The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #50



List some images that make you happy:

[Funny, isn’t it, how memories attach themselves to photographic images? The image stimulates the memory much like a particular scent will bring back a person, a time or a place. Even when the photograph is no longer around, the mind holds the memory of the image, and the image releases the memory of the actual event. I keep a “collection” of photographic images in my mind, each capable of opening up to another time, and revisiting people who are changed, or gone.]

  • I took a photo of my brother David, when I was sixteen and trying out my brand new Kodak Instamatic camera. David was five years old. We were here on Beaver Island, on vacation, on the beach at Iron Ore Bay. David had stripped down to his underwear, and was headed for the water: hands in the air, arms every which way and legs at a dead run. I caught the moment when both of his feet were in mid-air. David’s been gone from this earth for more than eight years. He was jaundiced and bloated, barely able to walk the last time I saw him. But that spitfire, energy-filled little boy, running through the sand toward the water…that’s the image of David that I hold in my mind.
  • In the mid-seventies, I photographed my two young daughters, sitting together in our living room, in the avocado green beanbag chair. Jen was playing on her little guitar; Kate’s head was tilted onto Jen’s shoulder. Both were singing. Everything in the picture, from their clothes to the beanbag chair, speaks of that time period. And that was a very good time in my life.
  • I took a picture last week of my Christmas tree. Crooked, scrawny and spare as it was, the image makes me happy. The tree did, too, but it turns out my little dog is allergic to it, so it had to go. I picked up a replacement at the re-sale shop (for only three dollars!), and spent an enjoyable evening undressing one tree, and dressing another. The artificial tree doesn’t make Rosa Parks itch, and – truth be told – it has a fuller, more symmetrical appearance than the other. This one makes me happy, too!



Oh, Christmas Tree…



Let me start by saying that I’m thrilled to have a Christmas tree in my house this December. It’s the first time I’ve decorated for the holiday in probably a dozen years. I turn the lights on every single night, and enjoy their ambiance. It makes everything  special, and set apart from the ordinary. Reading a book, eating dinner, practicing my Pilates routine or playing with the dogs all seem imbued with holiday flair when done in the glow of the Christmas tree. That being said, I recognize that my tree has a few “issues.”

Picking out the Christmas tree was an hours-long adventure when I was young. The tree had to look good from all sides. Or, if it were exceptional in every other way, three good sides would do, with the flawed area backed into the corner or turned to the wall. Our tree had to have a straight trunk. It had to be symmetrical. It should be full, but not so full that ornaments wouldn’t hang properly. It had to almost reach the ceiling, with just enough room for the tree-top ornament.

Exceptions were noted. There was the year that my father had managed to score a lovely blue spruce. That went into the family annals as “the best Christmas tree, ever.” One year, the tree was so unstable – do to an overlooked bend in its lower trunk – that it had to be wired to the ceiling to keep it upright. And there was one that shed its needles so badly, we were afraid it would be bald by Christmas.

We admired the Christmas trees of others. The Immaculate Conception Church always had beautifully decorated trees on each of the side altars, and an almost life-sized nativity set, too. Mr. and Mrs. Hathaway had an awe-inspiring color-coordinated tree. Mrs. Linehan had the most darling, tiny tabletop tree. The unseemly white, artificial tree, in the front window of the Grue’s house, caused murmurs and sighs every day when we rode past in the school bus.

In my husband’s family, it was my father-in-law’s job to go and get the Christmas tree. He took the task seriously. He was sent with a list of specifications and requirements from his wife and two children. He tried very hard to please. Yet, every single year, he came home with a tree that was bigger around than it was tall. “A shrub!” my mother-in-law would exclaim, “You brought home another bush!” He’d grin sheepishly, and say, “But look how full it is,” and, “Now, Pat, you have to leave room for the Christmas tree stand,” and, “Don’t you think it’s going to look just fine once it’s decorated?” He was right, it always did look fine, in a short, fat, comical way.

This year when I decided to get a tree, I also decided that it didn’t require so much thought. I have several little pine trees that have grown up in my side yard; all of them need to be removed. My tactic was to find the best-looking one, and give it a stint as my Christmas tree. The dogs and I spent an afternoon wandering through the brambles and low brush to assess each one. I cut down the one deemed “best” with a small carpenter’s saw, and leaned it against the house.

