Monthly Archives: April 2019

Zest (April A ~ Z Challenge)


Zest is defined as “keen interest or enjoyment, relish, gusto, piquancy.” I must admit, I’m not as “zesty” as I used to be. And that’s a sad thing. There is nothing better than being pulled forward by the sheer excitement of a plan, an experience, or an idea.

That kind of energy just doesn’t come my way as often as it used to. It seems harder all the time to drum up enthusiasm. That’s partly because I’m tired, and partly due to my age and experience. Things that can be really thrilling the first time around become somewhat commonplace after more than half a century. Some things, though, never get old:

  • Sunrises and sunsets. Every day a double blessing.
  • The view of Beaver Island’s good harbor as I drive past the church into town.
  • The view of Beaver Island, on approach, from the deck of the ferry boat.
  • My daughters. When I pick up the phone and hear either of their voices, my heart sings.
  • Christmas: the memories, the traditions, the music.
  • A good, baked macaroni and cheese.
  • The colors of autumn.
  • A perfect peach.
  • Almost any movie starring Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, or Julia Roberts.
  • Riding a bicycle.
  • Any essay by E.B. White.
  • The first snowfall.
  • Perfume, especially Chanel #5, as that was my mother’s scent.
  • Smooth, flat stones.
  • A bookstore.
  • A clear blue sky.
  • The first cup of coffee in the morning.
  • A new art project.
  • A nicely scented candle.
  • Warm summer nights.
  • Rearranging the furniture.
  • A new book arriving in the mail.
  • A handwritten letter.
  • Hot chocolate with whipped cream.
  • A heartfelt “Thank You.”
  • A fresh bouquet of flowers.
  • Clean sheets fresh from the clothesline.
  • A beautiful bar of soap.
  • Messages from my grandchildren.
  • A sky full of stars.
  • Homemade bread, warm from the oven.
  • A boat ride.
  • A good song on the radio.
  • New pencils.
  • Fresh peas from the garden.
  • A good bout of uncontrollable laughter.
  • Lemons.
  • A new journal.
  • A private joke shared with a friend.
  • A pot of soup.
  • Springtime.
  • A new skein of yarn.
  • Games with my sisters.
  • A stretch of beach.
  • The moon.

Yet Another Difficult Letter (April A ~ Z Challenge)


Lists from A to Z seemed like a fine idea at the beginning of the alphabet, not so much now that I’m nearing the end.

Y! I could write about yeast breads, or yoga, or yarn…but how to come up with a list for any of those topics? And my plan emphasized lists, for this challenge, this April.

I have yarn, in several weights and colors, but I’m not well-versed enough in the nuances of yarn to write about it. I do a little yoga practice each day, but the routine I do could be found, and described more accurately, in any book on the topic. I do quite a bit of bread-baking, especially in the wintertime, and have several recipes that have been successful for me. Short of printing out the recipes, though, what is there to say about yeast bread?

So, in frustration, yet unwilling to give up when I’m this close to the finish line, let me just grab, in desperation, for any Y word. Yesterday!


  • I managed to make it through the whole day on very little sleep. Once again, I’d been unable to fall asleep the night before, and spent many hours lying awake (unable to “toss and turn” when sandwiched in between two small dogs!), pacing the floor, paging through magazines, and any number of other non-productive, time-killing activities, until I was finally able to fall asleep, somewhere around five AM. I often blame a bright night sky for my inability to sleep. A full moon is an almost sure guarantee of a restless night. And yet, with the sun already brightening the sky, I can sleep soundly in the early morning hours. It’s a puzzle.
  • Yesterday was a work day for me so I still had to be out of bed by eight in order to stumble through at least some of my morning routine: yoga; coffee; morning pages (which yesterday amounted to one-half of one page); walk the dogs; shower, dress, and out the door.
  • It was a busy day at work, with customers trying to finish week-end projects, and taking advantage of our paint sale. I was there late, in order to finish up the order that had to be submitted at the end of my shift.
  • After work, I walked down the street to the Community Center, to meet my cousin, Pam. She had bought tickets to the annual community play, and we were attending the Sunday matinee! This year’s offering was “‘Til Beth Do Us Part,” a Jones Hope Wooten comedy. It was performed brilliantly by talented island residents, who I see in daily life as friends and neighbors. It’s a special treat to see familiar faces as such unexpected characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
  • When I got home, the dogs were waiting, more than ready for their afternoon walk. We took the Cotter’s Trail into the woods, then turned in to Hoopfer’s drive to circle their big yard. Finding the little trail through the woods that leads to the Murray place still too wet for walking, we backtracked and continued down Cotter’s trail to the little cabin at the end. There, Blackie Chan surprised a rabbit; he watched with big eyes as it bounded away. Then back the way we came. The wild leeks are starting to poke out of the ground, and the dappled leaves of trout lilies are visible under the trees. The snow is, finally, almost gone.
  • I fed the dogs. They like to have their meal at six-thirty, with a chewy treat immediately after. I eat later.
  • While preparing my dinner, I checked the news.
  • My dinner was macaroni and cheese, made with the last of the cavatappi pasta, and some sharp cheddar. I boxed up the leftovers for lunches later in the week.
  • Kitchen clean-up was my final task before giving in to my sleepiness.
  • I went to bed early, and managed to read less than two pages of my book before turning out the light. I slept well, through the whole night.

