Monthly Archives: April 2018

Reading Material(April A~Z Challenge)



When packing for my trip off the island, I had plenty of things to consider. Reading material should have been the least of my worries. For the bus that would take me from Charlevoix to Flint, Michigan, I was allowed one 50 pound bag, plus one small carry-on. For the trip by plane from Bishop Airport in Flint to Orlando International Airport, I was allowed one 40 pound bag to be checked. No carry-on.

Beaver Island was in the middle of a snowstorm, with ice and freezing temperatures. That storm had already gone through the Flint area. Still, it was April; what the weather would be like tomorrow, or the next day, was anybody’s guess. Do I add a winter coat? What will that do to my weight capacity? Because part of my plans for this trip were also to solicit my sister’s help in filing my taxes, I had to also allow room for several folders of receipts and forms.

When I checked the long-term forecast for the area of Florida we’d be in, it showed cooler temperatures and thunderstorms for three of the seven days we’d be there. Who could tell if that prediction would hold? On top of that, all Florida clothing had to travel well, be versatile, and promise to hide my fat. I know, I was asking a lot.

With so much to consider, I had fallen into procrastination mode until there was no longer any time to waste. I was becoming more tense in every day that went by. The time for making lists and considering options was past; it was time for action! Finally, on the day before I was scheduled to leave, I had two revelations:

  1. I would leave my computer at home. In this day and age, there are computers out there to use, in a pinch. I could check my mail, post my blog and be done with it. No temptation to waste time on social media or in playing internet Scrabble. What a relief to not have to worry about where and how to carry my laptop computer, and all of the cords and accessories that accompany it. How nice to have one less thing to weigh, and carry! What a good time to practice going technology free!
  2. I would weigh my books first!! Because my electronic reader had recently given up the ghost, I had three books set aside to take with me on vacation. Peony in Love by Lisa See, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, and We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter: paperback books that each sounded like they would grab and hold my attention on a plane, on a rainy day inside, on the beach, or before falling asleep at night. Stoking the Creative Fires by Phil Cousineau was the one technical book I allowed myself. A Morning Cup of Yoga  by Jane Goad Trechsel would keep me up on my daily practice. Then, of course, I had to have my journal for writing “morning pages,” my sketchbook to document my trip in pictures, and my bullet journal for keeping track of everything else.

Whew! That did it! Once I made the decision to prioritize reading material, everything else fell into place. Logically, I can say that it shouldn’t have played such a major roll in my decision-making, with all of the other things I had to consider. In the end, though, it seems that having my books with me made all other decisions easier.


Quiet (the April A~Z Challenge)



I like the quiet.  Too much noise makes me tense.

I think I was always like that. Growing up in a large, raucous family, I would search for places to be alone. I’d take a flashlight and a book, and crawl to the very back of the attic, alone. I would pick a mound of fresh peas and sit – hidden from view – on the far side of the black shed, while I shucked and ate them. I made a little hideaway by clearing the deep top shelf in our bedroom. I’d sit up there for hours, above the fray.

As an adult, I don’t need the radio playing or the TV on. My nerves get jangled when there are too many people speaking at once. Or when people are shouting or arguing. Or when the road truck causes my dogs to burst into a tirade of loud, sharp barking. I like things peaceful. I like it quiet.

Still, there must be another side of me that I am less aware of. I know there is a sharpness to my tone of voice that, over the years, people have interpreted as anger, sarcasm or nastiness even when it was not intended. I know I can sometimes be a “long talker,” beating a subject to death, almost. My husband thought I was bossy.  My youngest daughter would often offer to take the time-out, grounding, or whatever punishment was at hand, if I would, “JUST DON’T LECTURE!!!”

And when my dear mother, who was an only child and often seemed a bit overwhelmed by all the noise and activity in our household, begged,  “please just let me have a little peace and quiet…” I was often one of the people she was speaking to! Now, I would happily comply. I love the quiet!

Patchwork (April A~Z Challenge)




this photo was taken in mid-April, 2017

I used to be quite the quilter. I was never taught; actually, it never seemed to me to be one of those things that needed to be taught. Some patterns, of course, were beyond my skill level, but I wasn’t aiming for whorls or stars or flowers. Mainly, I was just using up scraps. I thought that’s what quilting was all about. I was a hoarder of all manner of bits and pieces, so quilting seemed right up my alley.

