The whoosh of wings overhead swoops downward as a giant bald eagle dives toward two loons, who rapidly dive to avoid his massive talons. A slight fog is beginning to lift as cool meets warm over the lake, and a tint of rust is starting to reveal itself among the trees. After a bout of overcast, gray, cloud-filled skies and constant drizzle, it’s warm, already sunny, and about to be a perfect lake day in the Adirondacks. I sit here with you in an Adirondack “Westport” chair — which has been on this dock since 1902 — iPad in hand where previous generations used pen and ink for their waterfront missives.
A Busy Day
Today the lake will be a flurry of activities. There are sailing awards, with the transfer of 120-year-old silver sailing cups that the winners display for the coming year before their return for the next recipients. The traditional Labor Day tea will bring the lake community out in its finest and will end with sadness and hugs to community members who will depart tomorrow until next summer. We are among the few who will remain, but just through the first freeze, since our only source of heat is a wood stove in the kitchen and a couple of drafty old fireplaces.
A Lifetime in One Place
We are the sixth family who has owned this old camp, which was built in 1894, and my hope is that we can keep it in our family for multiple generations going forward, so they too can enjoy the beauty, the fresh air, the flavorful water, summers of lake life, deep multi-generational friendships and community. Yet as I listen to stories of families on the lake, some have outlived their ability to maintain their property, while others sold because of family arguments over significant decisions. Others have managed to document how things are to be done and put enough away in investments to keep the upkeep and taxes paid and family traditions alive. There are people here who have spent part of every year of their lives on this lake, including people in their 80s and 90s, some of whom are part of a fifth generation to come here.
I care deeply about traditions because I find them to be important for families to connect and stay connected. When my dad first moved onto this lake in 1987, he told us that it was his goal to keep us here for generations. At the time we did not understand the importance, but after 30-plus summers here (sometimes for only a day or a week, other times for several weeks), I realize that it kept our family together. Cousins, aunts, and uncles gathering as a family whenever possible. Camping, canoeing, campfire s’mores and songs, teepee ceremonies, breakfasts cooked over a wood stove in a small cabin, picnics on islands in the lake, puzzles on the corner card table, canoe pictures in the same spot at the end of each summer for the last 20 years, hymn singing on Sunday nights, and reconnection with people you often don’t see the rest of the year.
My kids are starting to see the value of tradition, as one family member was unable to spend time with us this year, and it wasn’t the same. When cousins, aunts, and uncles can’t make it up because of new babies, busy work life, or health issues, things never feel quite the same. That’s why I want my kids to embrace tradition and keep it alive for their kids, grandkids, and beyond. The cost of not doing it is much greater than the cost of doing it, because of the deep importance of consistent family gatherings.
What are your family traditions?
Creating traditions is hard. Keeping old ones alive is a chore, and making new ones stick is even harder. In our house the annual trip for a Christmas tree is coveted, which we realized when our adult kids reminded us that we all need to go get a tree together, then decorate it together with Christmas music. Traditions involve meals, certain foods, family outings, vacations together, Friday night movies, and so much more. My kids even love the tradition of stuffing bags and registering people at my spring Adirondack painters’ retreat, and a new tradition of working at the Plein Air Convention. I hope they will keep the tradition of these events alive when I’m long gone. In my work life, there are traditions at our events, like portrait nights, playing and singing music, even “Lobster Night” when we do Fall Color Week in Maine. The goal of tradition is to be the glue that keeps people together, gives people something to look forward to, and creates a reason to gather.
My goal this year is to create more traditions for family, friends, and even painter friends at my events because I want to create memories.
What are the traditions from your childhood that you remember, maybe with your parents, grandparents, or siblings?
Can you recreate any of those memories for your family or friends?
Were there traditions lost or discontinued because of the last couple of crazy years?
Seek tradition. It makes for a richer life.
PS: Happy Labor Day. Seems like summer went by fast!! It never lasts long enough.
A dirty little secret I probably should not admit. There are times when an event is coming up and I tell myself I’m not looking forward to it because I have to get on an airplane or drive a long distance. But once I show up, I’m immediately re-energized and excited to be with my friends and new acquaintances. There have been times when I’ve told myself that maybe I should stop doing so many, but once I get to an event, I hate for it to end and cannot wait for the next one to begin.
