Monthly Archives: September 2016

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #16

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From The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters:

This is my family…

The German, Henry, is my family. He brought his wife, Elizabeth, and his small children to this country in the later half of the nineteenth century. He worked in the coal mines in New York and possibly Pennsylvania. The family grew. They homesteaded in the Dakotas. They moved to Texas, to farm there. For three years, there was not a single drop of rain. They moved on. In Illinois, one young son was killed in a hunting accident. It was in the German parish there that they saw the notice, submitted to the church bulletin by Father Zugelder, that there was land and opportunity on Beaver Island. My grandfather, George, was three years old when they moved north to build their farm here. Henry was an old man at that time, by the standards of the day. His adult sons and teen-aged boys put up the house that is our family farm here on Beaver Island, where my Aunt Katie lives, still.

The carpenter, Joseph, is my family. When he was seventeen, his mother put him, alone, on a ship to America, so that he would not be drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian War. Raised in the Black Forest area of Germany, Joseph was already a skilled woodworker. He settled in to the community of Grand Rapids,Michigan, where his skills had a place in the budding furniture industry. He also attended  Catholic Church, and saw the notice Father Zugelder had placed in church bulletins. He came to Beaver Island, too, at the turn of the century. He and his wife, Katherine, had a large family. Joseph, Christie, Elsie and Willie are some of the names I remember. My grandmother was their daughter, Otelia.

George and Otelia, my paternal grandparents, are my family. Grandpa George lost his wife when my father was thirteen years old. His second wife, Florence, became family, too.

I have some distant history on my mother’s side of the family, but could not recite it without looking up the facts. My knowledge begins with my maternal grandparents, Ted and Thelma. They are constant participants in my early childhood, and frequent, friendly occupants of the memories I hold now. They are my family.

Bob and Janice, my parents, are my family. Not alone, for I cannot separate them from the brood of children, my brothers and sisters, that they raised: Brenda, Cindy, Ted, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin, David, Darla, Amy, Bobby. This is my family.

Terry, my husband, was my family for many years. With our two precious daughters, we were a family. All of Terry’s relatives were my family, too. Divorce is like cutting off a limb, for all the loss it entails. It took all of my strength to maintain “family” from the broken shards that were left.We managed it, though. We figured it out.

My daughters, Jen and Kate, are my family. We share history and memories that no one else has. They have a place in my heart that only they can fill.

Their children are my family. These are not the conventions I grew up with. There is greater physical distance and, it seems, larger societal divides. Even in this age of cell phones and social media, it is hard to keep in touch. I take comfort in the knowledge that all of my grandparents were huge influences in my life. I saw Grandpa George and Grandma Florence only a couple times a year, and my maternal grandparents were both dead before I turned ten-years-old. I try. It’s worth the effort.

Aunt Katie is my family. She and her sister, Aunt Margaret, are the last of that generation in our family. They are the link to my father, and to the past. They are also the living connections to a whole string of cousins, and cousins once, twice or three times removed. All are my family.

My friends are my family. Sometimes they fill a need that no one else can, with understanding or words of advice, or they are good for a laugh over an inside joke. Like family, at this age I find there is shared history with most friends, and that adds to the bond.

This is my family: the big dog that walks with me and the little dog that sleeps curled up near my feet. I feed them, talk to them and give them lots of belly rubs. They communicate with bright eyes, wagging tails, whimpers, dog kisses and heads dropped trustingly into my lap. In spite of friends, and all of my relatives – living and dead – there are times when Darla and Rosa Parks are the most heartfelt interactions of my whole day.

Starting Today

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Starting today…isn’t that quite the way to begin?

Change is in the air…a new chapter is begun…new commitments are underway.

My old journals are full of re-starts. It begins with a rant, usually, of what is wrong in my life, or with me. The themes recur.

  • Not enough money.
  • Not moving fast enough toward my goals (“Will my entire life be one of mediocrity?” I write, in one particularly melodramatic discourse).
  • Letting too many things “get to me.” From the actions of my husband to the misbehavior of my children to various encounters in the workplace, letting things get to me has always been a big concern.
  • Not enough time. I have been complaining about that for fifty years! What did I do with all of that time?!
  • Bad habits to get rid of.
  • Good habits to cultivate.

Then, the promises begin.

“From now on…” I will exercise daily/eat right/floss regularly/go to bed at a decent hour/make better use of my time….

“Never again will I…” let myself be led into an argument (“when I am right to begin with and we both know it,” I offer, in one old entry)/ lose patience/put up with that behavior/exhibit that behavior/engage in that bad habit….

