It happened to me one day down at the waterfront, shooting clouds over various horizons.
    Monica Sawyn photo

    Monica Sawyn photo

    When I’d decided I had enough clouds for the next 10 years, I put the camera in the case, got in the van, and looked back the way I’d come. And there it was: a young maple tree on the rise, hunched against the wind, its branches flung to one side, framing the breakwater and the lake beyond. In the thousands of times I’ve been to the waterfront, I’d never seen that particular shot. Needless to say, I grabbed the camera back out of its case and aimed one last time.

Now that I look at them, those “rules” are all about doing the unexpected. And the unexpected is what makes a photograph something that’s art, rather than just a snapshot that thousands of other people have taken.

Posted in Living with a dog, Photography | 4 Comments

Don’t panic, I intend to stay normal

When I first started working at a newspaper, eons ago, I saved every article I wrote, no matter how small and insignificant. It didn’t take long to drop that habit.

Then, as I moved into doing features and, eventually, writing my own column, I started saving again–but only the ones that I particularly liked. I guess I thought they’d come in handy someday. They never did.

Five years ago, I moved twice in columnstwo years to two different states, and lots of things got lost in the shuffle–including those saved articles and columns. This past week, however, one of them resurrected itself, and I have my mom to thank for it. As moms do, she also saved some of my work, and in her most recent letter, she included one of them.

I thought it would be fun to reprint it. Bear in mind that it was written 10 years ago, when Mom, my sister and I all lived in the same town. Now, we don’t even live in the same state. But, as this column shows, we share some fun memories. The column follows:

Don’t panic, I intend to stay normal

I consider myself a fairly conservative person.

A few bright colors here and there, a few outlandish remarks now and then, but nothing too head-turning, too out of the ordinary.

How then have I ended up with biker chicks in the family?

These didn’t enter by way of marriage. These would be my mother and my sister. My 81-year-old mother. My 53-year-old sister. Women who were, until this past Saturday, pretty normal.

I’ll admit my artist mother does put together some unusual collages, and she paints furniture in designs that would stand out on a dark night. My sister does insist on wearing purple and red together, or purple and green, and the earrings on one ear never match the earrings on the other.

I’d gotten used to those things, however. They didn’t stop the two of them from doing normal things like going to Mass every Sunday, watching family-type movies, shopping at the mall, making Christmas lists and eating on their deck.

So, I was unprepared for the momentous announcement, for the grand unveiling, when they stopped over on Sunday.

“Guess what Mom and I did yesterday?” was my sister’s opening challenge. Millions of possibilities, but she insisted I take a stab at it.

“It’s something that will last forever,” she hinted.

“You bought plots in the cemetery,” I offered. They weren’t amused. She tried again.

“We went someplace you’d never expect us to be.”

“A Baptist revival meeting?” I guessed. I was obviously way off the track with that one, too.

Recognizing me as a lost cause, they both reached down at the same time and raised their pant legs. I saw, on each of their legs, just above the ankle, a tattoo. I was determined to handle this correctly.

“Oh sure, but they’re not permanent,” I said, hardly raising an eyebrow, refusing to be bamboozled by temporary daring-do.

Via Bing Images

Via Bing Images

“You don’t think they’re real, do you?” my sister asked, obviously delighted that I had underestimated both of them. I still wasn’t quit ready to admit that these erstwhile normal women had flipped their lids. If the tattoos were real, what would be next–studs in the nose? Rings in their lips?

I didn’t want to overreact. I didn’t want to set myself up to hear “fooled you!”  So, I calmly waited for them to spill the real story.

It appeared, however, that the real story is what they had given me. These were real tattoos, the indelible, inscribed-with-needles, won’t-wash-off type. A butterfly for my sister, a dragonfly for Mom.

Into my mind flashed the image of these two very straight women, sauntering into a “tattoo parlor,” slinging their legs up on a table, and waiting for the painful process to begin. I could just imagine the looks of shock on the faces of the tattoo artists.

That scenario wasn’t far from wrong. Except that, instead of shocking the ink-and-needle artists, Mom and Sis delighted them.

butterflyThey got asked what made them do it. “Because I’ve always wanted to” was basically both their answers, to which their artists responded, “Cool.”

They caused a stir when it was learned they were a mother-daughter duo, and another one when Mom’s age was announced. She set a record for being the oldest they’d done in that shop.

My sister is on a roll. She’s talking about her next piece of artwork. Mom has decided she’s been brave enough for one lifetime.

But when they both turned their eyes on me, I just shook my head. I’ve heard my makeup called “war paint,” and that’s as good as it’s going to get.

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