My husband was a roofer, and would wear through two dozen pair of blue jeans in a season. I patched them with scraps from other jeans that were beyond repair. I stitched the patches on with various embroidery stitches, sometimes embellished with a row of flowers, a heart, or a peace emblem. Then, when I became overrun with denim scraps, I stitched large pieces together – some embellished with embroidery, some not, in twelve shades of faded blue – into a pair of wide leg pants for myself. They had a drawstring waist, and were quite dapper, for the 1970’s. I took the zip-out liner from a jacket my husband never wore, and covered it with patchwork denim scraps to create a blue-jean vest for him.

As with every craft I have tried to master, there are many more unfinished examples than completed projects. I started a silky baby quilt made just from old neckties. I started another using just the silk labels from inside of clothing. In both cases I fell far short of materials. I planned a large quilt made of old T shirts, and collected them for years with that purpose in mind. When I started having grandchildren, I intended to make each of them a crazy quilt, using bits and scraps of old clothing from various family members.

I think I finished a couple of them. They were colorful, without a doubt. They were accepted graciously by babies and parents. Years later, when one of them (I think Tommy) brought his quilt out to show me that he still had it, I was embarrassed at the poor quality. Seams – that were never properly put together – were coming apart. Edges were crooked; stuffing was lumpy. I was embarrassed, but not surprised.

Some time, between first putting denim scraps together to make “masterpieces,” and – twenty years later – fitting all manner and shapes of fabric together to make “crazy quilts,” I came to the realization that there are, in fact, rules to proper quilting. Knowing that – and knowing that I had never learned them – dampened my spirit about the whole endeavor. There is a lesson here, somewhere, in my quilting experience…though it’s not a quilting lesson!


Out (April A~Z Challenge)



Beaver Island is, at this writing, in the middle of a mid-April winter storm. It started with a mist of icy snow that progressed, over the next twenty-four hours, to what I can only describe as a long-lasting downpour of driving, icy snow. It sounded like pouring rain, with a hint of a hailstorm thrown in. Electrical outages, closings and cancellations ensued. The roads are snow-covered and slippery, and the snow is still coming down. Though I made it out to go to work on Sunday, I’ve been home ever since.

I am leaving the island this week on Wednesday, for about two weeks away. I’ll have one night in Charlevoix before heading down-state by bus to my sister’s house for two days. On Saturday afternoon, four sisters and I will board a plane for Florida. We’ll be there for a week, from the 21st to the 28th of this month.

So, one thing that is concerning me this morning is how to pack for travel in Michigan, just a few days away. Shall I plan to wear my winter coat, and pack a lighter jacket? There’s a weight limit for my luggage on the plane to Florida, bus also for the bus to Flint. That winter coat will be appreciated, if the weather stays like this, for the two-mile walk from the airport, where I park the car I’ll be using in Charlevoix, to the bus stop. If it’s warmer, it will just be unnecessary weight. It’s hard to throw my confidence behind the summer clothes I’m packing for Florida, when I’m looking out at a very unseasonable blizzard here!

The topic today, though, is “out.” How does that have anything to do with weather, and travel? Here’s the thing. I despise the idea of leaving perishable food behind to spoil when I leave the island. Groceries have to be shipped to the island, which adds to the cost. Throwing away food is like tossing away dollar bills. So, I try to plan so that my refrigerator is bare by the time I am ready to go away. Though I tend to “stock up,” to always have more than enough on hand, my grocery lists have been spare. My menus and meal plans have been carefully orchestrated to use up what is here.  It’s not an easy dance I do.

Yesterday, I made a big pot of soup. Two quarts of my homemade vegetable stock from the freezer, plus one quart of stewed tomatoes, the last two carrots (out! that’s a score!), the leftover cauliflower leaves and stems (out!), the rest of a green pepper (out!), and six stalks of celery (leaving four more to, sadly, wither away in the vegetable bin). To that mixture I added half of the leftover pork loin, diced, a quarter cup of barley and a handful of wild rice. I’ll be able to eat soup until I leave, and put any leftovers in the freezer. I froze the rest of the leftover pork and – except for the celery – considered it a success.