“Starting today…” I will be a better person. In one way or another, that has always been my goal. It still is.

I have always wanted to be excellent. It’s a good goal, though a bit discouraging. Looking back from this perspective, I see that in most cases, while aiming for excellence, I managed to be okay. Sometimes I’ve managed no more than mediocrity. Other times I’ve succeeded in being better than average. There are many areas of abject failure. Every great now and then, I’ve been really good.

My biggest accomplishment is not in what I’ve succeeded at, but in never giving up the effort. After all these years of limited success, I am still happy to begin any day with, “starting today…”

The 52 Lists Project #38

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List the ways you can love yourself more:

  • Well, I could – though I won’t – quit buying self-help books and launching new programs to correct my eating/sleeping/water-drinking habits, to curb my procrastination or improve my organization, to get in better physical, mental or emotional shape, to be a better person…It would be truly a gift of love to myself if I could simply accept this flawed human being as the person that I am, and be done with it. At this stage of my life, I am not yet ready to do that…but it’s something to work toward. Meanwhile, many of the ways I am working to improve are, in fact, ways to take better care of myself, so they fit this category, too.
  • Drink more water. For my birthday in August, I began a “52 small changes” program, with one simple change each week leading up to being a better person in a year. I was going to use it as material to write about one day a week, monitoring my success. I told myself, though, that I would not move on to week #2 until I had succeeded in mastering the habit for week #1. So, here I am, almost a full month in, still trying to drink enough water each day. To write about my efforts would just be underlining my majestic failure! Ugh! And, peeking ahead, I see that the second week’s goal is to get more sleep.
  • I could try to get more sleep. If I could only quiet my mind.
  • I could quiet my mind. In the midst of my failure at the “52 small changes,” I started The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. It’s not about food, but about things that will bring more peace and harmony to life. She used my idea, about not moving on to the second thing until you have mastered the first. The first is “Do absolutely nothing for 15 minutes each day.” It’s an exercise in meditation. Working on a to-do list in my head while “just sitting” is not allowed. Doing dishes while “not thinking” is also against the rules. When she says “nothing,” she means it! I’m still working on that one, too.
  • I could place the things that I need – like time in my studio – as high on the priority list as the things I do for others.
  • I could pay more attention to the wonders around me. I could take note of more sunrises and sunsets, and pay better attention to the moon and the stars. I could walk outside at night to watch for the Northern Lights. I have a friend who used to set the alarm for three AM during a time when there were visible meteor showers. She’d grab her blanket and go sit on the beach to watch for falling stars. That, to me, is a truly loving gift to oneself!

Riding on Cardboard

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It starts with one thing. One bit of neglect. It balloons from there.

Last weekend, I took the dogs for a nice ride down to Fox Lake so they could have a swim, and then to the woods so I could pick blackberries. When we ride in the car, I put the windows down. Darla gets the passenger seat; Rosa sits on my lap. We notice squirrels and chipmunks. Sometimes I sing. We had a good day.

Last weekend, for some unknown reason, I neglected to close the car windows when we got home. I don’t understand it; that’s not like me at all. I close the windows to keep out rain or snow or ice, but also flies, mosquitoes, chipmunks, snakes, raccoons…with a house in the woods, an open window is not a good idea.

So, that was the first thing.

Then, I forgot I hadn’t closed the windows. Maybe I never even realized I had left them open. In any case, when the rain started, I did not go running out to close them. It rained all night…and for a good portion of the next day.

In the afternoon of the following day, I had to run to town to do an interview. I had endured the accusatory looks and sad eyes of my dogs. I had given them each their treat, a scratch behind the ears, a pat on the head and the instructions, “Take good care of things!” I grabbed my bag, my notebook and camera, and skittered out the door.

There was my car, windows down. The door were wet; the grooved handles were filled with water. The seats were soaked. I couldn’t go back inside for towels or plastic. That would involve – after a joyous tail-wagging greeting – going through the entire sad eyes, treat, scratch, pat and “Take good care of things,” again. I didn’t have time!

In the back seat I had a cardboard box filled with canning jars that I’d been forgetting to bring to Aunt Katie. I took the jars out, flattened the box, and used it to cover my seat. On to the appointment, no problem. Since then, when the sun was out, I would deliberately leave the windows down to help dry things out. Honestly, the upholstery is soaked through!