It waited there for several days, until I had time to bring it in, set it up and decorate it. By that time, anticipation had made me quite attached to my little tree. So, I was willing to ignore several flaws in it’s character. First, it’s crooked. I don’t know how I missed it, but it’s true. Definitely crooked. Second, it’s quite spindly. The broadest part of its crooked trunk is only perhaps an inch in diameter. Third, it’s branches are very sparse. There is at least twelve inches between each row of branches through the whole length of the crooked trunk.

Fourth, its branches are weak. The lights clip on, so they at least hold their place, though they cause each branch to droop. The ornaments slide right off. There is always a puddle of decorations on the floor under the tree, and I am constantly picking them up to try again. Finally, this tree is a bit too tall. It reaches the top of the room and the spindly top branch bends sideways across the ceiling.

It’s okay. I can’t locate the home-made angel (that, in any case, looked a bit too much like a hooker) that we used to put on the treetop, anyway. I may have passed it down to one of my daughters. And this year, happy to have a Christmas tree, I am prepared to overlook every single flaw in this particular specimen!


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #49



List the things you are ready to rid yourself of, things in your home, in your closet, and in your heart:

Let me point out, first, that this directive clearly asks for the things I am “ready” to rid myself of, not the things I “could,” “should” or “ought to.” That distinction alone makes for a much shorter list.

  • I am almost – but not quite – ready to get rid of the cheap candle holder that hangs in the back window. It consists of a glass barrel-shaped chimney sitting on a circle of metal. A loop of wire attached to the bottom plate allows the whole thing to hang by a chain. The chain is rusted. The glass that shields the flame used to be green, but the plastic coating peeled off the first time a candle was burned there, so now it’s clear. It has to be taken down to lift the chimney, in order to insert and light the candle. It only holds a votive candle, anyway, so for the trouble of lighting it, I get about an hour of glow. And yet, when I start thinking of getting rid of it, I remember that this particular candle holder was one that my sister, Sheila, and I carried, in our little “Seven Sisters” shop here on Beaver Island. It was  one of the items that Sheila picked out, and ordered for us. The shop has been closed for many years and, now, Sheila is gone, too. So, for now, the candle holder stays.

I have a hundred old, decrepit items that have stories like that. This one, that was an early gift from someone that loved me, way back when they loved me; that one, that my daughters used when they were small; another that reminds me of my childhood; this, that my mother gave to me; and those jeans that are proof positive of how skinny I used to be. I am not yet ready to be rid of any of them!

  • I do, to my credit, have a couple large boxes of things to be donated to the library or the re-sale shop. I am ready to get rid of books that I won’t read again. Someone else may as well enjoy them. I am ready to get rid of dishes and small appliances that I don’t use. I am ready to get rid of clothes that don’t fit, or that don’t fit my lifestyle.
  • In my studio, I have a stack of rejects to be recycled. I have a tendency to work a piece to death, in an effort to turn a failure into, maybe not a masterpiece but, something worthwhile. Sometimes a failure is simply that, and no amount of time or materials will redeem it. I am ready to be rid of it all.
  • Finally, happily, I am ready to throw away the concept that the past holds the key to the “ideal.” For my whole life, Christmas was my favorite holiday. I loved it when I was a child, and I loved it even more when I had children. Then, years went by, circumstances changed, and I found myself living alone on Beaver Island. Some years, I travel downstate to visit my family for Christmas; last year, I went to Charlevoix to meet up and hang out with my best girlfriend. Often, I just stay home. Long ago, I quit decorating for the holiday. “Why bother, just for me,” I asked myself and, “It will be so much trouble to have to take it all down again.” “If the kids were coming, I’d go all out for Christmas,” I’d tell myself, knowing full well that with the time and inconvenience (including the expense, the unpredictable Michigan weather, and the varied schedules of several working adults) of bringing children, gifts and holiday traditions to Beaver Island, my kids were never going to come here for Christmas. So, I let my own traditions go. I have not been sad and miserable, but the season has certainly not had the giddy, anticipatory joy of years past. This year, all of that changed. I cut down a tree, set it up and decorated it. I made hot cider, and put on the old holiday records as I pulled out the ornaments. Then I decorated the tiny artificial tree that I had in the Christmas tote. I set up the little nativity set that was a gift from my husband on the first Christmas after we were married. I pulled out all of the “Santa”s that I collected over the years, and lined them up on a shelf in front of my cookbooks. It doesn’t seem sad, that it’s not the same as when I was little, or as when my children were little. It’s only different. It’s still Christmas. This is what the holiday is like now, for me. It’s not about what is missing, or what is not the same. It’s about me, finding joy in my favorite holiday. It feels good to have the lights and sounds and smells of Christmas around me. And it doesn’t seem, now, like it will be such a terrible chore to take it down after the New Year. If it is, I assure you, it was worth it!

