Monthly Archives: January 2023

The Rules at My House


First of all, there are not very many rules at my house. We play it pretty fast and loose out here on the Fox Lake Road.

I do try. After a little excessive spending toward the end of last year, I made a rule: “No unnecessary purchases this year.” That hardly lasted a week. Deciding my purse was a bit small, I found another at the resale shop. Only two dollars, that hardly counts, I told myself. When that one didn’t work out, I donated it back and bought another, also only two dollars. Then the cover for my bullet journal, purchased in December as part of my end-of-year buying blitz, arrived in the mail. With the cover on it, I need a larger bag to accommodate it. So, I donated the second purse back, and went on-line to find a purse that will work.

I intend to double the distance I walk this year, and started the month with a renewed plan to walk every single day. We’re not even at the end of January, and I’ve already missed two days! In an effort to get my blogging back on track, I determined that this year I would post a blog every third day. Yesterday, I came home tired and let that commitment go right out the window, too.

I think I’m not much of a “rules” person. That’s my thought…though my daughters would tell quite a different story! Maybe I’m just not big on regulating my own actions. Still, there are a few behaviors that I adhere to almost without fail. These are the rules of my house.

  • I make the bed every day. That wasn’t always the case, but now I can’t imagine ever having an unmade bed.
  • I start each morning with a list of things I am thankful for. This helps me to appreciate the good things in my life, and gets my day off to a good start.
  • I recycle anything that can be recycled, and compost anything that can be composted.
  • Whenever the dogs go outside and come back in, they get a treat. Even if one of them (Rosa Parks!) goes out-and-in a dozen times in an hour (ignoring me when I ask “Rose, did you even pee?”) because it’s the only game she remembers…and because she loves those rewards. For this reason, I’ve had to drastically reduce the size of the treats over the years. Currently, the payment for being a “good girl” is one pea-sized bit of kibble.
  • Similarly (because it seems that my dogs do like rules), the dogs get fed before I sit down to my own dinner, Darla always has to lick the spoon that I use to stir their food, and I have to sing to them when I put down their dishes. Not a whole song or anything, just a little rhyming ditty to let them know it’s dinnertime. They expect it. If I happen to be on the telephone, and just put down their meal without singing, they just stare at me, unsure of what they’re supposed to do.
  • Whenever, for whatever reason, whether frustration or a stubbed toe, I exclaim, “Oh, Lord…” I have to follow up with the rest of the song, “…won’t cha buy me a Mercedes Benz…” preferably in my best approximation of the voice of Janis Joplin.
  • I always do the dishes before I go to bed.
  • I read before turning out the light to go to sleep.

That’s about it. These are the things that keep my life moving steadily along. Nothing much, but important anyway: the rules of my house.

How to Make a “Feel Better” Soup


[Looking for fresh ideas for things to write about, I came across a suggestion to “write a how-to about something you do well.” I found that idea kind of inspiring, and immediately wrote out a list of topics. I don’t profess to be an expert, but there are a few areas where I am quite competent. Not wanting to look like a know-it-all, I’ll spread these “How-To” blogs out over several months, to fill in when I don’t have any other topic. Happy learning!]

I was home sick today. My symptoms were kind of vague: a sore throat; a slight cough; a general all-over crummy feeling. And a fever. That was the clincher. I can be a bit of a hypochondriac, so I don’t always trust the signs of illness. With a fever, I know I’m not just exaggerating, or inventing the clues. When the thermometer gave me a reading of 101, I knew there was a real reason for the aches and chills I was experiencing. I called in to work, and spent the day at home.

I have fond memories of “sick days.” The ones that I remember with such good feelings, though, are days when I was not really sick. Then, it’s a bonus day. When I was a child, those days were filled with reading, and the unusual undivided attention of my busy mother.

As teen-agers, Brenda and I could sometimes bring Mom in on the conspiracy. With promises to help her with deep cleaning or other projects, she could sometimes be convinced to give us an excused absence. We’d keep still until Dad left for work, then rush around to get everything done before the afternoon soap operas came on. Mom would join us to watch General Hospital and Dark Shadows before our younger brothers and sisters started arriving home on the bus.