X (April A ~ Z Challenge)


X is a hard one. The little red hardcover dictionary, a gift, many years ago, from my friend, Les, has exactly six entries for the letter X. Because I can’t see my way clear to make a list based on xenophobia, Xerox, Xmas, X-ray or xylophone, I’m working with the first entry, which is, simply, the letter X.

  • X is the Roman numeral 10
  • X is the first unknown symbol in Algebra.
  • X is used to indicate position. “X marks the spot,” as in treasure maps. Years ago, my two oldest grandsons buried a treasure in my back yard. It was a tin box filled with notes and trinkets and mementos. They had fun putting it together, and fun digging the hole to bury it. The best time, though, was drawing the large map that would remind them where to find it. I wonder if it’s still out there.
  • X indicates incorrectness. I remember the sinking feeling I got when I saw, in what was, I thought, a brilliantly written answer to an Art History essay question, an entire paragraph X-ed out. “This is NOT an aspect of court art,” was the explanation Mrs. Bates printed in the margin. I still got credit for my essay, and an A on the exam. But, when I was trying so hard to impress a teacher I truly admired, that X was humbling.
  • X can mean a kiss. I often signed off letters to my young daughters with long rows of X’s and O’s.
  • X can be a vote, or to indicate a choice on any form.
  • X can be the signature of someone who cannot write. Or, evidently, of someone who chooses not to write. One hardware customer insists on making only an X on the computer screen when charging his purchases. “They don’t care,” he says. I guess they don’t.
  • Beyond the dictionary definition, an X indicates a job completed. Last year, I wrote “X is a verb,” and told how I talked about Xing items off my list. That still holds true, and thankfully so, as there is little enough, even with this bit of information, to write about the letter X!

Writers (April A ~ Z Challenge)


I read every day. I’ll read just about anything that comes my way, from high literature to cheap mystery stories to the backs of cereal boxes. Still, I have my favorites. These are writers whose work I watch for:

  • E.B. White. I think I’ve read just about everything he’s written (and, now deceased, he’s not producing new work), but I keep his books handy, and enjoy re-reading his essays, letters and poems.
  • Alice Walker. Whether essays, poetry, autobiography or fiction, her work is always worthwhile.
  • Louise Erdrich. I’ve been reading her loosely connected stories for twenty years. The setting remains roughly the same, and the characters repeat: a person may show up in one book as a young woman and the main character; in another as a minor character in old age. I feel like I’ve gotten to know them all, through the generations and over the years. It’s always exciting to see a new book out.
  • Barbara Kingsolver. Though I have to admit, I fell in love with Kingsolver’s writing through her early work, and I’ve struggled through more recent titles, I still look forward to her writing.
  • Anne Lamott. I don’t always agree with her perspective, but I always find her writing glorious.
  • Maxine Hong Kingston. Her output has been pretty spare in recent years, but I re-read The Woman Warrior last winter, and was reminded what a strong, magical writer she is. I’m looking forward to re-reading China Men.
  • Amy Tan. A master at developing characters and situations, I love everything she writes.
  • Laurie R. King. Though I’ve read some of her other work, I am mostly enthralled with her Mary Russell series. She can’t write fast enough!
  • Kate Atkinson. I’m reading her work kind of backwards, because I just discovered her a couple years ago. I first read Life After Life, then A God in Ruins. Then, in love with her work, I started going back through her earlier books.
  • Mary Blocksma. My friend, Mary, who has written children’s books and nature books and memoir, is one of the best writers out there. I’ve been privy to some of her work-in-progress, and know what treasures await the reader of her One Hundred Enchantments!

