Not Today, But…

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I’ve been struggling lately with this writing commitment. I missed several days last week, with hardly a reason. Some days, I feel pulled in other directions, away from this chair. There are times when I feel like whatever I have to say is small and unimportant, when doubts and insecurities silence me. Sometimes, it’s the topic that eludes me.

I like it when the direction of my writing comes to me as I type the words, stream-of-conscious style. It’s fun when revelations, memories and insights appear to me at almost the same instant that they appear on the page. “Where did that come from,” I wonder, with amazement, and say “thank you” to the air, where the words seem to have come from.

To write from an outline seems too much like an assignment. I’ve had enough of that! And yet, I want to write. This morning, I re-read a few of my older posts. Sometimes that helps to get the creative juices flowing. Then, I read several blogs by others, who’s writing I admire. That often gives me food for thought, and sometimes spurs a post in response.

In fact, today my friend Kathy, who writes her Lake Superior Spirit blog from the woods of Michigan’s upper peninsula, wrote about missed perceptions, inspired by a post titled “Missed Perception,” by Pam whose blog is roughwighting. Both women are wonderful writers in general, and these pieces – about chance encounters on a plane – are both excellent. I was tempted to write my own story about a long-ago plane ride. Not today, though.

I’ve had a couple writing ideas working around in my mind for a few weeks, now. One is about the rules of my house. The other regards my beautiful granddaughter, who just recently turned eighteen years old. Not today.

I have four drafts started and saved. I opened each of them, to see if I’d find inspiration there. One is titled “Ice Cream.” That can definitely wait until warmer weather! Another is the start of a “Time-out for Art” piece. I’m not sure if the work I was writing about still exists, or if it has changed beyond recognition. It may not be something I want to discuss anymore. Certainly not today. The others show promise, and – some other day – I will finish them.

I have a dozen books – maybe more – on writing. Some, like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors, are designed for finessing what is written, rather than for inspiration. Stephen King’s On Writing and Michael Chabon’s Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands tell how they did it, which can be helpful, but doesn’t get me writing today.

I have, in the past, pulled suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: the Practice of Writing Memoir, Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop and Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open for writing material. Some of their ideas are quite fascinating, and get my mind churning.

Goldberg has lots of 10-minute writing exercises: “What can you give up knowing?” “What have you held onto too long?” “Where did you come from? How did you escape?” Novakovich hands out assignments (“Create a character without relying on anybody you have known or seen. You might consult an astrological chart.”) with an objective (to learn how to work from an idea, rather than a real-life precedent, in making up a character) and a means of checking your success.

Berg offers thought-provoking scenarios as jumping-off points for writing: “What transpires as you stand before the monkey cage at the zoo?” “Demonstrate great wrath in a person by describing only the way he or she is smoking a cigarette. Now great fear. Now sorrow.”  She also offers some encouraging words for the place I am in right now: “Next time you feel stuck, celebrate. You are being given an important opportunity.”

With that, I am setting aside my writing for this day, and going in search of other opportunities.

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The 52 Lists (for Happiness)Project #3

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List the things that you are really good at:

