Today is the last day of April. Outside, it’s still overcast, rainy and cold.
Today is the last day of the April A~Z challenge. Though I started late, I made it through the alphabet, twenty-six blog posts in a row. In my gratitude journal this morning, I wrote that I’m grateful to be at the end of this daily writing commitment. After a few weeks without a break, I feel like I’ve run out of interesting things to write about, and those last few letters, V, W, X, Y and Z, are always difficult.
I have meandered through these last few weeks, but it’s time to get serious. This is spring! It’s time to get busy! There are a dozen tasks right here in this room that could use my attention. Outside, there are a hundred more. The studio waits for me, with works in progress, and ideas to explore. It’s time – way past time, in fact – to get cracking on that diet and exercise program I laid out in January. Spring! Zoom, zoom, zoom!
Not today, though. Today, I’m going easy on myself. I’m midway through a good book; I may curl up in my comfortable chair and finish it, my “To-Do” list be damned!
Yesterday was cool and drizzly. Today, it rained. All day. It was a day for fleecy, warm pajamas, a comfortable chair and a good book. Not for me, though.
Yesterday, for my first trip to town in fourteen days, I dressed up: nice jeans, a clean shirt, leather shoes, and a knit blazer. Nothing too fancy, except in comparison to my in-house wardrobe. Today, I pulled warm sweats on over my pajamas, slid into canvas shoes, and threw on my parka to pull it all together.
After walking the dogs through the pouring rain, I made several trips to the car. I loaded one large bag of trash, and several smaller bags of recyclables, into the back seat. It had been collected over the last two weeks, and was more than due to be taken to the transfer station.
Besides the transfer station, I had to make stops at the Post Office and the hardware store. By the time I got home, I was damp, tired, and cranky. I had letters to write, and phone calls to make. The dogs needed another walk before I could stay in. At some point, I decided that the comfort I was craving would take some effort.
I decided that stew would be a good meal for a wet day. And, to go with it, yeast bread! I chose the recipe for french loaves from my Mediterranean Heart Diet cookbook. Three risings give this bread a wonderful texture. The ball of dough expanding in its bowl, and scent of yeast filled my afternoon with promise.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is tend to something else. It takes my mind away from my own worries or discomfort. When homemade bread is what I choose to tend to, there is a big reward at the end!
Sixth-hour Study Hall was held in the large cafeteria of Lapeer Senior High School. Being the last hour of the school-day, it was the best time for a free period. Students from grades nine through twelve were combined there. We were seated at long tables arranged in rows, overseen by one teacher, and separated roughly by grade.
Despite its name, studying was low on the priority list for many of the students in Study Hall. The teen-agers huddled over the tables, whispering about anything other than what was contained in the notebooks and texts strewn over the surface. When the teacher’s back was turned, a flurry of wadded paper balls would fly from one table to another. Now and then, a fight broke out.
I had convinced my mother that Study Hall was a good idea. “I’ll be able to get all my homework done at school,” I told her, “that way, I can help out when I get home.” I wasn’t known, as my sister Brenda was, for “helping out.” In fact, I often used the excuse of “homework” to get out of helping. For whatever reason, Mom agreed to it anyway.
I was fourteen, and in the ninth-grade. After eight years in Catholic school, taught by nuns, this was a wild new experience. I aspired to be one of the kids that was whispering, passing notes, and giggling with friends. I wanted to be a dare-devil, trouble-maker, one of the students singled out by the teacher with warning looks. Mostly, though, I did my homework. Then, I filled the margins and covers of my notebooks. I practiced different handwriting styles, did sketches, and copied the lettering found on record albums. I rarely got in trouble.
One day stands out. The teacher had stepped out of the room, and several students were taking advantage of the situation. Voices called out to friends across the room; kids left their seats.
An eleventh grade boy, a popular kid that Brenda had told me was “really cool,” stood up. He pulled a pair of shades out of his shirt pocket and put them on. He struck a pose as his eyes swept the room (think “the Fonz”). His glance paused on me. “These are X-ray specs,” he said. His eyebrows went up and down twice, Groucho Marx style.
I can still feel the heat of my face turning red. I remember the horror I felt. Was it true that a “cool boy” might now know the secret of my AA bra, stuffed with old nylons to keep the cups from collapsing against my flat chest? And how could I go on?