Verse (April A ~ Z Challenge)


Before we are done with April, which is National Poetry Month, let me take advantage of the letter V to share a few sweet and silly verses:

The Cornfield
E.B. White
Up to the cornfield, old and curly,
I took Joe, who rises early.
Joe, my yearling, on my shoulder,
Observed the old corn growing older.
And I could feel the simple awe
He felt at seeing what he saw.
Yellow light and cool day
And cornstalks stretching far away.
My son, too young and wise to speak,
Clung with one hand to my cheek,
While in his head were slowly born
Important mysteries of the corn.
And being present at the birth
Of my child's wonderment of earth,
I felt my own life stir again
By the still graveyard of the grain.
My Papa's Waltz
Theodore Roethke
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head 
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
White Apples
Donald Hall
when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear 
I sat up in bed
and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door
white apples and the taste of stone
if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes.
I Forgive You
Stevie Smith
I forgive you, Maria,
Things can never be the same,
But I forgive you, Maria,
Though I think you were to blame.
I forgive you, Maria,
I can never forget,
But I forgive you, Maria,
Kindly remember that.

Aunt Louise
Rod McKuen
When Aunt Louise fell off the boat
And couldn't swim, and wouldn't float,
And young Miranda sat and smiled,
I almost could have slapped the child.

Useful (April A ~ Z Challenge)


Today, I focus on things that have been most useful to me:

  • Dictionary. I have a couple book versions, and I also rely on When I think I’ve spelled a word correctly, and the spell-checker tags it, I immediately go to the dictionary to find the right spelling. It’s also helpful to check pronunciation, or to make sure I’m using a word correctly.
  • Thesaurus. When I proofread, I often notice I’ve gotten hung up on one descriptive word, and used it over and over again in just a few paragraphs. The thesaurus offers enough other words with similar meanings that I can choose ones that fit with my vocabulary and writing style.
  • Google. Whenever I’m confronted with something I don’t know, whether how to change a faucet, what year Princess Diana died or who Sarah Jessica Parker is married to, I turn to Google. “Let’s Google it,” I say to customers when they ask me how to acidify soil, or what epoxy is best for vinyl repair. I depend on Google for my lack of knowledge and my fading memory.
  • YouTube. Google will often direct me to YouTube for video answers to my technical questions. Some things are easier to learn by seeing it done. YouTube has often helped me gain confidence to tackle a project I would otherwise be terrified to try.
  • A big, long coat. Mine is brown tweed, with a leather collar. It comes almost to my ankles. I bought it several years ago at a Re-Sale shop. I feel like Mary Poppins when I wear it. It’s handy for throwing on over pajamas to take the dogs for their morning walk. It looks dressier than my parka for travel. It was the best $10.00 investment I ever made!
  • A blazer. Blazers, I think, make the perfect light jacket for spring and fall, or even for chilly summer nights. They can easily dress up a pair of ratty jeans or other casual clothes. I’ve been caught out dog-walking in some god-awful outfits, with teeth un-brushed and hair uncombed, only to be told, “you look nice…” I attribute it to the blazer every single time.
  • A birthday calendar. Otherwise, birthdays get lost in the clutter of other obligations. If they fall near the beginning of a month, they aren’t noticed until the page is turned. A separate birthday calendar makes me more confidant that I won’t miss those special days (Happy Birthday today, to my grandson, Tommy!)
  • A few good, cheap, dependable recipes. Best if they can always be pulled together with ingredients at hand.
  • Important phone numbers and addresses, written down. Even if all of that information is stored on a cell phone, what if that system were to fail? I do not have a cell phone, but I have pertinent information with me, in case I need it.
  • A daily to-do list. Whether I use it as a reminder of appointments and obligations, or just to mark off tasks as I do them, this is an important aspect of my daily life. When it seems to me that I am lazy, slothful and never accomplish a goddamned thing, I can look back through my daily lists and see that I’m not doing so bad after all.
  • Bullet Journal. My bullet journal contains my daily to-do list, important phone numbers and addresses, my birthday calendar, and a few good recipes. It also has my work schedule, my monthly task and activity tracker, a wish list, a list of things (books, movies, Ted talks, podcasts, etc,) that I want to check out, books I’ve read, a future planner, and a schedule for medicines for my three dogs. Among other things. It is most useful to me.

