First of Spring, Fox Lake Road


I don’t imagine that we are all done with winter weather. I wouldn’t dare to hope! I’ve noted blizzards coming through more than once on the first of April, and I often post photos to show my grandchildren that there is still snow to be found well into May. Still, the days are noticeably longer, and the Fox Lake Road is a river of mud. These are dependable signs of the change of seasons. This year, on this first day of spring, the sun is out, and the snow is receding.

Spring brings hope. There will be milder days ahead. The ice will disappear, and we’ll be surrounded by open water again. Flowers will bloom. The garden will warm, ready to accept new plantings. I won’t need to pile on winter layers for my daily walk.

Spring, though, also brings along with it a great deal of work. Just the small patch of back yard revealed by the melting snow shows wheelbarrow loads of leaves, pinecones and small branches to be raked up. The entire lawn, both back and front yards, will need attention. I have 3 agricultural panels, a gift from my cousin Bob, and plans to put them to use. One, I plan to turn into an arch support for my wisteria, since I seem unable to get rid of that unruly vine. The other two, I intend to make into a grape arbor. Then, I can give that grapevine a much needed pruning.

The garden, sorely neglected last year, is in line for a good bit of attention this spring. I have to reset several of the support posts, put up new garden fence, double dig and fertilize my garden beds, pull weeds and put down mulch in the pathways, and prune the raspberries. All before planting…which reminds me that I have not yet even ordered my seeds!

It’s too early to tackle any of that. The ground is still frozen, and much of the yard is still covered in snow. It’s not even warm enough yet to store my winter clothes. What I can do is clear away other things from my “to-do” list, to open up time for those other activities when the time is right.

To that end, I’m giving the house a once-over. When winter’s darkness and cold put me in “hibernation” mode, it’s easy to let things fall into neglect. After awhile, I don’t even notice the dust and clutter! Last week, I got a call from a contractor, who said he’d stop by “in about twenty minutes” with an estimate I’d requested. Suddenly, I saw my surroundings as someone else would see them. I blasted through the downstairs, clearing and tidying. A most productive twenty minutes! Usually, though, I’m pretty lackadaisical about housework. Today, though, I’m paying attention…and doing something about it. Spring is here!

How to Procrastinate


[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!]

Not everyone procrastinates. That’s okay; it’s not for everyone. It certainly has its downsides. Many folks would be wracked with guilt over disappointing themselves, or others. Many couldn’t stand the tension of unfinished projects, missed deadlines, and commonplace delays. It takes a strong constitution to be a good procrastinator. If you want to pursue it, though, I can give you a few pointers.

First, have several areas of interest. It’s difficult to set one thing aside, without another thing to take it’s place. And, though it’s all subjective, and the value of a specific task might vary from day to day, it is helpful to have projects of similar importance. I’m pretty easy, but even I have a hard time convincing myself that it’s okay to avoid doing my taxes in order to binge watch old episodes of Friends. Much easier, for instance, to decide that putting up the new garden fence, or cleaning out the hall closet is something that absolutely cannot wait.

Along those same lines of thought, keep jobs in the queue that could really use attention. You will find yourself never more proficient at tackling a project as you are when using it to put off doing something else. With practice, you’ll learn to use this to your advantage. I won’t guarantee that you’ll ever get to the tax forms but, if you work it right, you could get thank-you cards sent, have gleaming appliances, and be in the best shape of your life!

Stay away from hard deadlines. Whenever you can, use phrases like “sometime,” or “in the future.” Do not add “soon” or “not-too-distant” to those phrases. I rarely find any reason to refer, for good example, to our past president, but I have to say, Trump was a master at the vague “sometime in the future” standoff! Avoid, like the plague, any time limits that depend on a clock, or a calendar.

Finally, learn to live with anxiety. Unmet deadlines and unfinished projects, though physically ignored, will still play on your mind. Even when the hall closet is so organized it could star on Pinterest, the uncompleted tax forms will still impart a sense of unease. In quiet moments, guilt will rise up over unmet promises and deferred plans. These are the consequences; I have found no way to eliminate them.

That’s basically it. These are the fundamental guidelines for becoming a master deferrer. You’ve got to have a plan, and a plan for putting it off. And you must be strong. That’s it. Godspeed. Go forth and dilly-dally!

More Crochet


Last summer, and on into the fall, I spent a great deal of time with yarn. I made a baby blanket, three scarves, several pairs of slippers, and a big afghan. By the time I had home-made gifts wrapped and sent out for Christmas, I was tired of it. Ready to put my crochet hooks away for a while.