  • Cooking. Nothing very fancy, but always good.
  • Baking. Sweets, mostly, but I also have several good bread recipes that I use regularly.
  • Writing.
  • Letter-writing. People say a letter from me makes them feel like I am sitting right there talking to them. My mother encouraged her children to write letters to our grandparents in Chicago. I really took to it. I enjoyed telling the news, and was always happy to be rewarded with a letter in response. My best friend and I always wrote to each other through summer vacation. We were quite dramatic in our recitations, and went through thousands of exclamation points in each letter. I had pen pals throughout my life. When I first moved to Beaver Island, Mom reminded me that I wrote a good letter, and told me to be sure to keep in touch. I did, updating family and friends of our adventures here, and of how my daughters were growing. I wrote my daughters whenever they were away from me, through their childhood. I’ve gotten lax in recent years, with letters giving way to phone calls, Email and instant messaging. I still have a list of letters to write, in answer to cards and gifts I received at Christmas. I always appreciate receiving letters, so should be better about sending them.
  • Growing things. Again, nothing fancy. My house plants are not exotic, but simple green plants that usually make the lists of “easiest houseplants.” Still, other than sometimes having to droop a little to remind me to water them, they thrive. Outside, again I choose hardy specimens that suit my sandy soil, and – with very little special attention – they make me proud.
  • Drawing. Though it is one of the skills that needs to be practiced, to prevent getting rusty…and I’m pretty lax about that, too.
  • Color theory. I have studied it, of course, but it is one of those things that I’ve always had a knack for. I remember Doug Warner, an instructor in one of my earliest college drawing classes, on the first day that we worked with pastels, saying with surprise, “Oh, my, I can see that color is your forte!”
  • Organizing. Though the level of dis-order that I live with would seem to make a lie of that statement, I am very good at making sense of big mounds of disparate items.
  • Arranging. Whether pictures on a wall, items on a shelf, or furniture in a room, I’m very good at arranging things. With my combined abilities in color theory, organizing and arranging, I might have done well in a career as a interior decorator.
  • Reading. It’s easy to be good at things you love, and I have always loved to read. I’m also good at reading out loud, which is related, but different.
  • Customer service. I was an excellent waitress for more than twenty years, because I truly enjoyed the job. I was happy to do my best to make each customer’s experience outstanding. For the same reasons, I am good at my current job at the hardware store.
  • Entertaining myself. Though I sometimes get lonely, I don’t pine away for companionship. I can enjoy games of solitaire for hours on end. Add a few books, writing materials and a few art supplies, and I’d be just fine on a deserted island.

It is a good question to ask yourself: what things are you really good at?

Resolute

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What’s going on here?

I haven’t posted anything here in almost a week; that’s obvious. There has been little else of consequence going on behind the scenes here on the Fox Lake Road, either. I’ve spent precious little time in the studio, and managed only a bit of tidying while I was there. I didn’t tackle any of the big home-improvement projects I have planned for this winter, either. In fact, I have done little more than the bare minimum to keep this house running along.

Some good news: I have been able to – every single day – check off “yoga,” “walk” and “strength” on my habit tracker, thanks to a book on “mini-habits” by Stephen Guise. He advises forming  habits based on the very smallest increments. In his own experience, he set his sights on completing one push-up a day, adding one fruit to his diet, meditating for one minute, and writing fifty words a day. With those minimal goals, he has managed – in a very short time – to form exercise and meditation habits, become physically fit, and write three books.

Of course, this involves going beyond the minimum requirement on many days, but even on the absolute worst days, he can meet his goal. Success brings good feelings which leads to more motivation to continue. It certainly  sounds more inviting than my usual New Year set-up, where failure is inevitable.

So, this year, my concentration is on forming the habits, rather than any end-goal. My minimum requirements are, well…minimal. The first three  [warm-up] poses in my yoga book; a walk to the end of the driveway and back; a dozen repetitions of an upper-body exercise or half that many squats: each counts as completion of that task. With that in mind, I am happy to report that – almost two weeks in to this new year – I haven’t missed a day yet!

It’s also true that engaging in the activity is the most difficult part. Once I get through the warm-up poses in my yoga book, I often continue on to Side Stretch, Tree Pose, Arm Stretches and Cactus Pose. I’ve only stopped at the end of the driveway on a couple of the iciest, coldest days. We usually meander down the road for a stretch, and on a couple exceptional days, Darla and I got more than a mile in, while Rosa Parks waited in the yard. Once the weights are in hand, I generally add a few repetitions of other exercises before I put them back on the shelf.

Taking the author’s advice, I am not starting with a hundred mini-habits (though I could easily think of that many areas that need improvement in my life!). He suggests no more than five, and allowing enough time – say, three months – to absolutely form the habit before adding something else to work on. So far, with not quite two week’s success under my belt, I am encouraged, and already looking toward tiny increments of progress in other areas: “Just walk into the studio,” for one. That’s what I plan to do right now!