What things make your life run more smoothly?

Twain (April A ~ Z Challenge)


My daughter, Kate, and I share a love of Mark Twain. I appreciate his somewhat cynical view of the world, and his ability to speak about it with understated sarcasm, wit, and a good heart. Some wonderful examples:

  • “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of twenty-four hours!”
  • “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”
  • “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
  • “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
  • “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”
  • “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”
  • “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
  • “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
  • “A man’s character may be learned by the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”
  • “Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.”
  • “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.”
  • “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
  • “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”
  • “Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.”
  • “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
  • “The rain is famous for falling on the just and unjust alike, but if I had the management of such affairs I would rain softly and sweetly on the just, but if I caught a sample of the unjust out doors I would drown him.”
  • “To create man was a quaint and original idea, but to add the sheep was tautology.”
  • “Happiness ain’t a thing in itself–it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.”
  • This, from a letter to an unidentified subject: “My sympathies are also with you in your desire & purpose to preserve your native language in your American homes, & keep it alive in the family along with our American tongue. My sympathies could not fail there, for this movement of yours, so publicly & trustingly expressed, is a high compliment to our free institutions. There are countries where it is a punishable crime for the alien subject to use the speech that was born to him, but in America we do not care what a man talks; for we know that the sentiment back of the words will be American, every time — & deep & strong, too.”
  • And this one, from a letter written to the gas company, is one of my all-time favorites: “Some day you will move me almost to the verge of irritation by your chuckle-headed goddamned fashion of shutting your goddamned gas off without giving any notice to your goddamned parishioners.”

Songs (April A ~ Z Challenge)


I don’t have much of a singing voice…some have said I can’t carry a tune at all…but I love to sing. Of course, the songs I love best are the ones I know all the words to, but there are others that are special just for the memories that they hold. Some of my favorite songs:

  • There’s a little tune that goes, “Mares eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy, too, wouldn’t you?” When my mom sang it, it sounded – as it was meant to – like “Marezee doats and do-see-doats and little lamzee-divy. Akiddle-dee-divy too, wouldn’t you?” I was almost grown, and very surprised, when I learned the real words. It always brings back memories of my mom as a young woman.
  • All the lullabies. Or at least all that I know. And I have a pretty good repertoire of them. I rocked and sang many little ones to sleep: my younger siblings, children I babysat for, my own children, my grandchildren…
  • All the Christmas songs. As children we listened to Christmas songs recorded by Burl Ives, Perry Como, and Mitch (of Sing Along with Mitch fame), so learned all the classics.
  • All the songs from the original Mary Poppins movie. We had that record, too. At one time, I knew all the words to all the songs. Now, fifty years later, I can still sing “Chim-Chiminy,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious.” I have forgotten “Dearest Nanny,” “Feed the Birds,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and any others.
  • All the songs from The Wizard of Oz. Again, I used to know them all; now I don’t.
  • Roger Miller songs. Mom loved his music, so it was often playing in our house. “King of the Road” still makes me grin whenever I hear it.
  • Johnny Cash. Another of Mom’s favorites. The children’s pick was always “A Boy Named Sue.” We sang along with it whenever it came on.
  • “Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley. Because when it came on the car radio just as Dad was parking the station wagon so that we could go to church, he became intrigued by the lyrics. He waved a hand to tell us to wait, and to be quiet. He turned up the volume and, with a slight grin, listened to the entire song before leading us in to mass.
  • Everything by the Beatles.
  • Many songs by Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • John Denver music, especially “Annie’s Song.”
  • “You’re in My Heart,” by Rod Stewart.
  • Almost all the songs Kenny Rogers did, but especially the sad, twangy ones: “Lucille,” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”
  • All of Harry Chapin’s songs.
  • Louis Armstrong’s songs. That voice!
  • Many Helen Reddy songs, especially “I Am Woman.”
  • “Hello” by Lionel Richie.
  • “Just Called to Say I Love You,” by Stevie Wonder.
  • Many songs by Pat Benatar.
  • The songs of Fleetwood Mac.
  • “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. Also “Sultans of Swing.”
  • Almost everything by Elton John.
  • Many songs by Claudia Schmidt.
  • “Lovely Agnes,” by Sally Rogers.

There it is, a mish-mash of my favorites. Which makes clear, it seems, that I don’t have a particular style, genre, or even type of musician in mind. But I do like music!

