Seen Better Days: Barns

Manitoulin Island, Canada

I was immediately pulled into Tina’s Len-Artist Photography Challenge: Seen Better Days. Maybe I can related because my body has seen better days. I love photographing barns and the barns that catch my attention have changed over the past 12 years. I started wanting to photograph old, falling down barns, then I was more attracted to barns with unique architectural features or color, then I enjoyed photographing working barns, and now I find my favorite barns are those that have character. Maybe that same kind of character I attribute to my body; warn out from years of good use but still serviceable and maybe can be patched up a bit with proper care. These categories of barns aren’t mutually exclusive as I’m driving down dirt roads but as I have gotten more photography time under my belt (that has gotten a bit bigger) I have gotten more selective. Here are some of my favorites from over the years.

Vermont, U.S.
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Down a Dirt Road in Michigan

This next barn was taken this past week as I was going down quiet country roads looking for fall color. I saw the beautiful doors, put on the breaks, and did a U turn. I have been noticing in our travels through Michigan this summer that many barns are getting renewed with this sheet siding. It doesn’t have the patina and character of wooden boards, but it preserves barns for another generation or two.

Love those doors!

After I took the photos I wanted, I had to turn around and there was a drive to another house close by. I was excited because this also gave me an excellent opportunity to photograph the barn from another angle without drawing attention by noticeably trespassing. This barn had truly seen better days before the owners decided to give it some hope for the future. Is this a lesson for those of us who are struggling with the impact of living in aging bodies while our minds are saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to…”? Maybe it just reminds us to “patch, patch, patch.”

My last barn was chosen just because it made me smile. I don’t remember the photograph and have no idea where I took it. It is dated 2014 and the file is named Amish country, encompassing a large area to the south of where I live. The slight tilt (didn’t straighten with editing) and the architectural features make it seem slightly inebriated. I wonder if Moonshine had been made in this barn at some time in it’s history?

This & That from My Dot on the Map

Last week I was sitting in my reading room by an open window doing some sudoku puzzles, wondering what deep-in-my-brain memory the sounds and feel of the day were eliciting. It was the experience of late summer when the kids were back in school and all was quiet except for some distant sounds, like maybe a rooster crowing and a tractor in a far away field. Maybe the memories are from long ago on the small urban farm where my grandparents lived. It really doesn’t matter where the associations are buried in my brain because they are of late summer and they are so very sweet.

We were having a period of perfect weather (except for some violent storms), more typical of September than the middle of August here at my dot on the map in Michigan. The days were pleasantly warm in the high 70s/low 80s F. with low humidity and a gentle, cool breeze. The nights were cool enough to sleep under a light quilt with windows open to the sounds of the night chirpers. Many times during the day I stopped to breath deeply and slip into the relaxed state of being that I experience at this time of season.

The bees know fall is coming!

I took refuge in this place where past and present weather-triggered experiences are intermingle, especially taking refuge from the horrors that are happening in Afghanistan, the frightening politics of the far right, and the rising threats of the Delta variant, and all the climate-related disasters. I am trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I can experience the joys of life while there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Does my breakthrough guilt make any sense? I wonder if there is a spiritual connection where I can shed some tears to lighten the burden of some mother and daughter who fears Taliban rules, rape and death?

I am having trouble finishing this post because I continue to be consumed with finding a better work-flow for getting my images from my new camera into Lightroom. In the meantime the dog-days of late summer have hit my dot on the map. It has been hot and humid for the past week and now early fall weather is just something to look forward to.

My flower garden has that late summer look where spring bloomers have either been trimmed back or need to be and summer bloomers are going to seed. Whereas spring has the exuberant energy of new growth and greening trees, and summer has the explosion of blooming flowers and lush dark-green trees, early fall has a tired look. My garden has mostly completed its yearly cycle of reproducing itself through seeds with only asters, sedums and mums yet to bloom (and maybe my morning glory). I enjoy this tired look because it reflects what I experience on good day, the tiredness of work well done. I look at my garden and smile because it is doing such a good job and now I will do my fall chores to keep it healthy.

I need to spend some time this fall thinning out buttercups and daisies that have gone beyond their allotted spaces. I also have to dig out where grasses are taking hold in the middle of clumps. Not easy work for me but I will be more relaxed when it is finished. Weeds tend to stress me out. There are some summer bloomers, like cone flowers and bee balm, that are here and there due to silly planting or self-seeding that I want to put together. Once I get into my fall routine in the garden, I find joy in cleaning up and making it all tidy for next spring. I am given encouragement to keep working by day lilies and irises who are sending up new shoots to get some of the remaining light before they go to sleep for the winter.

Even as this year’s garden is finishing up, I am looking toward future years. As soon as I get all this work done, I will take some photos of the bare bones of my garden to study and mark up as I’m thinking of shifting the ratio of my mixed garden. I think I will be going more towards small evergreens and flowering shrubs with my favorite flowers as fillers in between. If I don’t make these changes I don’t think our aging bodies will be able to maintain this home and we will be looking for a condo. That may mean giving up my purple porch swing.