Even as an adult, I could sometimes, though rarely, manage a day away from work. It seemed like I could accomplish more in those “cheat days” than on any regular day off!

But a sick day, when I’m really sick, is no fun at all. Today I felt like I should be able to do something productive…or even just some lazy, fun, wastrel activities…but no. There were several projects that I didn’t get to on my regular days off…but I felt too lousy to tackle any of them. I have a stack of seed catalogues, two new magazines, and three in-progress books. I didn’t feel well enough to give attention to any of them. I didn’t feel up to exercise, or even taking the dogs for a walk. I slept a little, but mostly just laid around…doing nothing. The only thing I accomplished of any value was to make a pot of soup.

I put a variety of dried beans in pan, covered them with water, and brought the water to a boil. I simmered them for about ten minutes, then took the pan off the heat. This method eliminates the need for soaking the beans overnight. After they sat in the water until it cooled, I drained them, put in fresh water, two pints of soup stock, and any vegetables I had laying around. That amounted to one large onion, two carrots, four wimpy stalks of celery, a part of a tomato, a few green beans from the freezer, and about a quarter head of cabbage.

I let it simmer through the day. About an hour before I was going to eat, I added a handful each of quinoa and brown rice. Soup is always comforting, and that’s especially true when I don’t feel good. On a day that was otherwise wasted, it was one small thing to do for myself.

When I Can’t Sleep


I have struggled with insomnia for most of my life. I didn’t always see it as a problem.

As a child, I didn’t worry about the consequences of not getting enough sleep. I would beg to be allowed to stay up later; I’d concoct all kinds of reasons for needing to get out of bed. My sister Brenda and I would secretly stay awake, playing games and whispering for hours past our bedtime. Whenever friends stayed overnight, our goal would always be to stay awake all night.

As an adult, some of my most productive times were the hours when everyone else in the household was asleep. Before we had children, my husband would often wake up in the morning to find that I hadn’t been to bed yet. I sometimes worked on a craft project; sometimes I cleaned house. After he left for work, I’d lay down on the couch for a long sleep.

Having small children gave me a good reason to attempt more regular hours, but I still struggled with being able to fall asleep. Back when television went off the air at around 2AM, I was almost always awake for it. Of course, my days no longer allowed time to make up for the sleep I’d missed. No matter how much discomfort it caused me, though, I was still wide awake through the night more often than not.

I’ve always been kind of a loner, and I used to think that was why I liked to be awake at night. When everyone else was asleep, I had time for just myself. But, through the years, I got divorced, and my daughters grew up and moved away. That theory doesn’t make sense anymore. And, with age, I’ve found that a good night’s sleep is much more necessary. I can’t function the way I used to, on little or no sleep.

I’ve worked hard to maintain a routine that makes it more likely that I’ll be able to sleep. I exercise and meditate. I limit caffeine and computer use. I stay away from scary movies, or news that will keep me awake. No matter. There are still a few nights each month when I just can’t fall asleep.

Last night was one of them. I’d had a quiet day and a relaxing evening. I felt tired when I climbed into bed at 10PM. I read for a few minutes; when I turned off the lamp I could barely keep my eyes open. But then, sleep didn’t come.

I changed position. I tried, variously, to quiet my mind, then to just run through thoughts and worries to get them out of my system. I reviewed ideas for art classes. I went over the news of the day. Was I too warm? Too cold? Hungry? Nothing seemed urgent enough to force me out of bed. I continued to toss and turn. Until I had to make a run to the bathroom. That was four o’clock in the morning. Enough! I put on the coffee. There’s no sense in fighting it any longer!

Two Good Weeks with Lois


The Beaver Island Community Center was fortunate this January, to be able to offer painting classes taught by island artist, Lois Stipp. I was one of several enthusiastic participants, glad of the opportunity to learn something new, from an expert.