Oh, Happy Day!



Some days, I am gloomy. I often don’t know why. I’ll come up with reasons, though, because sadness seems to need a foundation. The weather often takes the blame. Drizzle, fog, wet snow, or lack of sunshine seem like sensible excuses for a foul mood. Sometimes I blame things that are going on at work. Other times the responsibility falls on loneliness, financial troubles, or lack of sleep. Any of these things could contribute to my mood, but deep down I know that melancholy overtakes me, at times, without any justification at all.

Weather is always out there and, though some days are naturally better than others, I could just as easily be happy on a miserable day, as sad when the sun is shining. As for work, well, there is always some issue regarding work. It is never just predictable and easy, but I almost always just take it in stride. I get lonely, but I handle it. Likewise, financial struggles are always present in my life, but I rarely dwell on them or let them affect my mood. Nights without sleep are a common frustration, too, but it’s only a meager attempt at rationalization to say it’s to blame for my disposition.

Most days, I am happy. And I rarely look for reasons; I hardly give it a thought. A good mood, I guess, does not need to be justified. Yesterday, after an almost sleepless night, I found myself with a very positive outlook. And I took note of it. In my morning journal pages, I made a list of things that I was happy about:

  • Three pink rugs on the bathroom floor. Usually, in the bathroom, I have one mid-sized rug in the middle of the room, centered in front of the window. That means I have to take a big step, when getting out of the shower, to stand on the rug. It means that I stand on bare floor when using the sink. The other day, when pulling rugs out of the clothes dryer, I noted that I have quite a few extras. Rosa Parks loves rugs, so I often pick them up when I find them on sale. In addition, I have four or five small fluffy rugs that I got from Aunt Katie. When I pick up a rug to wash it, I always have another ready to be put down. On a whim, I brought two more rugs to the bathroom. I put one pale, shag rug right beside the bathtub. I put another small velvet-textured rug directly in front of the sink. Both small rugs overlap the larger rug in the center, which gives the room a slight gypsy-tent appearance. That makes me smile. And my feet are always toasty warm.
  • A spindly-spined Christmas tree, leaning against the wall outside the kitchen door. I cut it down on Sunday, and plan to set it up today. It’s a comical little tree that will, I’m sure, be charming as all get out when decorated with tiny lights and simple ornaments.
  • Christmas cards are ordered, and should arrive today, in plenty of time to be filled out and mailed.
  • I have gifts to wrap for children and grandchildren.
  • My laundry is already all caught up for the week.
  • I started a new exercise program. Two days in, I’m doing okay!
  • I’ve almost finished my calendar layout for December.
  • As I write, I have coffee in hand, and two dogs lounging at my feet.

And my good mood continued all through the day.  The only thing different was that I gave it the same thought and attention that I would have if it had gone another way. Nothing out of the ordinary; nothing of special note. It was just another normal, wonderful day.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #48



List the things you think you’ll want out of life five years from now:

In five years, I’ll be more than seventy years old. With that in mind, I’ll hope to have

  • a sound mind. Longevity isn’t very enjoyable without that. I am aware of becoming more forgetful already. I laugh about it now, and hope it is always a small enough problem to be funny.
  • Good health. The ability to do the things I enjoy, and to work if I have to.
  • I’d like, by that time, to have a little more leisure time.
  • I want to have regular time for art-making, and to have some good solid venues for my work.
  • I’d like to still be learning, in five years. I think the ability to continue growing and learning is one of the things that makes life worthwhile. I’ve been looking, lately, at painting, encaustic and writing workshops. I’d love to fit some of those into my life.
  • And, with learning in mind, I’d love the opportunity to visit some of the places I’ve studied. Egypt, Greece and Italy come to mind first, thanks to Mrs. Bates’ Art History classes, and the way she made those locations come to life. I enjoy travel most if there is a chance for growth. Whenever I’ve had the chance to travel, activities to expand awareness of a place have been on the itinerary.
  • I’d like a bit more of a social life than what I have right now.
  • That should include more quality time with family and friends.