Yesterday morning, without a thought, I loaded the trash and recyclables into the car, in hopes that I’d have time on my lunch hour to deliver them to the transfer station. I didn’t. When I got in the car to go home, I had about two hundred houseflies sharing the front seat with me! They had easily wandered in through the open windows, lured by the scent of my garbage. Ugh!

So, windows down…back seat full of trash…canning jars rolling around on the floor…my arms waving to shoo the insects outside…while sliding around on a flattened cardboard box…that was my only protection from the wet seat…I wrenched my back. I had to practically crawl from my damp, bug-infested car when I got home!

I spent last night alternating between hot compresses and ice packs. This morning I’m moving slowly, but thankful to be moving at all, and thinking about the importance of every little decision I make.

 

The Good Stuff

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The picture accompanying this post is a new image! It’s not the best, granted, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was able, finally, to figure out how to get photographs from my camera to my new computer! Since I lost the ability – with my new modem – to get my old computer connected to the internet, I have been forced to use old photos. They offer less inspiration, for one thing, for the “up-to-the-minute” writing that goes along beside them. Also, I have lived in fear that someone would notice. I imagined hearing from observant readers that the same image that illustrated my recent complaints about not sleeping were used in 2014 to accompany some whining about another issue.

I ordered an SD card reader, which may be an easier solution, but it’s on back-order, and won’t arrive until next week. Undaunted (well, daunted, but plugging along anyway), I continued to work at figuring this system out. It’s a long process, but – it turns out – not impossible. It involves downloading the photos from my camera onto the old – not internet connected – computer using its built-in SD card reader, plugging in the external hard drive and – with interminable pointing and clicking – moving the photos onto it. I then plug the external hard drive into my new computer and repeat the selection process to download them there. The final – and most important – step, which I happily just figured out, was finding the downloaded images so that I could actually use them. And I did it! Finally!

[The images are stored on the new computer in a document file rather than an image file, so I can’t see the pictures until I move them into another site (thus the “so-so” image today) but that’s  negative information that has no place in this good news post today!]

I had some time yesterday between getting out of work and another obligation in town. I stopped in for a visit with my aunt. I poured a thimbleful of wine, and told her the latest news around town (two deaths; one house fire; a lively township meeting). My cousin Bob showed up, and they invited me to stay for supper. Which, it turns out, was toasted bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with tomatoes fresh-picked from the garden. I had just enough time for one quick sandwich. Delicious!

That rounded out a whole day of good meals I did not have to prepare myself. Breakfast was a well-toasted asiago cheese bagel from Dalwhinnie Bakery and Deli. Lunch was a dish of (fantastic!) spaghetti with meat sauce that my co-worker, Kathleen, brought in for me. Dinner was that perfect sandwich over good conversation with Bob and Aunt Katie.

My downtown event was up-lifting and fun; The rest of the evening was spent on minor chores, walking the dogs, and blackberry-picking.

After three nights of restless, poor and not-enough sleep, I got a good night’s rest! I went to bed early (9:00PM) and read for not even five minutes before turning off the light to go to sleep. The dogs woke me up later to go outside. I’d been sleeping so soundly, I thought it must be the early hours of the morning. No, only 11:30. I was able to go immediately back to sleep as soon as the dogs came in. They wanted out again at 3AM. Sometimes, awake at that time, I’ll start thinking about all the things I have to do. I’ll debate about sacrificing sleep to make some progress. The thoughts themselves will keep me from sleeping. Not last night! I went back to bed and slept soundly until the alarm went off at 6:30.

Sometimes, it seems like nothing goes right. At other times, everything is just fine.

Timeout for Art: Line

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Plants are grand subjects for simple line drawings. Their contours demand to be carefully observed. They have presence more than an arrangement of non-living objects; they hold their place better than a human or animal model. When it turned out that my little dog, Rosa Parks, is allergic to hundreds of growing things, I passed this friendly corn plant on to someone else. The drawing stayed with me.

The Bad Stuff

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Yesterday, Tuesday, marked the end of my “weekend.” My two days off are actually chock full of other things to do. I sometimes think I’d be better off with no days off, as I’d at least have a good reason for the things I don’t manage to get done. According to a series of questions presented in Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better Than Before, I am an “Obliger.” That means I meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations I impose on myself. Other than my chronic lateness (a hint of the rebel, perhaps?), and this blog (the ONLY self-imposed expectation that I successfully manage!), that rings absolutely true to me.