A Little Bit of This & That on Aging

We visited Mission Point Peninsula going north from Traverse City (the pinky part of the Michigan mitten) a few weeks ago. One of the stops we made was to walk around the lighthouse that used to guide ships to either the east or west forks of Grand Traverse Bay. As we were getting in the car to leave I noticed these sandals that some child took off but didn’t pick up when s/he got in the car. Someone had hung them on the tree sapling, a flag signaling to the parents who may return to the scene of the crime. A silent giggle worked its way up from my tummy and I took a photo. In post processing I decided to use an aged photo color filter that had a warm tone, reflecting the warm feeling this scene elicited of memories past. No wonder I sometimes have a hard time remembering a word I need to express myself, my brain is filled to overflowing with the memories that are woven together to make my life story.

We cleaned the deck today, scrubbing off an accumulation of dirt and green stuff growing where the sun doesn’t reach, rinsing away dropped bird seed and bird droppings. At first we scrubbed side by side, feeling clumsy and awkward as we almost seemed to be working against each other, no pattern or plan. About the time that I felt tired and thought I would have probably stopped if Jim wasn’t working with me, we seemed to settle into assigned tasks without saying a word. He continued on the rails as I scrubbed the floor. We worked, usually in silence, until it was almost completed – when we could look around and tell each other how good it looked. Our aging bodies had grown tired, pain building in my hips and back, and one of us said s/he was going in to rest for a while and the other followed. I am thankful that fifty-some years of marriage has resulted in a dance that allows us to glide through our life tasks with a functional grace.

I feel late summer in the air, and this week we have a delightful break from what could be the dog-days-heat of late summer. The daytime highs have been in the low seventies with a cool northern breeze and nights in the 50’s. Some of the annuals in the pots on the back deck are getting leggy or died from either too much rain or too much heat. Many of the perennials in the front garden are finishing up their blooming so I need to spend some time each day deadheading to keep things looking tidy so the fall blooming plants can strut their stuff to full effect. The front beds are pretty big and I’ve been wondering how much longer I will be able to tend to them. The beds are now planted mainly with perennials with a few bushes and shrubs for winter interest. I think I may start gradually changing the balance so there are more evergreens and flowering shrubs, with perennials as accents. But not this year because I added several new perennials and have some mail-ordered iris coming sometime this month. My aging strategy tends to be a combination of staying engaged to the extent my body will allow while planning for how I can make life simpler for when I have to give some things up.

One of my new coneflowers. What a delicious color.

Kindness

I wrote this post in 2012 after reading a creative essay in a professional journal written by Dr. Scholten, entitled Kindness. This essay was especially potent because she has experienced being both the doctor who is appreciated by patients and then a patient who feels gratitude towards her doctor. So often we wish that our doctor could be in our shoes, could experience the emotional turmoil we experience, that can only be touched through kindness. Sure we need doctors that are competent and capable but there are times when these qualities don’t go far enough – we need something more. We also need kindness.

Dr. Scholten provides healthcare to refugees in Canada and she begins her story by saying that she had helped an Eritrean couple who were new refugees to Canada and facing an unplanned pregnancy. They came to her office for the last time before continuing with an obstetrician and the husband expresses his deep gratitude to her with a small speech. Obviously she had touched them deeply with her caring and help. She writes, however, that she is “embarrassed that I’m thanked for dispensing something that cost me nothing: no education, no honing of skill, no effort. I’d rather be thanked for diagnostic prowess or a deftly performed procedure.” It is clear in her statement that she underestimates the importance of her kindness and she believes technical skills and intellect are much more important. She writes that she forgets their gratitude as soon as she ushers them out. What happens next in her story, however, gives her a new perspective:

Seated in my doctor’s office, I’m in the chair tucked right next to his desk. This is the first visit that I haven’t sat casually on the exam table with my legs dangling over the side, the first time I haven’t popped in for something routine like a vaccination or contraception or a prenatal visit, where we talk shop and I ask about his daughter, a medical school classmate. This time, I’m here to follow up a disastrous ending to a second-trimester pregnancy. He knocks on the door, steps in, gives me a long, sober look as he slowly closes the door, sits down. He sits in silence. I can’t look at him. Finally I force myself to talk, exhausted, crying, despairing and he listens. He leans over his desk, arms folded on it, looking down. Eventually I look at him, at his solemn white-bearded face, and I note that he is flushed. His eyes are damp. And I realize that he is moved by my distress, and I am completely taken aback.

If we have a chronic illness or a serious diagnosis, we can understand her experience. We have sat before a doctor in all our emotional nakedness, overwhelmed by a mix of sadness, fear, shame – feeling very vulnerable and helpless. At that moment we appreciate “diagnostic prowess or a deftly performed procedure” but it isn’t all we need. At that moment what we also need, what helps us heal, what has a lasting impact on us is “kindness.”