Lois has been a working artist for most of her adult life, and has been teaching for twenty years. She pulls from her vast knowledge of art principles, and from her personal experience with oil paint, in leading us through the process of completing an oil painting. Lois makes every student believe they can achieve success, then proves it by showing the way. She clearly articulates tricks and techniques, offers gentle guidance through hurdles, makes suggestions, prods and encourages until each student has a unique finished painting.

Lois is always generous with her time and abilities, to the point where she’s often “spread very thin.” We were very lucky that she was willing and able to share her expertise for two wonderful sessions at the Community Center, much appreciated by all who attended.

One Lazy Day


I enjoyed a totally lazy day yesterday.

I started it off by sleeping in. The dogs went out at six-thirty. When they came back in, I went back to bed. They went out again at eight o’clock. At that time, I started the coffee pot. When the dogs were both back in the house, and with the coffee brewing, I thought I’d just close my eyes for a few minutes more. Well, that “few minutes” went long. I woke up with my big dog, Darla, standing beside the bed, looking into my face. “Raaooow,” she said. I think it was shorthand for “Rouse yourself!” And she was right…it was ten AM!

I moved from the bed to the dining room table, where I spent several hours writing, reading and drawing. Exercise was limited to getting up to let the dogs out and in, frequent walks to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, and an occasional trip to the bathroom. I fried an egg and made toast about 1PM. After that, I turned on the computer. I checked my mail, looked at social media updates, and played a few games of online Scrabble.

At three in the afternoon, I showered and dressed, dried my hair, and took the dogs out for a walk. Home again, I picked up another book and, for a change of scene, sat down in the comfortable armchair to read some more. I fed the dogs around six, then made myself a grilled cheese sandwich, and warmed up the last of the vegetable soup. A good “lazy day” supper. For dessert, a bowl of yogurt with fruit and granola.

Back on the computer, I went through my news feed, then listened to a couple podcasts. My daughter Kate sent me an article that made me giggle. I watched a sitcom, using the commercial breaks to do up the dishes and tidy the kitchen. My friend Linda and I messaged back and forth, comparing notes on diet and fasting. I went to bed at a reasonable time.

After a day of little activity, it didn’t surprise me when I had trouble falling asleep! I finally cried “uncle” and gave up on trying to sleep. I got out of bed at two-thirty in the morning. I found a movie on Netflix. “Leap Year” is a cute romantic comedy with a backdrop of the Irish countryside, that didn’t require a bit of thought or concentration on my part. I made popcorn, with no regard to my renewed commitment to intermittent fasting. Finally, I went back to bed at four AM.

Today, I’m waking up slowly. I am determined, though, to get moving soon. There is plenty to do, to make up for my indulgent, lazy Sunday!

Friday the Thirteenth


Today is Friday the 13th. When that turns up on the calendar, it is supposed to be a bad-luck day. I don’t worry about it. Broken mirrors, black cats, walking under ladders…I don’t pay much attention to things that are supposed to bring bad luck. I’m tempted to say that’s because I find enough bad luck without assistance, but I’m trying to forge a better outlook. Actually, I could just as easily say that I’ve been very fortunate in my life. Certainly, things could have gone much worse!

I do pay attention to things that are supposed to bring favorable results. I knock on wood, keep a four-leaf clover, and always have black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. For many years, I wore a bracelet of multi-colored beads arranged in a specific pattern, because it was supposed to bring harmony into my life. When I explained that, people would often ask, “How’s it working?” Perhaps, looking at my chaotic existence, they thought not well at all. My answer, though, was always “Good! I think this is as harmonious as it gets!”

Almost halfway through the month of January, this year is going well so far. I’m sleeping well, walking every day, and renewing a commitment to other healthy habits. I managed, this week, to get all of my Christmas decorations put away, and yesterday tackled the same job at work. That always seems like a forward-thinking project, rewarding just for the fresh outlook it gives to a room.