If I worked for others every day of the week, I’d have less time for my own obligations, expectations and goals, but also less guilt, less angst and less disappointment in myself. But no, I work five days a week at the hardware store. I make lists of things I need to get done and want to accomplish on my days off. I start with the best of intentions. Then I start – by turns – wasting time, procrastinating, bargaining, and running around “like a chicken with her head cut off” (as my Mom used to say) trying to make progress in every single area. It almost never works.

Wasting time involves one extra cup of coffee while I just relax (“don’t I deserve a few moments to just relax?” I ask myself). I may work on a crossword puzzle, play a game of on-line Scrabble, or read a few pages of one of the books I have in-progress. It might include taking time to fix a real breakfast, or starting a pot of soup or a batch of bread. It could be going off on a cleaning or organizing spree that is not even on the list. Cleaning out the junk drawer or weeding a flower bed never holds as much appeal as it does when it is done in avoidance of some other necessary task!

Procrastination is the worst. It is the mastermind behind every bit of wasted time and diverted energy. Jack Heffron writes:

What a great word: procrastinator. All of those crashing consonants. The Procrastinator sounds like the name of a comic book supervillain. This guy should be kicking Spiderman’s butt all over New York.

He’s not, though. He’s right here at my house. He can convince me, over and over again, that I will manage to get things done, no need to push myself, no need to hurry. “There is plenty of time.” I always fall for it.

Then bargaining comes in to play.

“I’ll work outside – since the sun is shining – for one hour only, and then I’ll crack down and get my computer work done.”

“Twenty minutes of housework and then twenty minutes in the studio.”

“I’ll write on article, then take the dog for a walk.”

Which leads right into running around like a chicken with her head cut off!

Everything takes longer than the time I have allotted for it. Everything suffers from lack of concentration and dedicated energy. By the time Tuesday evening rolls around, I am discouraged, frustrated and often in a frenzy. This clearly does not work for me. I suffer for it. Yet here I am, two more days gone, not enough done.

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #15

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Again, from my new book, The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron:

Open this book to any page and do one of the prompts. Don’t consider if it interests you or is appropriate to your background. As you do it, try to move beyond distracting thoughts and feelings. Focus on the prompt and let yourself go.

Okay…

Anna Quindlen…begins an essay with the sentence, “I was a Paul girl,” meaning that, as a young girl, her favorite Beatle was Paul McCartney. Girls who liked Paul were different than the ones who liked John, George, or Ringo. Describe yourself as a child or teen by filling in the blank of this sentence: “I was a _______girl.” From there, write about your view of yourself as a child by refracting your view through the prism of this favorite person or object.

Now, I was a Paul girl, too, and that’s what I’d like to write about, but since it’s already been done, I’ll try something else.

I was a Jo March girl. My only question was, “why would anyone want to be any of the other girls?” Brenda wanted to be Meg. Meg was the oldest, just like Brenda. She liked to dress up; she worked hard at her appearance. She was obedient and helpful. When I think about it, Brenda kind of was Meg. I thought she was crazy, anyway. Clearly, she was not the most interesting character in Little Women.

Brenda and I read the book at the same time, and both loved it. I felt like I got a little more out of it, though. Brenda’s first mistake was choosing Meg as the character she most related to. Her second mistake was insisting that Laurie (short for Laurence), because he was a boy, was pronounced “Larry.” We got in huge fights about it. “Look at the spelling,” I would tell her, “Larry was not even a normal boy’s name in those days!” She held her ground, countering that Larry was a fine name, and that Laurie was a name for a girl, or a sissy.

Because we were both so taken with the book, and wanted to live our lives in accordance with it, we imagined our mother to be kinder and quieter…more like Marmee. We forced Sheila into the character of gentle Beth, only because that’s where she was in the birth order. Cheryl got the role of Amy. So, I took Sheila under my wing, as Jo had done with Beth. I let her follow me around the yard, and sometimes play in my fort. Brenda, in keeping with the story line, took Cheryl as her charge. She was allowed to watch as Brenda curled her hair or picked out clothes, and sometimes she helped her do the same.

Jo March was intelligent, spunky, creative, and a bit of a tomboy. She was a writer. She was always running from one project to another. Clearly, she was the author’s favorite. Some experts suggest that Louisa May Alcott modeled Jo’s character after herself. I wanted to be a writer because Jo was. I worked at being spunky, and quit worrying about being a tomboy.

As I read the book identifying with Jo, I was madly in love with Laurie (who was not a sissy at all!), and was broken-hearted when he married Amy instead. I was hugely disappointed when Jo settled for Professor Bauer. It was small comfort to note that Meg – for all of her fancy ribbons and curled hair – had not done that well for herself, either.