Then, somebody gave the boys arm a punch. There was laughter. Another boy called out, “You’re a liar!” And it was over. Blessed relief!
This incident happened more than fifty years ago. I’ve forgotten many of the details. I don’t know who I was sitting with or what I was studying. I can’t remember what the boy’s name was. Yet, when the letter of the day is X, this is the story that comes to mind!
I don’t know how old I was when I took my first steps, but I’ve been a walker ever since. As children, we walked around the big yard and through the field behind the house. We walked so frequently to the house next door where my grandparents lived, that we wore a path into the grass. We walked to the little store down the road for candy and other treats. In the summer, we walked to the Hilltop Beach.
For grades one through eight, the children in my family went to parochial school, but we rode the public school bus. It dropped us off in the morning behind the big brick building that was at that time serving as one of the town’s public junior high schools. From there, we walked to Bishop Kelley School.
We had to walk around the public school building, for we were forbidden to go inside. We went through the parking lot, past the loading dock, up the hill, and across a road. We walked down one long block on a cracked and uneven sidewalk beside a stone wall that enclosed a high yard. Then we crossed M-24 to get to our school. Looking at the route as an adult, it was only the distance of two or three city blocks. As a child, especially when it was cold out, it seemed much farther. When school got out, we reversed the trip, and waited for our bus-ride home.
As older children, on our lunch hour, we’d sometimes walked to the library, the park, or downtown. Being able to walk to town for shopping after school was a rare treat; we never noticed the distance then! Once, my friend, Linda, and I walked the length of her road, collecting donations of soap and personal care items to send to our soldiers in Vietnam. It was a warm day; on the way home, we had taken up a giggly chant for water, food, and a bathroom.
As an adult, I worked as a waitress for many years; I know servers get their steps in! That’s when I started wearing a pedometer, to keep track of the miles I walked each shift. Then, my friend, Judi, and I started walking “to the lighthouse and back” right after our shift. That was when I started thinking of myself as a walker, because it became a regular practice in my life.
When Judi took a different job, I switched to walking two miles on my own road. On days off, though, I sometimes took a longer path: south on Fox Lake Road to West Side Drive, north to the airport where West Side meets Fox Lake Road, then south back to my home. The distance was not quite seven miles, and the walk took about two hours. Soon, my friend, Donna, joined me. Having company made it more enjoyable, and we fit that walk in several times a week. I kept up with it for a while, even after Donna moved away.
Over the years, though, I’ve let other things get in the way. With other jobs, time was a constraint. Sometimes other conditions interfered: rain, cold, mosquitoes, and the short days of winter. When something is not a solid daily practice, it’s easier every day to find an excuse not to do it. I still thought of myself as a walker, but the reality wasn’t there.
Last spring, I introduced a new little dog into my household. I used that as impetus to get back to walking every single day. Most days, we walk morning and evening. The dogs are good company, and we all feel better for it. Though it’s harder when I’m away from home, I try to keep up with this daily habit. After all, I am a walker!
When I was a child, every vacation my family took was to Beaver Island. It was where my Dad had grown up, so he had friends and family there. All of us children loved it. We never once questioned our destination, or complained about lack of variety.
I’m sure it was not so pleasurable for my Mom. It was a lot of work, packing and preparing to take nine children on vacation. It started with a long road trip through the night. In the morning, we all had to be fed; this was our once-per-year restaurant experience. We all took turns using the restaurant bathroom to change out of our pajamas. Then, we caught the ferry boat to Beaver Island.
None of us were particularly good travelers, so by the time we reached the island, Mom had been dealing with kids throwing up for more than eight hours. Then, on the island, we stayed in the family farm with my grandparents…Mom’s in-laws. Though I remember a few sighs and weary expressions, Mom never discouraged our vacation. In hindsight, it was probably one of her greatest tests of patience and self-sacrifice!
We, on the other hand, had the time of our lives. We roamed the fields and built forts in the rock piles that bordered them. We explored the old buildings and swung from rope swings in the barn. We climbed the ancient apple trees. At night, we sometimes chased fireflies through the yard.