I think this happens to all of us. One older woman told me that she had been to the Plein Air Convention almost every year and always looks forward to seeing her friends and making new ones, but she had decided not to sign up this year. She was busy, worried about viruses, telling herself there were better things to do with the money, not wanting to travel, etc. Yet at the last minute she came, and told me that she couldn’t imagine not being there. She didn’t know what she was thinking by not signing up originally.
We all tend to be enthusiastic when we are present, but when we return to our busy lives, our enthusiasm dies down a little more with each passing day. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of just how much fun we had.
We all live insane lives where we have to balance a lot of things like family, work, caregiving, and more. When we’re in that swamp filled with alligators, we forget that our objective is to drain the swamp. When we live busy lives, we forget that we’re happier when we’ve allocated some rewards or trips or special things for ourselves. I always say it’s like what they say on the airplanes: “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” You and I need things to fulfill our lives, to give us energy, to give us a better outlook. When you do something for yourself a couple of times a year (minimum), even when you have to care for someone, if you can find someone to step in for a week or two here and there, that much-needed break gives you hope.
Moms need a break from dads and kids. Caregivers need a break from the person they are caring for. And though we often feel guilty for doing it, we should realize that rewarding ourselves puts fuel back in our tanks, and that makes us better at taking care of others.
I like to suggest that my team members take two-week vacations when possible, and I tell them not to check email or do any work. Because it takes a week to relax, and then you need a week to heal and play. We all need time for ourselves, and if we don’t take it, stress will take us away or make us sick. Find some way to reward yourself, give yourself something to look forward to. I’ve been looking forward to my New Zealand painting trip for months, and on hard days, when I think about my upcoming time away, it somehow makes things better.
Here are some things happening at my company, Streamline, you might like to know about.
- Fall Color Week Maine is happening in October. It’s been sold out, but we just had a cancellation that might mean one room for two is open.
- Our next online conference, Realism Live, is coming in November. It covers all painting styles that are realistic, from academic realism to impressionism, and it covers all subjects, like portraits, figures, still life, landscapes, animals, and more. We have the very top artists in the world teaching, and we have a Beginner/Refresher Day to bring you up to speed before the event. If you’ve ever thought you might like to try painting or drawing, one attendee last year said it was like a four-year art school course crammed into four days. Yes, even you can do this. Sign up now.
- Watercolor Live is much like Realism, but all watercolor, with the top artists teaching all different approaches and styles. It’s coming in January and would be a great holiday gift.
- We just released a new art instructional art video by Lon Brauer, check it out here!
I’m 74 and cherish our old traditions! Unfortunately , my adult children (In their fifties ) want to make their own traditions. That’s OK with me, but I miss Sunday Dinners, Christmas Eve sing-alongs and nice seated dinner. At those events, the children (previously, my brother and I) did skits or sang songs or read poems they wrote for entertainment during “cocktail” hour. We did the same thing for Thanksgiving. At that gathering, we each spoke about something we’re very thankful for ( my young grandchildren said Malted milk balls and cupcakes! My older granddaughter said new paint brushes and older grandson said playing lacrosse with his grandfather). On May 1st , all children in our community made construction paper May baskets and filled them with flowers, pretty stones or whatever they thought was nice. Then they delivered them to all the old people who lived near us.
These traditions are , for the most part, abandoned , except that on Christmas Eve most of my close relatives came/come to dinner since I serve Maine Lobsters & clams!
Nostalgia will always be a senior citizens’ ache I think. Changes are necessarily a fact of life. I’ll remember past years, smiling to myself. Though I can’t keep up with new technologies ” Mom, you need to get a watch that shows time spent exercising, miles hiked, gps, Email, etc.” I( have trouble reading my new watch that doesn’t show all the numbers, just hand positions!)
Acceptance, optimism, self-confidence and pursuit of our own interests/work and putting nostalgia on the back burner are a satisfying bandaid to disappointments.
As always, thank you for your letters!
I’m looking forward to your October 6th workshop!!!
Happy Labor Day Weekend Eric and family, thank you as always for sharing your insight, experiences and wisdom. Always very valuable for improving and enhancing life. It is also noteworthy to mention the impact family traditions shared with friends. We paint Christmas cookies which I was introduced to by a friends family while visiting during college. Not just the average cookie cutter cookie, but elaborate and often competitive painting on simple sugar cookies – sugar glazed masterpieces. Now for a few generations it has been sown into our family, friends and neighbors lives and their children and soon their grandchildren. Sharing – an eternal act of love and kindness travels across time.