This morning, with a snowstorm raging outside, I notice I have about two tablespoons of milk left in the jug. Cream for my coffee, not much more. Before the time for my departure, I will be forced to drink my coffee black. I have no raw carrots for crunchy snacks. All of a sudden, it seems I am out of everything! Even though that was my goal, even though I still feel bad about what I don’t use up, it’s a little scary to run out.

Nap (April A~Z Challenge)



My husband was a napper. He could fall asleep on the beach, at a drive-in movie, even on the couch at my parent’s house after Sunday dinner.When he worked as a contractor, he’d sometimes come home from work in the early afternoon, not for lunch, but to take a nap. It used to drive me crazy!

“How can you possibly sleep in the middle of the day,” I would ask him, incredulous. “How can you sleep when the sun is out?” I struggled, even, to fall asleep at night. If something woke me up, no matter the time, that was the end of my night’s rest. There was no way I could sleep during the day, unless I hadn’t gone to bed until morning. That wasn’t napping, but just a skewed schedule.

Then, I started working the morning shift as a server. I had to be up at the crack of dawn, and I ran miles in that restaurant, delivering meals to the customers. If you’ve worked as a server, you know it involves a great deal of mental calisthenics as well as physical labor. Timing, memorization, organization and diplomacy all come into play, while hauling large trays full of heavy dishes back and forth from the kitchen.

My shift ended at 2 PM. My daughters remember that as soon as I got home, I’d put my feet up and say, “I want to just sit here and not smile for a while.” Sometimes, if they were at school, or away for the afternoon, I’d take a nap. By the time they were grown, and I could nap whenever I chose to, I had come to realize what a true pleasure it is.

From the time I was a small child, I’ve fought bedtime, and I’ve always had trouble falling asleep at night. There’s something frightening to me about giving in to sleep. Fear of death? I don’t know. But is has followed me through life.

Just after midday, though, when the afternoon sun streams in and warms the sofa, when the bright sun chases away any fears, when the background noise of TV or radio reassures…a nap is a treasure! More restful, often, than a whole night’s sleep, a nap renews and refreshes, and hands back the rest of the day with energy to spare.

My job these days doesn’t allow time for midday naps. I don’t get home from work until late in the afternoon. The dogs need a walk, then, and attention. I have to get to dinner, and chores, and other obligations. Now and then, though, when I have a day at home…when maybe I didn’t get a good night’s rest…and the sun is streaming in through the window…I’ll wrap an afghan around myself, and lay down for the rare indulgence of a nice afternoon nap. And what a pleasure it is!


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #16



List the experiences that have made you feel that you are living life to the fullest:

  • Giving birth
  • Moving to Beaver Island
  • Moving to East Lansing to finish college. I was thirty-four years old, newly divorced with two young daughters, and I’d never lived in a city before. And it was a wonderful experience!
  • Sailing from Beaver Island to Port Huron…on a 29′ sailboat…as part of a 3-person crew…in October!
  • Traveling to Grand Turk Island to work on an archaeological dig
  • Riding in a bi-plane as it performed dips and spins and barrel rolls.
  • Travel. There have been many memorable trips with family and friends. Some stand-outs: Chicago with my daughter, Jen. We ate at a wonderful Italian restaurant, went to a show of Jasper Johns work, and explored the city together, just the two of us; Florida with my sisters, the winter after my mother died. It was tearful and poignant, relaxing and fun, and oh-so-necessary for every one of us; Chicago with my sisters and a couple nieces for Mother’s Day weekend, the first Mother’s Day that our own mother was no longer with us. Connecticut with my daughter, Kate, and her family. We went to see my oldest grandson and his new baby. That alone would have been wonderful. Kate, though, is a good one to travel with: she researches and plans, leads side-excursions and detours, to make every single trip a memorable one.

Mom (the April A~Z Challenge)

Mom, Brenda and I

from left: me, Brenda, and Mom

I was born just a month after my mother turned twenty years old. She was, likewise, within a month of twenty years younger than her mother. My oldest daughter was born when I was nineteen-and-a-half years old, so for six months of the year, twenty years separates us, too.