This Thanksgiving Week



It is Tuesday, two days before we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. We are 47 weeks into the year. These facts poised together on the page result in not a feeling of gratitude, but rather frustration. This year seems to have flown by, soon to be added to the growing collection of “years gone by.” Did I do what I could to make every day count? Did I pay attention? Did I recognize the importance of each precious day?

I don’t know. I try. Sometimes busyness, obligation, frustration and mindless activities get in the way. I feel like, once again, I’ve let another year zoom past while I stumble along, senseless to all the wonders. That thought makes me sad. One thing I know is that I can’t get the time back. If only!

I have long lists of things – some simple, some profound – that I’d like to re-do, if I could. There were dozen nights – maybe more – when the stars were ablaze in a clear sky when I got up to let the little dog outside or back in, when I yawned and turned away from the glory, to curl back up in my bed. There were conversations I cut short, with friends or family, to start a meal or to finish a chore. Many times I turned away from dogs to face the computer screen. What if that were my last chance?

There have been plenty of missed opportunities and squandered last chances in my life. I’ve learned from them all…but maybe not enough. Otherwise, why do I continue to have this conversation with myself? Will I never get it through my head? Sometimes – too often – a wasted opportunity turns out to be the LAST opportunity.

At the end of this year, before the final page is turned and we move into a new year, I’ll sit down, as I do every year, and write down “Accomplishments and Memorable Things.” Seeing them on paper, I’ll feel better about how I’ve spent my time. I may even be impressed by all that I’ve managed to do. Right now, though, 47 weeks in, it feels like NOT ENOUGH. Maybe this Thanksgiving week comes at just the right time. It gives me cause to assess my year so far, when I still have five weeks to do more…and better!

Happy Thanksgiving!


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #47



List everything that you think of as a treat for yourself:

  • The first cup of coffee I pour in the morning. With cream.
  • A good book. One that grabs and holds my interest, that can make me laugh or cry or quiver in trepidation, and that expands my understanding or enhances my world view.
  • A perfect poem. The ones I love are treasures, that can be read and enjoyed over and over.
  • Time in the studio. Unencumbered. Without six other things that need to be done diverting my attention and spoiling my fun.
  • A hot bath. In a heated room, with scented salts, nice candles and a glass of wine.
  • Perfume. Having recently found myself in the rare position of being all caught up on my bills, with a little money to spare, I bought myself a bottle of nice cologne, for the first time in years. It feels absolutely luxurious to have it.
  • Fresh flowers. I pick wildflower bouquets all summer long. When I first got divorced, I walked past a little flower shop every day on my way to and from work. At least once a week, I’d stop in to buy a cluster of posies or even just a single carnation. It was well worth the strain on my budget for the way it lifted my spirits!
  • A long walk. Right now, with ice on the pathways, and hunters in the woods, the dogs and I spend our walks just circling the yard. We aren’t fooled, though. We know it’s not the same, no matter how many steps we get in.
  • A square of dark chocolate.
  • A soft-boiled egg. My mother used to make them for her children when we were sick. That feeling of being nurtured and cared for comes back to me when I cook an egg that way.
  • A good meal in a nice restaurant is a rare pleasure.
  • A chat on the phone with someone I love. I’m not usually big on telephone conversations. My daughters decided, years ago, that I must be watching a timer, because I always ended calls after no more than five minutes. True, I don’t stay long on the phone, but I’m not timing the conversations. I simply run out of things to say; I find empty chatter excruciating and silence difficult. So, most phone calls are short. When the conversation flows, though, it’s a pleasure! One day last week, I had a nice long chat with my granddaughter, Madeline, then a good visit with my daughter, Kate. Before the day was out, my daughter, Jennifer, called. What a special treat, to talk to three of my favorite people all in one day!