Monthly Archives: April 2022

Zip

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I was looking forward to being finished with the alphabet today. This has been a worthwhile exercise, but it’s also a big commitment. I’m not a fast writer, even of the simple and silly pieces that I publish here. So, going back to my haphazard blogging schedule will free up a couple hours a day, most days, in a season that is proving to be very busy anyway. I’m tired, and I’ve got a long day tomorrow. Sometimes, the only thing to do is admit defeat. Tonight, I’ve got nothing. Zip.

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Young

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That’s me on the far right, looking exhausted even way back then!

On days like today, when I wake up tired, with no energy for the day ahead, I think fondly of when I was younger. From this vantage point, it seems like things were easier. Maybe that’s just a trick of memory. I know for sure that I didn’t take full advantage of the strength and vigor of youth. Now, it seems I have more drive…but less ability.

Today, I called the island mechanic about a problem with my car. It has been louder than normal, and I thought the exhaust system might have come apart. Mufflers aren’t the most complicated things on an automobile, but I didn’t even consider for a moment trying to handle the situation myself. It brought back memories, though, of how differently I managed when I was younger.

Once, while living in Lapeer, Michigan, and attending college about twenty miles away in Flint, the exhaust pipe dropped down while I was driving down Court Street. It didn’t fall off, which would have been easier, but just dragged along under the car, throwing up sparks and making all kinds of noise. I was almost at my destination, so I continued down to Mott Community College, parked, and went on to my scheduled classes.

At the end of the day, I scrounged coin from the bottom of my purse, ran in to the campus book store, and bought the largest spiral notebook I could afford. As I walked to my car, I unwound the spiral from the pages it was holding. I tossed the stack of paper and my books onto the passenger seat, and crawled underneath the car. I assessed the problem as well as I could, and figured out how to remedy it. If I fit the wire through a hole in the side of the exhaust pipe rather than try to wrap it around, the wire from the spiral notebook was just long enough to secure it off the road.

That’s what I did. Then crawled back out from under the car, got in, and drove twenty miles to Lapeer. I picked up my daughters from the babysitter, and went home. I said, “look what Mommy brought home for you guys,” as I stacked the loose papers from the spiral notebook in front of them with a couple pencils. Then I made dinner.

X is a Verb (April A~Z Challenge)

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This is another reprint of an old blog from another April A to Z challenge. I will not make excuses. It’s the letter X, for heaven’s sake!

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I’ve been wracking my brain for days, trying to come up with a writing topic for the letter X. There are few choices! The ever so predictable “X-Ray” occupied my thoughts for a while. That was followed by “xylophone,” which I would be hard-pressed to write more than a sentence or two about, and then “Xavier,” which also drew a blank. I toyed with the idea of “xanthum gum,” which I’ve seen listed as an ingredient in foods…but I didn’t know anything about it beyond just that.

I had almost settled on “X marks the spot,” for which I was going to have to struggle to pull together an essay about maps or treasure hunting or something. Finally, joyously, it dawned on me: in my life, X is a verb!

I think, daily, in terms of what items I can “X off.” I have lists of chores, daily and monthly…

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A Few W Words

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I was going to write about water today. I toyed with the idea, anyway. I mean we can all relate to water, after all. it’s one of those “crucial to life” things, as necessary as air to breathe. There are hard water issues in my house, and all the complications that brings. I have filtered water for drinking. I live on an island surrounded by water. My grandson, Tommy, loves the water. Or, more accurately, swimming. I have dozens of photos of him grinning while up to his neck in water. Once, when he was visiting, he and I walked the length of Iron Ore Bay together, chatting as we went. I was on the sandy shore; he was several yards out in Lake Michigan. Since today is Tommy’s birthday, that would be a fitting topic. Alas, what I’ve written here is just about all I could come up with regarding water.

I considered writing about walking. I walk every day, so it would seem like I could come up with a few paragraphs on the subject. Turns out, it’s not that simple. I could write about writing! That’s another activity that I do every day, even when I’m not posting a daily blog. I write out a list of things I’m thankful for every morning. Then, I write a page of notes from whatever book I’m currently studying. Right now, it happens to be a book on writing: A Writer’s Coach by Jack Hart. I’m in the process of writing a story to tell during Open Mic Night. Still, I couldn’t think of much to say about writing.