It makes it easy to keep track of ages. I was raised in a large family. If someone asks how old one of my siblings is, I can figure it out, but it takes a little time. It’s all in relation to how old I am. For instance, if I need to know how old my sister, Robin, is, I start with my own age. Ted was born two years after me, and Sheila two years after him. Cheryl was born a year and a half later, Nita after another year and a half, and Robin not quite two years later. It gets complicated, especially with the fractions.

If I want to know how old my Mom would be, it’s easy to just add twenty years to my own age. Right now, Mom would be eight-five years old. And, you know, there are quite a few healthy eighty-five-year-old people in the world. Sadly, my Mom is not one of them. In fact, she’s been gone almost seven years now, and it still feels like a cheat.

I always thought she would be around. Not forever, of course, but for a long, long time. Mom talked about living to be one hundred, and I could actually see it. I cannot picture my own old age: I am shocked and discouraged already by what is reflected in the mirror. Mom, though, seemed suited for the roll. Feisty as ever, she’d be a tiny, silver-haired beauty with a lovely smile and a book in hand.

Mom was only thirty years old when she lost her own mother. An only child, she had no brothers and sisters to share her grief. I asked her, once, what it felt like to live without that example…to have never seen her mother at sixty years old, or sixty-five. She said that for much of her life, she was figuring it out on her own, anyway, as her life was quite different than her mother’s. “But, yes,” she said, “it was different once I hit that fifty-year mark. It was like I was forging new ground every day.”

Looking at it from that angle – or any other perspective – I feel very lucky to have had my mother in my life for all the years that I did.

Little Blessings (April A~Z Challenge)



We are, most of us, most of the time, pretty clear about the big, wonderful things in our lives. Family, friends, good health, blah, blah, blah…we are so sure of them that we stumble through most of our lives, unaware and ungrateful. Until something precious is lost, and we wish – to no avail – that we’d had the good sense to appreciate our good fortune…before it was gone.

I’ve been in that situation…wishing for a miracle, praying for another chance, promising that – if given the opportunity – I would never take such tremendous blessings for granted again. Every loss has been a gift, only in the fact that it has made me more aware. I know how lucky I am to have loving family, to have friends that care, to be sixty-five years old and, by god, still in pretty good health. I try to appreciate those things every day.

A bonus of taking time to be grateful is that I become more aware of the little things, too. I have to. Every day, I make note in my journal of something that has enriched my day. It would go against my creative principles to redundantly state, day-after-day, the same treasures, no matter how big, no matter how important, no matter how dear. So, I watch for little blessings.

Yesterday, for instance, I had a good conversation with my daughter, Jen. She sounded good! She has a new job, closer to home and with better pay than her last one. She has a new phone number. Which means she is finally, definitively cutting ties with that scoundrel who has been dragging her spirits down for far too long. So, that is several little blessings all wrapped up in one telephone call.

This morning, it snowed. Almost halfway through April. And not a nasty, wet springtime snow that just makes a mess of things; this was big, beautiful, fluffy snowflakes, coming down like I always hope they will on Christmas. Then, it stopped. And melted. And the temperature reached forty, at least. And as long as I stayed out of the wind, it felt like one of the best, fresh days of spring.

This evening, there is a banded woolly bear caterpillar walking across my kitchen floor. I don’t know how it got in…but it’s cold outside; I think he can stay.

Sitting here at my desk, my feet are warmed by a thick woven rug that was a gift from my friend, Linda. On my right, three photographs in frames: my Mom and Dad, shortly after they first met, smiling into the camera from the Beaver Island boat dock; my brothers and sisters and me, all nine of us together (three have since passed on); my two daughters, with big smiles. Draped over one of the frames is a sweetgrass braid, a gift from my friend, Vince, who died this spring. On my left, a glass of water in a thick, Mexico-made, coke bottle green glass. Beside it, red wine in a stemmed hand-blown wineglass with swirls of red, orange and bergundy, a gift from my daughter, Kate.

Straight ahead of me is the “Moment of Truth” intaglio print by David Bigelow. It depicts a pig, strapped into an elaborate set of wings about to step off the edge of a cliff. That print has stood guard over my desk for the last forty years, reminding me not to be afraid to challenge myself. A small, tinkly wind chime hangs to the side.

Tucked into the frame’s edge is a photo of my mother. Taken just a few months before her death, she’s leaning against a pillow on her floral sofa. The picture-taker caught her in the middle of blinking; her eyes are closed, but she has a big smile on her face. Of all the many wonderful things my mother taught me, one of the most valuable is to remember to be grateful.