Winters here on Beaver Island, surrounded by water, are often sunless affairs. This year, Mother Nature doesn’t seem to know what direction to take. We have been beset by several big, messy winter storms that bring huge piles of wet, icy snow…followed by several days of moderate weather that allows everything to melt away. The landscape changes from snow, to mud, then back to snow again. Yesterday, the sun came out for the first time in a couple weeks. That seemed to improve everything! And, it’s shining out there again today!

In my family, we’ve all been nervously waiting for news from my sister Robin, regarding some medical tests results. That has made the last two weeks seem to drag by, filled with worry and trepidation. Yesterday, she reported “all clear!” On the heels of that wonderful news, combined with sunshine, this Friday the 13th can be nothing but a very, very good day!

How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent


[Looking for fresh ideas for things to write about, I came across a suggestion to “write a “how-to” about something you do well.” I found that idea kind of inspiring, and immediately wrote out a list of topics. I don’t profess to be an expert, but there are a few areas where I am quite competent. Not wanting to look like a know-it-all, I’ll spread these “How-To” blogs out over several months, to fill in when I don’t have any other topic. Happy learning!]

I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for several years.

I have always disliked many things about ready-to-use detergent. They are expensive. Or poor quality. Sometimes both. Some detergents were harsh, and made me itchy. Others didn’t dissolve completely, and left powdery residue on my clothes. Always, the boxes or jugs took up a lot of shelf space. Jugs had to be cleaned and recycled after they were emptied. And I’ve become suspicious about the efficiency of plastic recycling; I’d rather eliminate its use whenever possible.

So. making my own detergent made sense. I tried out a few recipes that I found on line. Most involved heating the ingredients to combine and dissolve them. Some also required vigorous shaking or stirring to re-incorporate the mixture before each use. No matter the benefits, I know myself well enough to realize that the novelty of dealing with all that would soon wear off, and I’d be back to the supermarket shelves.

Then I found this recipe, which has served me well. There are only three ingredients; they are basic, reasonably priced, and easy to keep on hand. The recipe:

  • 1 cup borax (I use the 20 Mule Team brand, found in the laundry aisle or in most hardware stores)
  • 1 cup washing soda (Arm & Hammer is the one I get)
  • 1 bar of Fels-Naptha soup, grated

That’s it! Grating the soap is the only labor-intensive part, and it goes very quickly. Here on Beaver Island, where prices are a little higher than average, the bar of soap costs less than $3.00. As for the other two ingredients, I pay about six dollars per box, and they each last about a year. The boxes store easily on the shelf with other cleaning supplies.

The process is simple. I grate the bar of soap, add 1 cup each of the borax and washing soda, mix it together, then decant it into a jar. I use a coffee scoop, which is about a quarter cup, for each large load. My laundry is clean and fresh-smelling. By getting away from harsh chemicals and plastics, I feel like I’m doing good for myself, and maybe making a small contribution toward saving the planet!

Good in Winter


There are, of course, negative aspects of this cold season. For starters, it’s cold! Weather can be problematic. It’s harder to get around. Boredom can be an issue. We’re barely into winter, and already I’ve been dealing with some of these things.

Last week, my art class had to be cancelled because the weather took an ugly turn. Sleet, high winds, and freezing rain make travel dangerous. No matter how anxious we all are for diversion during this slow time, it’s just not worth it. Even getting out for my daily walk with the dogs can be a challenge. I picked up a pair of – almost new – boots at the resale shop. They were a little too big for me, even with heavy socks, so I sent them out to one of my daughters. Then, I noticed that my trusty, old walking boots had a wide tear in one heel. I ordered a new pair and, until they arrived, went back to that tried-and-true trick of slipping my foot into a plastic bag before putting the boot on.

The planes didn’t fly for two – or maybe three – days this week. That means no mail. Which, on some winter days on Beaver Island, is the only thing to look forward to! And, needless to say, no new boots were delivered. Some folks came in for pizza this week, after having waited all day at the airport, hoping to get across. With no luck. I’ve done that before. I have to go to the mainland for a couple routine medical exams this month. Every year, I think, “why don’t I plan these things for summer?” But summer is busy with other things. So, I worry about cancelled flights, road conditions, and getting stuck on the mainland…but winter it is.