 

52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #2

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List #2: List the routines in your personal life and work:

  • First upon getting up in the morning, I put on my glasses, give each dog some “good morning” attention, turn on the bathroom heater, make the bed, then make coffee.
  • While the coffee is brewing, I work my way through a series of easy, gentle yoga postures from the book, A Morning Cup of Yoga, by Jane Goad Trechsel. The routine is designed to take no more than fifteen or twenty minutes. This is fairly new to me, after starting and abandoning the practice several years ago. Because of that, I have not yet made it through the whole program. I am working on forming the habit, and I take more time with each posture, in order to get it right. It makes me feel good, so I don’t dwell on where I fall short.
  • Next, I sit down at the computer. I check my mail, social media and the news.
  • I pack my lunch and fill my thermos with coffee. I set two small heart-shaped dishes out on the counter, and put a small scoop of soft dog food in each. I crush the pill Rosa Parks takes each day, and mix it into the food in her dish
  • By that time, the bathroom is warm enough for me to get in the shower, get dressed and ready for work.
  • When I come out of the bathroom, Darla is waiting to give me the “sad eyes” as I put on boots and coat. She perks up when she remembers there’s a treat in it for her. I gather up my purse and lunch bag. I put the dog dishes down, admonishing each of them to “take good care of things,” pick up my coffee cup and head out the door.
  • At work, there is no set routine. It varies depending on the season and the business. Some days are filled with mixing paint, cutting pipe and making keys. Other days, ordering or putting away freight occupies long hours. This time of year, many days are spent with off-season tasks of re-organizing and deep cleaning.
  • Home in the evening, I greet the dogs, drop my things inside the door, and take a walk. Length is dependent on the weather, and my level of exhaustion.
  • Next, I set a timer for 30 minutes, and spend that time cleaning. Usually there is laundry to be put through the paces, rugs to shake, and floors to sweep. Almost always, there are dishes in the drainer to be put away, so that a fresh batch can be washed and left there to drain-dry.
  • I feed the dogs, and then prepare my own dinner. Sometimes, I pour a glass of wine at this time. I usually watch a program, or read a magazine, while eating.
  • Next, I wash the dishes.
  • Then, there is a little free time. I may talk on the telephone, read or crochet. Sometimes, I put in an hour or two in the studio.
  • These winter days, when darkness comes early, it doesn’t take long before I’m ready for bed.

[There is an “action” section at the end of each page’s list. This one suggests taking note of the routines that you dislike, and paying attention to the ones that bring you joy; it then asks what is it about those routines that bring you joy.]

Another List

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Remember 2016, when I posted a blog every single day? I remember, with lots of shaking of the head and thoughts like, “How the hell did I ever manage to do that???” One of the things that pulled me through was the “52 Lists Project.” One day a week – I chose Sunday – was devoted to making a list, possibly with a little explanation or side-chatter, based on the guidelines offered. Well, the author, Moorea Seal, has come out with a new book!

52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance and Joy has been on my bookshelf for a few weeks now, just waiting for the new year. Now that 2018 is here, I’m going to start, one day a week, working through the lists. Maybe it will move over to Sunday – that seems a good day to focus on these themes – but, because I’m anxious to get started, this week Tuesday is “list day.”

List #1: List what makes you happy right now

  • Rosa Parks: this little dog, who will ask to sit on my lap only rarely (she’s an independent little cuss), but makes me smile whenever she does. I like the weight of her on my lap, her two front legs resting on my left arm, and the way she seems truly interested in whatever I’m doing on the computer.
  • My bullet journal. I always enjoyed playing school as a child. I love to organize. I adore graph paper. New supplies always make me feel inspired. A new year gives me reasons for new plans. All of that energy comes together in my brand new journal with it’s sea foam green cover, two ribbon page markers, elastic band closure and back cover pocket!
  • Four boxes of new art supplies, delivered to the airport on New Year’s Eve.
  • Cozy slippers, a gift from my sister, Cheryl.
  • Homemade bread – whole wheat with dried cherries and walnuts – toasted and slathered with butter.
  • The new toaster, a gift from my sister Brenda and her husband, Keith. They knew I was without a toaster. Did they also know that the last three toasters I owned were Christmas gifts from my sweet Mom, who is no longer with us? And that that contributed to my dragging my feet about getting another? And that to receive one for Christmas as a gift was the best way to bring Mom back in to the celebration…and a toaster back in to my life?
  • Soft (and red!) pajamas, given to me on Christmas Eve by my friend, Linda. One Christmas tradition I started with my daughters was to always get new pajamas on Christmas Eve, so they were perfect on many levels. Right now, it makes me happy to see the bright red sleeves poking out of my robe as I type.
  • Other gifts: from my daughter Kate and her family, wonderful scents and smells in soap and lotions and candles that give me pleasure every single day in one way or another. From my sister Amy and her husband, Dennis, a packet of fifty-two fold-over letters and envelopes, one for every week of the year. Each one has a unique design, and a different message on the envelope flap. How did they know that I was planning to be better about correspondence this year? “Correspond” has it’s own space in my new Habit and Activity Tracker! From my sister Robin and her friend, Dick, a gift certificate that I used to purchase a recently released, hard-cover mystery novel: one of those decadent purchases that I totally enjoy, but would have never purchased otherwise. From my friends, Bob and Ed, a box of cheese (some of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted). From “Santa,” a big box of wonderful chocolates, delivered on Christmas Eve. Many other thoughtful presents that make me happy, knowing that the givers know me, and know what will make me smile.
  • Hot coffee with cream.
  • The balance of this day off, to do some things I have to, and anything else I want to. I’m going to get going on that right now…or just as soon as I finish this cup of coffee.