Just two rooms away, the bathroom heater is humming. I’m about to take my wine, and a good book, and enjoy a hot bath. So, it seems that even in the most ordinary times, if I keep watch, my life is abounding in little blessings!

Timeout for Art: Keep Going (April A~Z Challenge)


three “Touch Point” and two new variations of “Fever Dream”

It is easy, if I’ve finished a big project or had a really productive day or week in the studio, to take a break. “That’s a major accomplishment,” I’ll think to myself, “I deserve a rest.” Sometimes it seems like a little respite will do me good, will allow ideas to percolate and plans to come together. I tell myself that I have more than enough finished work for gallery-showing this year, that excess will just have to be stored. Sometimes I’m just tired.

No matter how convincing I can be, it is never a good idea to close the studio door. One day off leads to weeks or months away from the work at hand. Ideas that should have been “percolating” go up in smoke. Momentum disappears. All of my pride in a job well done turns into a false certainty that it was just a lucky fluke. I stop being an artist, and go back to being a person with a studio at the top of the stairs…used for storage, mostly.

Of course there will be days when I cannot go to the studio: when I am swamped with other obligations, or away from home, or sick. But when I am here, and when I am able, I have to keep going into the studio. There are days when I will not accomplish a single worthwhile thing. There are times when every attempt will only lead to frustration. Some days, I’ll plug away at a project by rote, and derive not a bit of joy from the task. Still, keep going.

Every day that I walk up the stairs and into the studio, I reestablish myself as an artist. I reaffirm the idea that I am a “maker,” sometimes just going through the motions, sometimes exulting in the process. Every day that I go to the studio, I give myself the opportunity to do something wonderful. It doesn’t always happen…but how can I deny myself the possibility?

Joy (April A~Z Challenge)


august2013 024

“Oh, Joy…”

My Mom used to say that, her voice edged with sarcasm, when what she meant was something quite the opposite. She’d say it when she learned that one of us had a big report due tomorrow, for school…and we hadn’t yet started the research. Or when yet another child was now down with fever, cold or chicken pox. Or when my grandparents would be coming by for a visit on their way to Beaver Island from Chicago – or vice versa – and planned to stay with us. Or when Dad would pull in to the driveway with one or more of the “Doney” brothers, who were currently “off the wagon,” and all were clearly already unsteady on their feet.

We learned the meaning of “joy” from what it was not…but it was many years before I thought about the true definition of the word. That was the case, it seems, with many words involving feelings. We were much more inclined to recognize – and verbalize -negative feelings than positive: “What are you so mad about;” “What are you crying for;” and “What’s the matter with you?” The responses kept to the same line of thought: what is wrong with my world.

At Easter time, we might excitedly chatter about our new dresses, hats and shoes, saying how much we “loved” the colors or ribbons or buckles. At Christmas time, we’d exchange secrets and smiles and giggles. We’d say, “aren’t you excited?” and “I can’t wait!” And when Mom came home from the hospital with a new baby, we’d gather around the bassinet, saying, “look how pretty” and “she’s so tiny!” At those times, and many others, in what was basically a very happy childhood, I’m certain we felt joy.  We just didn’t talk about it.

I don’t think anyone ever asked, “What makes you happy” or “What brings you joy?” I don’t know if it would have made a bit of difference in how I viewed the world, as a child. I know that – as an adult – I decided, at some point, that it was my right, in this life, to be happy. Not, simply, to be not unhappy, but to have joy in my life.

With that realization came expectations and basic standards for everything. It changed the way I looked at lovers and friends, goals, activities and life-style. I expected more from relationships, jobs, and even from simple conversations. Now, if someone were to ask me what brings me joy, I would have a ready answer (the first spring blooms; my wag-tail dogs greeting me at the door; the curled, early leaves of beans poking out of the soil, hugs from brothers and sisters, giggling with my girlfriend, Jennifer’s smile, Katey’s laugh, the sweet faces of my grandchildren, snow at Christmas, the view of the harbor as I come around the corner into town…). In my life today, I’d rather pay less attention to what is wrong, and more attention to what makes me happy. Oh, joy!