Routines (April A ~ Z Challenge)


I don’t have a lot of set routines in my house, and the ones I have are pretty easily set aside (see Exceptions), but I like a little structure. Some regular practices:

  • Yoga. I try to start every day with a little yoga practice. It seems to set a focus for my day, and helps to work out the kinks from my achy joints.
  • Pilates. Because I recently spent two hundred dollars on a Pilates chair, and feel I need to justify that indulgence, I’ve been trying to do some work on it every day. Often, it’s simply the up and down resistance leg exercises that I can do while writing Morning Pages.
  • Morning Pages. This is stream-of-consciousness writing, ideally three longhand pages, as outlined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I’ve been trying to maintain this practice for many years now, with wildly varying rates of success.
  • Walk. The new dog has been a blessing in many ways; one of them is that it has gotten me back into the routine of walking every day. In fact, we manage at least two walks a day, sometimes more. All of the dogs appreciate it, and so do I.
  • Dishes. One steadfast rule in my house is that dishes must be done every single day. Even if it’s just one coffee cup. Otherwise, my slobbish tendencies come out to play, and my house devolves into chaos.
  • Sing. It’s a silly thing, but whenever, for whatever reason, I cry out, “Oh, Lord,” I feel that I absolutely must sing out the entire song, in a bad approximation of Janis Joplin’s voice: “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all have Porsches, I must make amends. I worked hard all my life, Lord, no help from my friends…Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” I usually sing all three verses, requesting also a color TV and a night on the town.
  • Treat. Whenever a dog goes outside, and comes back in, the dog gets a treat. When one dog gets a treat, they all do. I’ve had to cut down the size of the treats over the years – they are now about the size of BBs – because they play this rule for all they can get out of it. I swear, Rosa Parks and Darla have perfected a tag team sequence of going out and coming in that ensures the maximum amount of treats in any given time period. So far, Blackie Chan has not gotten in on the action, and sometimes he looks confused – though pleasantly surprised – at yet another piece of kibble being offered.
  • Studio. I try to spend some time every single day in the studio. Even if I don’t make anything worthwhile. Even if I don’t make art at all. Even if I only tidy. Even if I don’t even tidy, but just sit in that space. Whatever. Just the act of going there, of being there, enforces the notion that I am an artist, and keeps the ideas coming.
  • Read. I’m sure I could not fall asleep if I didn’t read a little before bed. Sometimes, I can barely keep my eyes open. Sometimes I have to re-read the same material the next day, because so little of it registered. Still, this is a routine that I never miss.
  • Gratitude. My mother was big on counting blessings, and encouraged her children to do the same. I am currently reading The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan, and it has reminded me how important it is to look for the good in each day. So, I’ve revived the practice of writing down what I’m thankful for, each night before I go to bed.

Quilter (April A ~ Z Challenge)


As I write today, I have one particular quilter in mind: my friend, Gwen, who is busy right now with the work of leaving this world. When I saw her, just a few days ago, she worded it this way:

“I’m going back to Mother Nature.”

I hold that thought, as I am holding thoughts of Gwen, as she finishes the difficult business of dying.

Her latest book, The Magic Forest: Tree Quilts by Gwen Marston, is an exquisite little volume: just the right size to hold in my two hands, every page a new treasure. The left-hand pages have images of Gwen’s tree quilts, each stylized image perfectly capturing the essence of that tree. The facing page offers thoughtful and complimentary quotes, lines of poetry and bits of haiku. Some of her choices seem especially pertinent today:

  • “a lovely spring night/ suddenly vanished while we/ viewed cherry blossoms” ~Matsuo Basho
  • “I hear the wind among the trees playing the celestial symphonies; I see the branches downward bent, like keys of some great instrument.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • “spring begins/ as it has designed to do/ for a thousand years” ~Kobayashi Issa
  • “An old banana leaf was once young and green.” ~Nigerian proverb
  • “When eating the fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.” ~Vietnamese proverb
  • “Take nothing but memories; leave nothing but footprints.” ~Chief Seattle
  • “Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” ~John Muir
  • “the crow has flown away/ swaying in the evening sun/ a leafless tree” ~Natsume Soseki
  • “hazy moon in the pine/ passing through/ passing through” ~Kobayashi Issa
  • “beech, with its smooth gray skin in winter/ shows its bones” ~Gwen Marston

Godspeed, dear friend!

(Update: Gwen passed away, the day before yesterday)