We thought using the outhouse was grossly adventurous, and snapped pictures of family members as they entered and exited it. We helped Grandpa George dig potatoes, pick beans, or husk corn for dinner. In the evening, Grandma Florence played cards with us at the kitchen table. One night of the vacation, we went with her to the church hall to play Bingo.
There would always be at least one good day for the beach. Dad knew them all, and had stories to tell about every one. He’d pull up to a stretch of beach, and we’d all pile out of the car. White sand stretched for what seemed like miles in either direction. If there was another single person in all of that space, Dad would shrug. “Crowded,” he’d say, “get back in the car, we’ll go someplace else.”
A trip to town would always mean a visit with Aunt Elsie, and Dad’s cousin, Catherine. We’d all sit silently around the table, while Dad chatted with his family. Sometimes, Mom and Dad would go into the “Beachcomber” bar, for a drink. Then, we were allowed to walk through town. With water on one side of the street, and little shops on the other, souvenir shopping seemed like an exotic experience.
Beaver Island always seemed like a magical place to me. I always dreamed of living here. Finally, as an adult, that dream came true. Oddly enough, when one is living here rather than just vacationing here, it’s actually quite a different experience. Wages are generally a little lower than they’d be for the same work on the mainland, and the cost of living is considerably higher. It’s hard to get ahead. Fortunately, even with the down-sides of real-life making a living, for me, this island has held on to the magic!
I have no particular topic today. Edging toward the end of the alphabet, I’m running out of steam. Uninspired, that’s me.
I had another topic in mind. “Unforgettable” was the title I had planned. I’d been going over it in my mind for a few days. I’d write about my memory: how it used to be really good, and dependable, and how lately I can’t always trust it. I’d write about those moments in life that even a failing memory can’t erase: unforgettable.
I had a few good examples, and could come up with several more, I’m sure. It’s not a bad idea; I may revisit it another day. Not on this day. Today, I’m not feeling like elaborating on any ideas. In writing, at least.
Yesterday, finally, I got some work done in the studio. Not a lot: some sorting, a bit of organizing, a few finishing touches on some works in progress. It was enough, though, to get my mind going in a whole other direction. So, today, I’m putting the bare minimum into writing, so that I can put more time into art-making. So, that’s that (with a few examples of what I’ve been working on).
Today, after several days of sleeping in, I woke up early. I brewed coffee in the dark, and sat thinking of the whole day ahead. No feeling of urgency; no worry about fitting everything in. It felt like a bonus, those few minutes before the sun came up. It made the whole day seem longer, and more full of possibilities.
Today, I thought, I’ll go up the stairs. I’ll check out the exercise room, see if I feel inspired to lift some weights, pull out the Ab Roller, or get on the Pilates chair. I’ll at least water the plants, and dust off the surfaces, so that the room will be ready when I am.
Then I’ll go into the studio. I’ll start by sorting the works-in-progress that are stacked against the walls and piled on the drafting table. Sometimes that gets me going on one project or another. Even if art-making doesn’t make it onto the agenda today, any cleaning in that room will be appreciated later.
Today, I’ll reset all the clocks, upstairs and down, that have been blinking ever since the electricity went out two days ago. I’ll find the batteries for my special “wave” clock, and see if I can finally make it work. I’ll take the cover off the entry light, and see if the bulb is burned out, or just needs to be adjusted.
Today, if it warms up, I’ll get my [brand new, never-been-used] blower vac out of the shed, and out of the box it came in. I’ll read the instructions and make sure it is charged up. Then, I’ll try it out on the flower beds beside my kitchen door. While I’m out there, I’ll take the time, I guess, to put away the snow shovel, which is waiting beside the back door for the next blizzard.
Today, I’ll fill out the census forms that have been displayed on the dining room table all these many days, lest I forget them. I’ll add them to the stack of mail that is ready to go to the Post Office, as soon as this period of self-isolation is over. Maybe, I pull out the income tax file; maybe it won’t seem as intimidating as I imagine it to be.
Today, I made elaborate plans as I watched the rising sun brighten the landscape and finally emerge above the tree tops. I haven’t actually accomplished anything yet. There’s still time. This day is just beginning. And…there’s always tomorrow!
Some days, the sun shining through the windows lets me know it’s time to get up. Other mornings, I don’t know the time until I check the clock. In the winter, when days are short here in northern Michigan, I get up in the dark. Even this time of year, clouds sometimes darken the sky.