I continued, though, to attend the weekly sewing group at the township hall. It’s a nice group of pleasant women. Sometimes one or more of us bring treats. It gets me out of the house for something besides work. And, it’s fun to see the variety of projects others have going. Though most are quilting, there are a few of us working with yarn. Nobody minds if I sit in and plug away at whatever thing I’m currently involved in. Often, the only progress I make on a given project in an entire week is what I get done in the two hours I spend there.

That is, until recently. Two weeks ago, Mary Rose – who is one of the most creative people I know, and whose art takes her in many directions – donated her stockpile of yarn, collected over many years, to the Island Treasures Resale Shop. Beautiful yarns! Glorious colors! An array of weights and textures! Though I had committed to avoiding unnecessary purchases, I could not pass this up. I brought home two full bags of assorted yarns.

Some were full skeins, but I also grabbed up the interesting bits and pieces, obviously left over from other projects: yarns with sequins and sparkles, pom-poms and fringe. Yarns with history.

Then, I started making hats. This is a tried-and-true pattern of mine, one that I devised for making hats for my young daughters. It has now been adjusted to be sized for adults, but still with warm flaps to cover the ears, and ties to keep them in place. I work with three strands of yarn, one 4-ply, and the others lighter, usually one or two ply. When I come to the end of a strand, I simply tie on another of similar weight and in a coordinating color.

I made about a hundred of these hats twenty-five years ago, as a means of getting rid of a mound of leftover yarns. As people saw what I was doing, I was gifted with other people’s leftovers, so I never had a shortage! I gave hats to family and friends, and sold them at the Christmas Bazaar. I kept a couple for myself, then sent a box of chunky hats to a homeless shelter in Chicago. And put that idea on the shelf. Until Mary Rose decided to give away her stockpile of yarn. Now, I’m back to crocheting funky hats!

Tragedy, Disaster and One Evil Doll


Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I have no idea why. Most of the time, though, I know what is keeping me awake. Caffeine in the afternoon will get in the way of good sleep. I know to stay away from coffee, but I’ve been known to indulge in some form of chocolate – cocoa or no-bake cookies – and often don’t think about the side effects until I’m wide awake in the middle of the night. If I’ve had a stressful day, I will sometimes relive the events well into the wee hours. A full moon often interferes with my good rest. It’s funny how easily I can nap in the afternoon, but a bright sky at night leaves me wide awake.

When I was younger, the wakeful nighttime hours were often productive times. Sometimes, the house would reap the benefits of my insomnia. I’d organize drawers that had been neglected for ages; I’d scrub floors with moonlight shining in through the windows. Other nights, I’d read for hours, or plunge in to art or craft projects. Or bake. Or write. Not any more. These days, I’m tired when I go to bed. I feel the weariness, even when I cannot fall asleep. I don’t have the energy to even concentrate on a book. I certainly can’t imagine any more ambitious undertaking!

Now, when I can’t sleep, it’s just me and my thoughts. I often wind through the plot of a movie I recently watched, or a book I’m reading. These are not unpleasant thoughts. If something is troubling me, though, I mull it over for hours. Usually that is something from my day, like a disagreement, or some thoughtless thing I said or did. If I ever inadvertently offend, rest assured that I will suffer for it, going over and over it in my mind, feeling ashamed, and thinking of how I should have handled the encounter differently. Sometimes I make mental lists: things I plan to do; items I need to purchase; repairs that need to be done. I try to avoid grocery lists, or any thoughts involving food. If my thoughts go in that direction, imagined hunger will prevent me from falling asleep.

Recently, my middle-of-the-night thoughts went in an entirely different direction. First, the recent shooting at Michigan State University played on my mind. That’s not surprising, as those events have been on my mind day and night. More bright young lives wiped out, and others altered forever. That campus is familiar, and dear, to me, and it breaks my heart that it has now become a part of a larger, very sad story.

That led to thoughts of the killing of four students in Idaho. I replayed everything I knew about the crime, the victims, and the young man arrested for the murders. From there, my mind jumped to the sinking of the Titanic, and all the horrors of that fateful night. I’ve seen two movies and read three books about that disaster, most recently, The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe. I’ve watched documentaries about the ship, its sinking, and efforts to find and explore the wreck. A few years ago, my sisters and I visited one of the Titanic exhibits. So, I had plenty of material to ruminate about, during my sleepless night.