Weather crossed my mind, as did Worry, Wonder, Wind and Weeds. Nothing really inspired me. Then. the internet started going out, at least three time in the last hour. When it goes out, it’s impossible to predict whether it will come right back on, or stay out for hours. If I was going to get a blog published today, I’d better get busy. It’s not quite up there with water, but we’ve sure grown to depend on our Wi-Fi!

Vexations

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It’s late, I’m tired, and, since I washed the sheets today, I have to make up the bed before I can get into it. It just dawned on me that I had not yet posted a blog today. And, working my way through the alphabet, here I am, faced with the letter V. That has to be one of the most difficult letters. After walking the dogs, I took a picture of my over-grown grapevines. I was thinking “vines” will have to be my topic, because what else is there?

Unfortunately, it turns out I don’t have much to say about vines, either. I struggled with the topic for a while, then paged through the dictionary. It turns out, there are a few V words that I can write about. And, what they have in common is that they are problems. Nothing to get really worked up about; just minor vexations.

  • Vision. My eyesight is failing me, and it’s a cause of constant frustration. I need a strong light and a magnifying glass to simply read package directions. This evening, I noticed that I had once again left the coffee pot on all day, even though I checked it before I left the house. The trouble is that I cannot see the little green light that indicated “on,” and I forget if the “off” position is to the left or to the right. Granted, that might be a cognitive problem along with the vision issue, but still. So, tonight, I took a black permanent marker and boldly wrote “on” and “off” on the coordinating sides of the toggle switch. I hope that settles it.
  • Vermin. After a winter where my house appeared to be fairly pest-free, Last week I had a mouse come to visit. Though I have mousetraps set along the baseboards, in areas where they seem to find entrance, this mouse was brazenly romping right across the countertop. I’d hear the movement, but he was gone when I walked into the room. I barely stepped away and I’d hear him again. Walk into the kitchen, no mouse; leave the room, and the mouse was back. That is not a game I’m willing to play! I spread a plastic trash bag over the countertop, and set a mousetrap on top of it. Within an hour, I had dispatched one fat mouse. They say if you have one mouse, you surely have a dozen of them. I guess only time will tell, but I’m hoping maybe that was the only one.
  • Vines. Inside, I have one English ivy that is doing alright. Outside, I have three vining plants. I tend to neglect the pruning that they demand, so they are all overgrown. The “Seven Sisters” rose was brought to Beaver Island by my Grandma Florence, from Chicago. There were three of them at the family farm. When I was a child, they ran along a fence, but that fence is no longer there. They climbed their small trellises and then sprawled across the lawn. Aunt Katie gave me one of them several years ago. It makes getting to the front door a thorny challenge. The wisteria vine outside of my kitchen door has never flowered. If it would just do that, I’m sure I’d feel much more accommodating about the space it occupies and the work it entails. I’ve tried, at least twice, to get rid of it, but it refuses to leave. The Concord grape vine provides wonderful fruit in late summer, and has a nice character all year round. It is, however, in desperate need of severe pruning, and I’m not looking forward to the task.

So, barely before midnight, I’ve managed to keep up my streak. No matter how difficult the letter, I guess if I can complain, I’ll find something to say!

Used

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Years ago, one of my daughters mentioned to me that she was buying new living room furniture. I responded with surprise and, if I’m honest, judgment. The furniture they were replacing was not even ten years old! I understood theirs were lower-end pieces to start with, and that young children and pets can be hard on furniture. Still, I jumped in with a story. “Let me tell you about my best piece of furniture…” I began.

My best piece of furniture was an arm chair that sat in one corner of my living room. My Dad had picked it up from the roadside about twenty years earlier, and brought it back to his own house. Mom shook her head and frowned, so it was immediately banished to the back room. The back room of my parents house held two freezers, one refrigerator, the hot water heater, a washer and dryer, a large sink, an old couch, a sturdy table used for folding clothes, a wood stove, and a wall of pegboard that held a few large pots and pans. Dad added the armchair. He’d sit in the chair while reading, or dozing next to the warmth of the fire.

Eventually, the chair was deemed too ragged for even the back room, and it was moved out to the garage. There, it was squeezed in among tool benches, lawn chairs and garden equipment. Then one year when Dad was trying to make some order of the garage, he decided the chair had to go. When he made his springtime trip to Beaver Island, he brought the chair up north with him. For several years, it provided a perch on the enclosed front porch of the family farmhouse.