Some days, I feel strong and capable. I stick to my routines, and take pride in what I accomplish. Other days, I look at all the things that I haven’t gotten done. I see the clutter, and the unfinished projects. I dwell on all the things I want to do, that I haven’t even started yet.
Some days, I congratulate myself for my stamina, my positive attitude, and my perseverance. Other days, I chastise myself for my procrastination and neglect. I call myself lazy.
Some days, I walk with enthusiasm, and fit other exercise into my day. I put good meals together. I make smoothies; I eat salads, and lots of vegetables. Other days, I begrudgingly set out for my walk; my slow pace reflects my mindset. Some days, it is cookies for breakfast, and popovers for a midnight snack.
Some days, I know that I am healthy, and I’m proud of myself for the care that I have taken. Other days, I interpret every crick, throb or tingle as a dread disease. And, since I traveled to Hawaii even after the corona virus made the news, of course I could only blame myself if I were sick. Sometimes, I take my temperature several times throughout the day.
Some days, I just feel like crying. Other days, most days, I am content, even happy. I have time and privilege to pick up a book, or head into the studio, or dig in to any number of other projects.
Most days, I’m able to laugh at myself. I see the humor in my hypochondria, dietary indulgences and lethargy. Every day, I know how lucky I am. And, when the sun is shining, it’s always a wonderful day!
As my feet touch the floor, say “It’s going to be a great day!”
Bend over to rub the big dog’s belly, and tell her “good morning!”
Turn on the coffee pot.
Go into the bathroom (wash hands, brush teeth, put on slippers).
Back in the kitchen, do morning yoga (five easy breathing and stretching exercises).
On to the dining room: pull out my journal and write five things I am grateful for. If the spirit moves me, I write more, including things that worry me, hurt my feelings or make me angry. Or, rarely, something creative.
Pour my first cup of coffee.
Turn on the computer, and type in CBSnews.
After watching the CBS Eye Opener (“your world in 90 seconds”), I follow up with other news, or check in on social media.
Next (during this month of daily blogging), I either write a blog and post it, or publish the day’s blog that I wrote ahead of time.
Pull on sweats, boots and a coat, fill my pocket with kibble, and head outside to take the dogs for a walk. Our early walk is usually the longest; we’ve been going two miles most mornings.
Meditate. I have trouble sitting still, and great difficulty emptying my mind of thoughts and worries. I know meditation is good for me, so I continue to try to develop this practice. I find the best time, for me, is right after my walk. I have a few audio programs that are often helpful; sometimes I just sit in the quiet.
Of course, not all days unfold in this exact way, and not all mornings are perfect. If I have a routine to follow, though, I find my chances are much better to make it a good morning!
Quiet. The word comes to me with my mother’s pleading voice: “Could I please just have a little peace and quiet?” It didn’t seem like too much to ask, and we’d do our best to accommodate her. We’d lower our voices, or take our game to another room. We’d send the little kids outside to play. We’d head upstairs to our own shared bedrooms.
Later, when I had my own family, I realized what a huge request my mother was making. My mother had nine children of her own, plus an assortment of others. There were kids from the neighborhood, our friends from school, and children she babysat for. Though we were timid children, we were not quiet by nature.
When my father wasn’t at work, he was often teasing the kids, just to make them squeal. Our home was always open to folks that Dad knew from Beaver Island, where he grew up. One or more were often there, reminiscing with Dad about the “good old days.” Yet my mother craved quiet.
I had one husband and two daughters. The only time I ever had “peace and quiet” was in the middle of the night when every one else was asleep. And I was often awake then, no matter how tired I was, just for the peace that time offered me. Like my mother, I like the quiet.
For all of the time they lived in my house, I enforced a bedtime for my daughters. Just to give me a little time to myself. I had to be up early for work, or classes, but without a peaceful time to wind down, I’d never be able to fall asleep.
Now, I live alone. My house is silent, except when the county road truck going by sets my dogs off into a fit of barking. And, I still enjoy the quiet. If it seems too still, rarely, I’ll put the radio on for company. I talk to myself and to the dogs, though, just like when I’m around other people, I’m not particularly chatty. I like the quiet!