Last weekend, our phones were out, I think all over the island. I’m not sure what caused it. It may not have been weather-related at all. Even so, winter is an especially poor time of year to be without telephone service!

But, whether I love it or not, winter is here. And, in fact, there are many things I enjoy about this season. I don’t think I’d like the crazy, frenetic, busy summer season, without the winter, for balance. As it is, I enjoy both. It’s nice to have the crowds of people come when the weather is warm. In winter, it’s a relief to have a break from all that chaos.

Now, when the ground is covered in snow, I’m not bothered by thoughts of what I should be doing outside. I don’t have to think about mowing the lawn, or weeding and watering the garden, or any number of other activities that nag at my consciousness in other seasons. I lazily page through the seed catalogues, imagining the coming year’s perfect garden.

When I take a break from the garden plans, I have a small stack of new books that I’m looking forward to. I have others on the shelves that I haven’t gotten to yet. There are at least four magazines and a couple interesting catalogues on the side table waiting for me to go through. And, if it comes down to it, Beaver Island has a wonderful library, with even more choices.

This time of year, there’s more time for meal planning and preparation. Food seems to taste better, too, when it’s cold outside. In the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed a couple pots of soup, a nice stew, and a surprisingly wonderful noodle dish made with bits and scraps of leftovers. I only wish I could duplicate the recipe! Having the oven going, whether for breads, cookies, or just a tray of granola, warms the house in more ways than one.

Finally, here in the north woods, wintertime is often stunning. Even on the most miserably cold days, I love the view!

What Next?


I spent four decadent, lazy days at home, getting used to winter, and adjusting to the holidays being over. Now that the new year has established itself in my mind, what’s next?

I’ve been working on setting up my bullet journal, and have made good progress. After several years of doing this, I’ve finally figured out what works for me. I ignore the elaborate examples that crowd the pages of Pinterest, and simply repeat my same old basic format. It’s a calendar, mostly, where I can keep track of birthdays and appointments, but also just my day-to-day stuff. I rarely write “to-do” lists on my daily pages, but I do find it very gratifying to write down tasks after they are completed. Last year, I wrote a short list of goals at the beginning of each month. Almost none of them were completed; they just followed me from one month to the next, like a nagging pest. I eliminated that feature this year.

Rather than start with a list of New Year’s resolutions – which are, I think, a set-up for disappointment – I devoted one page to “Aspirations and Goals.” It includes a few items like “set up the grape arbor” and “organize the studio,” and some habits I want to continue (though I’m trying to remember to avoid caveats like “every day”). It also contains reminders to “laugh,” “don’t gossip” and “be kind.”

I allowed several pages to record the books I read this year. My friend Candy loaned me The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I enjoy that author, and it came with a good recommendation from Candy, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m still working my way through The Joy Diet by Martha Beck, in my morning study time. And I’m continuing to listen to the Marcus Didius Falco series on Audible. It’s been going on so long, the dogs are beginning to think “walk” and “Falco” mean the same thing!

I have a nice little stack of new books from Christmas, that I’m excited about. My daughter Kate sent me Naked by David Sedaris. I love his comedic point of view! My daughters and I went to hear him speak in Lansing several years ago, so this book also brings back memories of that good time. She also gave me Four Girls from Berlin by Marianne Meyerhoff. It is described as “a true story of a friendship that defied the Holocaust.” I don’t like war stories per se, but ever since reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I’ve always been fascinated by the back stories of the second World War. From friends Kevin and Lois, I received The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli, a novel that uses art history to link the 15th century art world with the Resistance during World War II. I started it last night, and it grabbed my attention right away. My grandson Michael sent me a book, too. I haven’t actually seen it yet, as I haven’t been to town to get the mail, but he and I share many interests, and he chooses reading material well, so I know I’ll enjoy it.