A New Year’s Project

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This is Monday: not a usual day for me to be posting a blog. It is January 1st, though, and that seems like a good time to drop in to say “hello.” Being the beginning of a brand new year, it’s also a fine time to rethink old conventions, and change things up if it seems appropriate.

I spent a large part of New Year’s Eve – and too much of the day today – setting up my brand new bullet journal. I had almost completely filled the hot pink version that had served me well since last April; with the start of 2018, I decided to break out the new blank book with it’s sea foam green cover. Of course – though I’ve been doing this for more than two years now – I had to start by reading another book on the bullet journal process. I had to troll Pinterest for ideas that I could adapt to my own needs. I had to break out my new Sharpie pens, my colored fine-point markers and my brush-tip highlighters.

Then, having researched, investigated and planned myself into a frenzy, I spent several (!!!) hours laying the groundwork for this new year. I drew up my annual calendar; two facing pages were devoted to a separate annual birthday calendar. I made a larger monthly calendar than I did last year, and – having failed at using the monthly task manager that shared those pages last year – have not yet decided what to do with the rest of that page. I filled in daily pages for the thirty-one days of January. Since I had finished one book already this year, I devoted a page to noting the books I read this year.

 

Next, I made a “Habit and Activity Tracker.” I love this feature, and have incorporated it in my bullet journal from the beginning. It has gone through many changes. I’ve tried horizontal and vertical formats. I’ve experimented with high expectations and low. I’ve played around with X’s, slashes and dots for marking a completed task. So far, at month’s end, it has too often been a glaring reminder of things I have neglected. But, this is a new year…a new beginning. I’m filled with high hopes and fresh resolutions. To celebrate, I have a brand new format for tracking my success.

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Do you see where this is going??? Here’s a close-up view:

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Three diagonal lines mark a completed goal. The direction of the diagonal alternates, so that if everything gets checked off, every day, a beautiful jacquard pattern emerges. Tasks not done (note the “no sugar” failure, as I dipped into the box of Christmas chocolates today) get a little zero, which add a bit of jaunty character to the pattern. It’s just so cute, it makes me want to complete every single thing! And that, my friends, is why I am posting a blog on this Monday, the first of January, 2018.

Happy New Year!!

I Must Admit…

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It’s cold. And we have plenty of snow. Winter has, undoubtedly, settled in. I’ve been hearing all of the grumbles. My mind has been going in that direction, too.

The cold is that severe, face-numbing cold – often accompanied by wind – that chills to the bone, and makes outdoor activities difficult. It’s difficult to even navigate, with all the layers I’ve been piling on! The snow has been falling faster than I can keep up with it. The paths that I shovel from doors to driveway have been filling back in overnight. The young man that usually plows my driveway has not been here since the last big snowfall. That probably means that his plow is broken…and I am left to trudge to and from the car through a foot of snow. Under the snow, there is ice, which makes travel – whether by car or on foot – a cautionary experience.

Still…the landscape is breathtaking! The fence posts that surround my garden spot are topped with round balls of snow. The gazing ball in the front flower bed often gets a “dunce cap” of snow; this year, it’s a hefty turban topper! The clotheslines have become spontaneous winter sculpture; the grape arbor looks as if someone purposely arranged it, for the holiday. Fox Lake Road has taken on the appearance of a winter wonderland!

I’m as chilly as anyone. My boots drip snow and ice beyond the entry rug and onto the floor; my socks are soggy. Still, I must admit, this is beautiful!

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