This encounter had an impact on Dr. Scholten because she thinks about it repeatedly over the next few weeks. She continues to feel comforted by the fact that he just sat there giving her all the time she needed, that he was moved by her distress. She goes on to say, “His kindness is more dear to me than anything he’s done for our family over the years, even his delivery of my daughter.”  Dr. Scholten seems to have been humbled by her experience as a patient, recognizing that she has “been wielding something powerful without any respect for it.” This power is the impact that doctors can have on us when they allow themselves to be drawn into our emotional pain for a few minutes.

We are deeply touched when our doctor hears and understands when we are experiencing the fear that comes when our body has failed us and we don’t know how to fix it – or maybe fear that our painful, broken body will never be fixed.

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I found this post as I was reading some of my earliest post when I started my blog ten year ago. This was written when I was experiencing the fear, pain, sorrow and frustration of having fibromyalgia and struggling to regain a somewhat normal life. I was reliant on my doctor for medical help with medications and life-style advice but also for understanding and emotional support. Ten years have passed and I have learned how to manage FM, but Jim and I are now struggling with medical problems due to our aging bodies. I wrote this essay to help me better understand my experiences at the time, and it feels like I wrote it to help me express what I am needing now, ten years later, as I am dealing with aging.

I am also thinking that this isn’t just about the doctor/patient relationship but about all relationships. We need people in our lives who listen and hear us, who care. Neighbors Connie & Steve stopped to chat last night as they were doing their evening walk around the block and we were doing some work in our yard. They asked about Jim’s surgery on Wednesday and we continued to talk about health issues, ending with a laugh about how that is all we talk about when we get together with friends. Yes, we do talk about health issues because health issues are scary, and the older you get the more health issues there are. What we are looking for is kindness. The kindness that happens when people listen, understand, and care. The kindness that comes when people make themselves vulnerable before others by sharing what is making them feel vulnerable. These interactions involve needing emotional help and having others understand and respond in a way that says “I care.” What I beautiful gift we received from Connie and Steve, in our driveway as four old people chatted about life. It was a gift that made our life beautiful.


Scholtens, M. (2011). Kindness. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 467-478.

Copyright © Patricia A. Bailey and I Miss Me, Too/imissmetoo.me 2012.

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Sunday This & That

We just returned from spending four nights in our travel trailer midway up Michigan’s Lower Peninsula over towards Lake Michigan. We didn’t go for any particular reason except to be away from home for a little bit in a place that we enjoy visiting. On our second day we decided we wanted to go over the Big Mac Bridge to St. Ignase to get a pastie (short ‘a’ as in past} from Bessie’s – they make the very best and we have been known to plan vacations so we go through St. Ignace at the right time to go to Bessie’s. It wasn’t a short drive – two & a half hours each way but we knew it was worth it. Problem: Bessie’s wasn’t open when we got there early afternoon. Maybe they weren’t open for the season yet, in the U.P. June can sometime feel like very early spring, or (Good-God-No) they were closed for good. But they weren’t making pasties and we didn’t have a plan B because we (or I) knew they would be open. We were hungry so we pulled into a restaurant back on the main road that had outside seating. They had pasties so our plan was for Jim to order one and I would order the white fish basket and we would share. The waiter said they didn’t have white fish (this is a restaurant just a couple of hours south of White Fish Point on Lake Superior – how could they not have white fish???) We both ordered pasties and had a fun meal even though their pasties weren’t very good. At that point it seemed a very long way to go for a pastie but we had the excitement of going over the Big Mac, something that never gets old for us.

I was sitting at the table one morning drinking my second cup of coffee, working sudoku puzzles and half watching the man camping next to us clean the roof of his big fifth-wheeler trailer. I think they have the site for the whole summer and Randy was up there scrubbing and patching and doing those things he felt he need to do to have a well-maintained summer home. I heard a noise-of-fright from Randy and then his wife started yelling up to him to “Rinse on your knees! Rinse on your knees, Randy!” He snapped back that she was “treating him like a very old man” (they appeared to be in their late 50’s).

I remember those exchanges in our marriage. I remember feeling offended when Jim became overprotective, just wanting too keep me safe when I was doing something I felt confident doing, something a young person would feel confident doing. I remember back a few years ago when I didn’t like it when people treated me as being old. I remember making sure I moved with confidence so people wouldn’t think my aches and pains were because of old age.

I don’t have that problem any more, probably because now I know that I’m old (but not really, really old). I’m old enough where I appreciate Jim’s help and how our children seem to be watching, ready to step in if needed – but I’m not so old that I want strangers to think of me as old. I want to be perceived as active and involved and healthy (for my age). But I did notice that we seemed to be the old couple over there on site #50. Old people seem to be easily ignored, is what I’m experiencing lately.

Wishing you times of joy and fun during the coming week. If you haven’t been vaccinated, please do so for yourself and the people who love you.