When my Aunt Katie moved a bookcase and a rocking chair out to the front porch, the armchair was moved again, this time out to her pole barn. There, it was used for several years by the guys who came up to the farm for hunting season. It was a step up from the ragtag selection of folding chairs, old kitchen stools and blocks of wood that provided other seating there. In time, though, Aunt Katie decided to get rid of the chair. “I’ll take it,” I told her, “I’d love a good armchair!”

That’s how it came to be mine. It was upholstered in a faded mustard yellow tapestry with flowers and and leaves in shades of the same color. The fabric had, over the years, lost most of its texture, and was worn through in spots. The springs had lost their bounce and were poking through in places. A thick seat cushion kept that from being a problem. The chair had padded, rolled arms, and the back curved around to cradle my back and shoulders. The chair was wide enough so that, if I were determined, I could curl up for a nap in it. I loved it.

The armchair was already old when Dad picked it up, and it was used long and well before it came to be mine. It served me well for many years. I liked it for the seat, and for its story. For a long time, it was the best piece of furniture I had. It was a good chair.

Tina

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[Tina was my niece, and today was her birthday. This is a reprint of a post I wrote a couple years ago.]

My niece, Tina, was born when my sister, Nita, was still in high school Nita’s friends would come over, and they’d all go upstairs to “play with the baby.” Tina had more ruffled dresses, frilly bonnets and darling pajamas than there were days in a month. Before she had time to grow from one size into the next, another entire wardrobe would show up, one outfit at a time, gifts from doting teen-aged girls. By the time she took her first steps, Tina had been the subject of hundreds of professional and amateur photographs.

In spite of the many high-school girls that adored her, several young aunts that dearly loved her, and her firm position as my mother’s favorite granddaughter, Tina was not a spoiled child. She had piercing, dark eyes and a toothy grin that gave her a look that combined thoughtful intelligence with clownish good humor. It suited her. She was a bright child, a fast learner, and an exceptional student. She never seemed to take herself, or the world, too seriously. She was quick to smile, and her giggle was contagious.

Because she was close in age to my daughter, Kate, they paired up as cousin-friends whenever the family gathered. Tina came to my house for birthday parties and overnight stays. As an adult, she often mentioned how kind I had been to her when she slept at my house, even though she wet the bed. Having been a bed-wetter myself until I was past eight years old, I always treated those occurrences like the accidents they were, no matter who the child was. Though I was glad she remembered that I was nice about it, I honestly have no memory of the incident.

Once, while drinking, my sister Nita was going on about how beautiful my daughters were. With Tina sitting beside her, I said, “Nita, all of us have beautiful children!” Nita waved her hand dismissively in her daughter’s direction, and said, “No, but your daughters…” I know what she meant: she was trying to give me a compliment about my girls; it wasn’t about all children, and it wasn’t about her daughter. Plus, she was tipsy.

Still, I saw Tina’s face fall. I wondered if I had ever inadvertently broken the hearts of my own daughters like that, without realizing it. Then, Tina waved her hand right back in her mother’s direction, shrugged her shoulders, and mouthed, “She’s drunk.” Then she grinned.

As the years went by, our family grew up and stretched out in all directions. The years – a distant memory – when we all got together for Sunday dinner gave way to years where many miles and many states separated us. We gathered, then, infrequently, and too often for funerals. Social media and occasional telephone calls helped us keep in touch.

In recent years, Tina had moved around the country, and then settled in Texas. She came back to Michigan for a visit when my Mom was ill, and then to stay when her own Mom was dying. Clearly, extensive alcohol and drug use had taken a toll. Even more evident was her rejection of any lifestyle other than the one she had chosen, or fallen into. She declined all offers of help.

Shortly after her mother’s funeral, Tina packed up her belongings and headed south, to New Orleans. From a distance, we watched her roller-coaster life from sporadic posts to social media. Photos often showed her with lidded eyes and a vague smile, dressed in one goofy costume after another. She got an apartment…but then the place was flooded during a hurricane. She sobered up, from time to time, but it was hard. And definitely “not fun.”