Looking at it today, I still identify with Jo, and I still love the character of Laurie. However, from this age, I can definitely understand the professor’s appeal, too!

Asleep, Awake

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My mind works overtime. When I’m trying to fall asleep, no matter how exhausted my body is, my brain is busy. I run through all the things I should have done and yet need to do. I make lists and plan schedules. I have imaginary conversations. Busy, busy, busy. Until I get out of bed, determined to accomplish enough of something to put my mind to rest.

Then, I’m tired. I can’t think. I can’t focus. I am overwhelmed by the number of things there are to do. Impossible to tackle them all. What one thing can I get done, so that tomorrow, there will be one less thing to face? What will be enough of an accomplishment to make up for the sleep I’m missing? These are my nights.

Sometimes, with a cup of herbal tea, I do some writing. Maybe just a list to help organize my thoughts, or a bit of correspondence, always overdue. Sometimes I’ll tackle a news article, an essay or a blog post, though I’m rarely an inspired writer in the middle of the night. Other times I’ll take on bookkeeping. I may balance my checkbook and pay some bills, or work on the never-ending record-keeping that goes along with the Beacon. Sometimes, I clean.

Too often, I turn on the computer under the guise of working, and instead just waste time. I’ll check the news, then the weather. I’ll see what’s going on in social media. I’ll play a computer game…or two. No matter how unproductively I spend my time, though, it is still not actual rest. The next morning I am tired, with little to show for my lack of sleep.

At night, I am worrying and working over in my mind all the things I need to do. In the daytime, I am fog-brained, sluggish and less productive than I could be if I had gotten a good night’s sleep. This is my dilemma.

 

The 52 Lists Project #37

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List what you would spend a million dollars on, just for you:

I love this list!!!

Making this list is how I’ve often brought myself back from the brink of depression. It’s how I’ve spent the long hours between buying a lottery ticket (only when the mega-millions jackpot has gone so long without being won that it seems like a sin not to at least take a chance…and even then, only twice in the last two years) and the actual drawing. It’s how I’ve often diverted my attention from a long list of unpaid bills and obligations. It’s great fun!

I am put off just a bit by the directive, “just for you,” which seems to take a bit of the fun out of the exercise. My list usually begins with houses and cars and health insurance all around for my children and grandchildren. Is it unfair to think of that as something for me? Maybe. Only because, in addition to giving me great joy, I’m sure I would also wield it as a weapon of guilt whenever their behavior was not to my liking. So, the kids are out, since I can’t be nice about it.

  • I’d get caught up with all my bills. Property taxes. Insurance. Last winter’s heat.
  • I’d pay off my mortgage.
  • I would have a “carriage house” style garage built. In the size of a three car garage, with a small apartment above. It would actually only have one port for my car; the rest of the ground floor would be a large art studio. I’d move my printing press and other art supplies in to the studio. I’d move myself into the apartment.
  • Then, once my little house was cleared of all the necessities and excesses of my life, I would have it finished properly. Hardwood floors throughout. Woodwork and trim. Real closets. New windows. A deep, comfortable bathtub. Matching switch plate covers throughout. Light fixtures. Paint. A nice guest bedroom where the studio is now. An added screened porch. Only when it was all completely finished to my satisfaction would I move back in. The extra living space, then, could possibly be used for guests, or rented, or bartered for help with garden and yard work, or care of the dogs when I’m away…
  • because I’d travel. Not a lot, but more than I am able to now. To see family. To visit friends. To participate in art workshops or archaeological digs. To lay, occasionally, in the sun on tropical beaches. To have fun.
  • I’d have a wood-fired kiln built. I’d set up an area for working in clay.
  • I’d get back to making large art projects, whether ceramic sculpture or two-dimensional work. I’d spend the time and money to learn the encaustic process.
  • I’d repair the garden fence, and get help to finally get my garden back to the way I imagine it. Raised beds laid out in a grid, with flower borders and wood chip pathways.
  • With money to hire help and buy wood chips, I could also get the yard in shape.
  • I’d buy the piece of property that’s for sale on Fox Lake. Maybe I’d put a little cabin up. Definitely, I would buy a little rowboat to keep there.
  • I might quit all of my jobs.
  • I would definitely take my friend Judi out for an extravagant dinner, because today is her birthday. Not having a million dollars in hand, I’ll simply say “Happy Birthday, Judi!”