I’ll continue to walk regularly, and keep track of my miles. With my fitbit, I’m noting my daily steps, too. I’ve been slacking off on other exercise over the holidays; it’s time to get back on track with that. After a short break, I’m also getting back to Intermittent Fasting. Along with limiting when I eat, I plan to give a little more consideration to what and how much I eat, to see if that makes a difference! That’s about all the future holds in the health category.

After my long weekend, today I’m going back to work. That means I’ve got to get my walk in early today; it will be dark by the time I get home. I have a few letters and one small package to send out. I should read my gas meter. I have to go over my notes for the drawing class I lead. So, I’d better get on with it!

On to the New Year


Here we are, at the beginning of a new year. And, even though the calendar is a human-made devise that holds only the value that we give it, the first day of a new year always seems important. It feels like a new beginning…and I love a fresh start!

Determined to make the best of it, I got up early and started my day with meditation, gratitude journaling, drawing, and study time. Then, feeling a little under the weather, and having not slept well last night, I crawled back into bed for a long morning nap. No sense in being too “gung-ho” about the new year!

When I woke up, I worked for a while on setting up my new 2023 bullet journal. Before retiring last year’s book, I like to remind myself of my accomplishments and the memorable events of the last year. As I flip through the pages where I recorded the large and small happenings of 2022, reminders of precious visits with family and friends make me smile. There are poignant memories of my sweet little dog, who died last spring. There are flowers pressed between pages, and a small gallery of colorful drawings done by my little niece, Ellie. There are records of events large and small: some important; most quite trivial.

At seventy years old and in what I like to think of as “semi-retirement,” I worked for pay 167 days last year. I volunteered my time at the resale shop thirty-four days. I wrote this blog regularly, though not as regularly as in other years, and read and recorded it for the Beaver Island radio station.

I walked almost every day last year, and totaled 375 miles for the year, surpassing my goal by ten miles. I kept track of the days that I did other exercise, and whether it was yoga, Pilates, strength training or rebounding. My sister Cheryl got me a “fitbit” for my seventieth birthday, so I’ve been keeping track of my daily “steps” since then, too. I write down my weight each day.

I read seventy-four books last year. Nine of those were books I studied. Though not exactly textbooks, I took notes as I went along, and read with the intent of improving my knowledge in one area or another.

Twenty-five were audio books, keeping me company on my walks. Of these, I’ve really enjoyed the Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis. Set in Rome, in the first century AD, they are well researched and historically accurate (at least as far as my own knowledge of ancient Rome goes), with a good storyline that includes both romance and mystery. The series is read by Simon Prebble, and he does an outstanding job, so important to my enjoyment of an audiobook.

The other books were simply pleasure reading, some much better than others. I read at least ten adventure stories by Zoe’ Sharp before deciding they were a little too violent for my taste. The “Irish Cottage” series by Juliet Gauvin was too simplistic. And, after reading three of Michael Robotham’s psychological thrillers, I decided I’d better stop before I scared myself to death!

I re-read, in order, all four books in the Jackson Brody series by Kate Atkinson. I then read her earlier novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, before reading her newest book, Shrines of Gaeity. I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr before allowing myself to start his newer book, Cloud Cuckoo Land. Though wildly different from each other, both were wonderful. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn, Light Perpetual, by Francis Spufford, and The Sentence by Louise Erdrich were other treasures.

Visits to the island by my sisters, my daughter Kate, several cousins, and a couple nephews gave me a good dose of family togetherness, just when I needed it. I made three day trips to the mainland in 2022, two for medical appointments, and one, completely unnecessary and totally frivolous, to meet my dear friend Linda for lunch.

After reminiscing about the past year, it was time to get busy with the present year. Rosa Parks opted to stay home today. but the big dog, Darla, and I went for a nice two-mile walk. After that, I made a bean, ham and barley soup, featuring black-eyed peas for good fortune in the new year. I’m not really suspicious about it, but it’s a good soup, and it can’t hurt. If it ensures good fortune, wonderful! If it doesn’t, well, it’s a nice ritual to mark the beginning of a new year! Happy New Year!