Tina sometimes put out vague requests for money, or complained that she got no help. Once, I sent her a private message, scolding her for saying she had no support, when she deliberately moved far away from people that loved her, and that could help her. “Sorry, Aunt Cindy,” she answered, “I didn’t mean to post that…still trying to figure out my phone.”

Often her posts were pleas for affection, and her aunts and cousins and friends would jump in to reassure her, “hang in there, Tina,” and “we love you!” Tina and Kate had long, rambling text-message conversations that would go on for days. “Wow, you got old,” Tina told her once, in response to Kate having to either go to work, or get some sleep.

Last weekend, while out walking, Tina was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Suddenly, I live in a world without Tina in it. And even though she was far away, not a big presence in my life, and often aggravated me, this feels like a big loss. Maybe greater because she was so far away from all of my memories of her. Maybe because she died alone.

Tina, I hope you knew that your aunts and cousins and long-distance friends kept track of you as well as we could, that we missed you, and worried about you, and cheered your progress. I hope you knew that you were beautiful. I hope you always felt loved. Good-bye, sweet girl.

Sleep

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I fought sleep for many years…and then it started to fight me. As a child, I hated to go to bed. I’d creep down the stairs to beg for “just a little bit longer.” If that didn’t work, I had a whole string of ailments or emergencies I’d try, from needing a glass of water, to all kinds of physical maladies, to outright lies. “I forgot to do my homework,” was a chancy one that was only used as a desperate measure. Was the trouble I’d be in for forgetting my homework worth the few extra minutes I’d gain, at the kitchen table, pretending to do class work? I once tried selling my mother on the idea that “really! I promise! Sister Michael told us we had to watch Bonanza tonight!” That didn’t go over well, either.

Forced to stay in bed, my sister and I would whisper for hours. Or, with a flashlight, read or play games under the covers. Most board games and playing cards weren’t bad, but when we got hooked on Chinese checkers, we had to learn to be very stealthy. When my father came home, around midnight, from his second shift at the factory, it was too much. He had good hearing, and very little patience for his children being up late on a weeknight. He never came upstairs, but a sharp tone when he told us to “settle down up there,” would send us scurrying under the covers.

As a young adult, I was often unable to sleep, but it didn’t bother me. For one thing, I could get by on much less than the recommended eight hours. For another, nights were often extremely productive times for me. When my daughters were tucked into their beds, and my husband was asleep, I’d scrub floors, start craft projects, bake, paint, rearrange the furniture…I’d find ambition and inspiration in the midnight hours that was often missing in the daytime.

Then, the tables turned. My circumstances changed. I really needed my sleep, and a regular schedule was necessary. School-aged children, jobs, and college classes demanded my alert presence during the day. I could no longer function well on little or no sleep. Yet, often, I could not fall asleep. I spent too many nights watching the clock, willing myself to fall asleep, and calculating how much rest I’d get if I fell asleep instantly. If I gave up and got out of bed, there were none of the productive nights I’d managed when I was younger. The extent of my ambition was a marathon session of solitaire, a good book, or maybe a raid of the refrigerator. All the while knowing I’d be too tired to get anything accomplished the next day.

My insomnia went on, relentlessly, for so many years, I thought I’d never get it under control. The remedy came to me through a back door, in a way. I read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and started getting up at an early hour. Every day. Having always thought of myself as a night owl, I was amazed at how quickly I adapted. I’m surprised at how much I’ve grown to love my mornings. And, after only a few weeks, how ready for sleep I was at a reasonable hour. What a wonderful feeling it is to know that I can drop off to sleep without a battle! Now and then, a bright moon or a troubling worry might keep me from sleep. It happens rarely, though. Mostly, it seems that I’ve finally managed to make peace with bedtime.

Review

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I am a reader. I read newspapers and magazines and even cereal boxes. I read books of all kinds: fiction; non-fiction; cookbooks; gardening books; reference books. I read reviews. I especially love book reviews, and often seek out books based on a good blurb. Sometimes I start a book that has been waiting on my shelf for a while, and can’t seem to get into it. Then, I’ll go back to the review to remember what made it sound good. That reminder will give me the incentive to plow through a slow beginning.

Though I enjoy reading book reviews, I do not like writing them. I am rarely good at it, so I usually avoid it. However, I finished a book a few weeks ago, and cannot stop thinking about it. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr is the most fascinating book I’ve read in years. It grabbed and held my attention so intensely, I sometimes felt like I couldn’t stand the suspense. I would like to convince everyone to read it!

