Aging with Character

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This one stopped us. We picked yesterday for our weekly photo shoot because it was the only day that promised sunshine. Reality required that we delay departure for an hour because of icy roads and there were heavy clouds – all day – not a single ray of sunshine.

20141219-DSC_0002We hung on to the hope that the clouds would clear, and headed to the northwest. We haven’t spent time in this area and found lots of dirt roads we didn’t know existed. There were many interesting subjects, mostly barns, but we passed on by because we agreed they needed a spot of evening or morning sun. We hope we remember how to find them again.

This two-story house stopped us – we lingered with the car running – we talked about it – we opened the doors to the cold and grabbed our cameras. This building has character that was enhanced by the cloudy day.

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We spent some time discussing why some dilapidated buildings have character and others don’t. I’m intrigued with this idea of aging with character – probably because I am aging and I want to do it with grace and character.

20141219-DSC_0014There is definitely different criteria for beauty when we age – with associated challenges. I see so many faces that don’t fit our standard for human beauty (young and new, for starters) but have character and within that character have beauty. I find it hard to see beauty in my aging face when anti-aging serums are hawked by 20-somethings. Did I fail to use the right products so my face wouldn’t have wrinkles, “aging” spots, and stray hairs?

Maybe this house has character because it has some adornment. It is on the same property, close to the owners and it seems like they have staged this falling down structure – just a little bit. They seem to love it – and seem proud of it. It feels cared for in a subtle sort of way.

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I don’t see aged beauty in faces and bodies that are overly kept. Lots of make-up, gold, diamonds, and elegant (expensive) clothing that are used to cover signs of aging seem to also disguise character. Maybe this is an unfair cultural issue as I’m not from a wealthy background. Maybe what I look for is authenticity, being true to who we are. This home was never big and grand – but being true to it’s humble background, it has character. We also saw a very large, grand old home that was crumbling. It had authenticity and character and beauty (but needed a touch of sun to highlight color). I feel comfortable with people from all stations of life and see beauty in their faces and bodies if they are being authentic – if they have pride in where they came from and confidence in who they are.

Character can come from having a past, maybe even some hints at secrets that aren’t totally divulged. I didn’t notice the stones on the ledge of this upstairs window until I was post-processing it. How did they get there, what is their meaning? How are these remnants of the past maintained while the structure collapses?

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The aging friends who I enjoy the most are those who have had a past filled with joy and pain, excitement and tedium – and they aren’t afraid to look at their past straight on. They are confident because they embrace both successes and failures in their past. They are transparent but know when not to divulge. We seem to like a sense of mystery, don’t we.

What is interesting is that we are always becoming. This brings a sense of excitement to me as I am living this day. There will be new challenges and I will need to learn how to live into them with integrity. Julie and I talked about how nature, and also structures built with natural materials, eventually are reclaimed by the earth. This building is being reclaimed and I know my body will also someday be reclaimed by the earth and that is as it should be. This doesn’t seem morbid or depressing because I know my spirit will live on in the lives of the people I have touched.

And I remember my faith story at this season of Christmas. I have found no better model for living than the story of Christ’s life here on earth and the promises he made to me about death. This old house touched me, and maybe I don’t have to worry about having character as long as I maintain loving relationships and live true to my faith.

Nice & Easy Does It

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What a hoot watching ducks walk on ice. It seems like certain conditions call for adaptations from all of us. Even funnier was watching birds fly in for a landing on ice. All things considered, a graceful slide while remaining on his feet (although the tail does seem to be dragging).

MSU Bird Sanctuary 078-2 I am so thankful for the two times I have been able to get out with camera in hand and the companionship of friend Julie. When in Florida, I forget how hard the cold weather is on my body and the grey sky is on my morale. I know what I need to do to keep pain and fatigue at manageable levels but there are still times when I do everything right and still have a bad body day.

Yesterday was one of those days when my firm footing became precarious. I don’t know why – maybe just a change in atmospheric pressure. Every cell of my body hurt at some point and my attitude was shameful. I was irritable with a friend who called to invite us to supper later in the week: speak of biting the hand that feeds me. JB could see I was having trouble, even before I started crying. He tried to hold me but I wouldn’t let him because it hurt, both physically and emotionally. Usually bad body days aren’t accompanied by a bad attitude – I just use those days as rest days finding quiet things to do while sitting in my favorite chair.

This morning I woke up refreshed, body feeling relatively good, and my mind sharp and happy. I was active today, being sure to allow time for periodic rests. And I’ve decided to give myself an early Christmas present (besides the new CD player I ordered). I have decided that every day doesn’t have to be an isn’t-life-great day where I am joyful and thankful. In my heart I am full of joy and gratitude, but there are days when the ice is just too slippery and I fall on my tush. I refuse to be grateful for my really bad body days. I’m going to grumble a lot and do what I need to do to make the next day better.

That decision feels really good – and everyone else is just going to have to deal with it. That is what I do best – just dealing with it. And on this good day I’m sending all of you peace, love, joy, and lots of hugs. And maybe there is a special gift you need to give yourself.

A Nippily Michigan Morning

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“Nature has a great simplicity and, therefore, a great beauty. ” – Richard Feynm

I was looking forward to my return to Michigan so I could go out with Julie on our early morning excursions down dirt roads. One of the blessings of winter in the northern half of the northern hemisphere is that morning doesn’t come as early – nothing much happens in a camera lens before 8:00.

What I discovered, however, is that I have somewhat of a disconnect in my brain. I have lived through 70 winters in Michigan so I know how cold it can get. But when I was thinking about winter photography in Michigan, as I was floating in the pool in southern Florida, I somehow combined Michigan summer, with Florida winter, and snowy fields.

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When I put on my ear muffs and gloves at the Michigan State University Bird Sanctuary (our first outing) and walked down the path to the ponds, I felt the wake-up call of a Michigan winter morning.

And my senses did wake up. Anyone who lives in the cold knows it has a special scent. Maybe I smelled the lingering traces of snow. There were little piles of it that I almost missed because there was so much more to see on the bare winter landscape.

I closed my eyes as I felt the chill against my face. And I listened to the stillness, the only sound being the Trumpet Swans that we came to see.MSU Bird Sanctuary 035-2

A little giggle escaped as I experienced memory stacked on memory of this special kind of cold on an almost-still, clear winter morning. My eyes teared up from joy – or maybe from the cold.

20141211-DSC_0417More joy came on the next week’s slightly colder, frosty morning drive down dirt roads. Everything looks different in the soft winter sun, sitting low in the south. Frost outlines fallen leaves and perches upon seed pods.

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What amazes me most on a sunny winter day is the color. The endless cloudy days cast a dingy pallor on the land that is lifted with a rising sun. The ordinary looks very different when the green of summer has turned to gold and brown and orange. These colors are contrasted with the blues of frosty shadows.

Except for the occasional deer, Canadian Goose, raccoon or squirrel, the world stands still in a northern winter. Not much is happening as the earth waits for the sun to get higher in the sky and the jet stream to move back to Canada. I remember all those years when winter called me to hibernation, a slowing down as I waited for the gradual changes that indicated that winter was moving towards spring.

I must be in the winter of my life, because now I hear the call of the snow birds bidding me to fly south to wait out the long, still, silence of winter. But I do enjoy a few nippily winter mornings.

I found the quote at Heather’s blog, Our Adventures Up North. She lives up toward Traverse City where they get more lake-effect snow off Lake Michigan and colder temperatures. She is a hiker and a great photographer who shares the Northern Michigan landscape with her readers. You will enjoy visiting her.