The characters are likeable and engaging; it is a wonderful story. Beyond that, it feels important. It carries messages that transcend the narrative, about how we treat each other, and the world we inhabit, but it is never preachy.

Cloud Cuckoo Land spans six centuries, and tells the stories of five very different characters. Doerr leads the reader along through the downfall of Constantinople. He shows both sides of the horrors of conquest, through the eyes of those most bitterly effected: a child within the walls of the city, and a young boy conscripted, along with his team of oxen, to prepare for the assault, Another character comes to life in the middle of this country, before the start of World War II. Yet another joins the tale in the 1970s. A final character lives sometime in the not too distant future, within the confines of a spaceship. What links them all together is a story written in ancient Greece, Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Written by Antonius Diogenes as a bedtime tale, it tells the story of Aethon, a man who goes looking for a “utopian city in the sky.” Along the way he has many adventures. He finds himself transformed into a donkey, changed into a fish, swallowed by a sea creature, and on and on until he finally finds his utopia.

The wild, comical and unlikely adventures of Aethon provide a counterpoint to the other tense, sometimes tragic stories. At first, the book seemed a little disjointed, and I thought I’d have a hard time keeping the characters and the story lines straight. I worried for nothing. Though the narrative jumps through hundreds of years, different countries and various civilizations, I had no trouble following along, and becoming totally invested in each of the characters.

It becomes more and more clear, as the tale progresses, that the ancient text is the link between all of the characters. Still, I was amazed and thrilled at how tidily the author gathered up all the different story lines, and stitched them together in to one neat package at the end.

I need to say, too, though there were times I was so immersed in the sadness and troubles I was reading about that I was near despair, this is a hopeful and even a joyous book. Parents are kind; children are wise. Each character struggles, and suffers, but also experiences joy and, in the end, finds redemption. One friend, whose review of this book spurred me to read it, called it a “magic carpet ride.” That’s an apt description! What a delicious feeling to be held in thrall by the pages of a good book!

Quarantine

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Quarantine. Now there’s a word we can all relate to! That hasn’t always been the case. In other years, working my way through the alphabet, the letter Q was a struggle. I would page through the dictionary, searching for inspiration.

There are several pages of Q words, many more than for the letter X, for example. Still. I’d bypass quadrant, quadruplet, quadrangle, and a host of other similar-sounding words. Their meanings are clear or, if not, right there in the dictionary for me to enlighten myself, but they did not inspire. I rejected quarrel, queen, quest and several other common words that just didn’t seem to apply to me. A topic has to feel comfortable to be something I can write personally about.

In other years, I’ve written about questions and quotes. I wrote two blogs about quiet, and at least three with the word quick in the title. In 2019, my title was “Quilter,” and I wrote about my friend, Gwen, and the quotations she used in her lovely book of tree quilts. I have written, not surprisingly, about quitting.

Quarantine is a word that I knew the meaning of, of course, but that would give me little to write about. Before this modern-day pandemic, that has become so familiar we refer to it simply as “Covid,” quarantine came up mostly in medical dramas or science fiction movies. It was something used historically, before the availability of childhood vaccines and antibiotics, and before we understood how diseases spread.

We’d have to reach back to before the middle of the 20th century, to find a time when Scarlet Fever, Whooping Cough, and Measles might cause a person or a home to be quarantined. The “great influenza” was even farther back. In school, we learned about leper colonies, and asylums for tuberculosis patients, but it seemed like ancient history, harkening back to a time of ignorance. Leprosy seemed as unlikely as the bubonic plague, and none of it was anything that would affect me.

Then Covid happened, and the whole world was effected. I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t been touched by the disease. It has changed our thinking about many things. Crowds seem dangerous. Masks and vaccines have become political talking points. Words that had rarely been heard outside of a hospital are now part of our daily news, and a standard part of our vocabulary.

Now, when the term “quarantine” comes up, we all have thoughts on the subject. Most of us endured it, in one form or another. Some people hated the isolation, and some fought it every step of the way. Others thrived in the quiet “alone time.” No matter what your feelings about it, it’s undeniable that what was once a quaint, old-fashioned word has now become a fixture of our modern vocabulary.