The next contribution to my night of troubling thoughts was “Chucky.” I don’t know where that came from! I rarely watch scary movies, and I have never seen any films featuring that evil doll. But there he was, the last piece of a wide-awake nightmare.

Sleepless nights are rarely pleasant…but I’m thankful that they are not often as miserable as that one was!

How to Enjoy a Wasteful Day


[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!]

If you’re like me, “lazy” is a word that comes with many negative connotations. I associate it with feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment. I go to great lengths to convince myself, and others, that I am not a slothful person. I fill – often over-fill – my schedule with obligations in order to drive out the idea that I’m lazy.

When I’m not working outside of the home, I have a whole list of expectations for myself. This includes basic chores that keep my living space from devolving into chaos, and things like writing, exercise and meditation that help to keep my life on track. I also have separate charts containing major projects in areas that include home improvement, gardening and studio, in case I find myself with extra time. If I’m looking for something to do, there is always a job to tackle. I would never want to waste a day.

Except that, once in a while, a lazy, unproductive day is exactly what the spirit needs. How to pull it off, when we have convinced ourselves that we should aim for the exact opposite? I have a few pointers:

  • Think about snow days. Or “sick days” when you weren’t really very sick at all. That’s the energy we want to bring. No rules! This is a day off from the ordinary.
  • Stock up on reading material. Books that are wildly different in subject matter make it easier to skip from one to another when boredom sets in. Take a break from a psychological thriller by paging through a cookbook. Then move on to a light romance. Then a how-to book about a subject you have thought about learning. Magazines are a pleasant alternative. Photography books and graphic novels allow the eyes to rest. And don’t forget that stack of interesting catalogues!
  • Be well-versed in what the computer offers. YouTube has videos on just about everything under the sun. I have learned to do several household repairs through available videos, but you can also watch stand up comedy, or catch up on the latest royal gossip. Facebook, with all of its memes and news and snarky comments, is extremely handy when I’m trying to be lazy! There are streaming services, on-line games, and a million other offerings on the computer. It is a big time-waster, even when that’s not my intent. It is certainly a useful tool when trying to enjoy a do-nothing day.
  • Have a wide range of time-wasting diversions. It may be difficult to spend an entire day at one thing, no matter how pleasurable. The eyes can get weary from too much reading; guilt can start to invade your consciousness after too many hours in front of the TV; even laying abed can become tiresome after a while. Be limber! Move from one fruitless activity to another.

When you get to the point where you feel like you can’t sit still a moment longer, when you are bored to tears, or when guilt and shame have started to play on your mind, it’s time for these hard core tactics:

  • Prepare a meal. Or at least an unhealthy snack. A giant bowl of popcorn fits nicely here.
  • Pull out a deck of cards, and remind yourself how entertaining a game of solitaire can be.
  • Take a long, hot bath. With scents or salts or bubbles. Treat yourself to a facial. Music, or an audio book is a nice addition.
  • Take a nap. On the sofa, with a cozy blanket, and maybe a pet. If the afternoon sun is shining in to warm you, and the television is on for background noise, perfect!
  • Explore something new. Learning macrame’ or teaching yourself the cyrillic alphabet will satisfy your need to do something productive. If it is totally alien to anything you would normally do, it will still feel like a vacation from the ordinary.

If you still, after all of this, are having trouble setting everything aside, sit down and make a “to-do” list. Write down every single thing you feel you should be doing, and everything you are neglecting. Even add a couple extra tasks, as penance for your slothfulness. On the top of the page, write tomorrow’s date. Then, for heaven’s sake, relax and enjoy your wasteful day!

Three Years in Pictures


My plan was just to write a blog, to publish tomorrow morning. I had a title, and a good idea of the subject matter. I brought my camera on our walk today, and took a few pictures so that I’d have something current for illustration. I didn’t realize how that would complicate my evening.

For the last couple years, I have not used the little “point-and-shoot” camera much. I found that my small electronic tablet was easier. It has a larger screen, so it is easier to focus in on what I was trying to capture, and – being about 10 years newer – produced better photos. I always have it on hand, as I use the tablet for both reading and listening to books. So, once I got used to it, I’d often leave the camera at home.

Recently, though, the tablet would not let me take pictures. “Not enough space,” the error message explained. It has stubbornly maintained that stance, even after I’ve deleted every single thing that I can do without. So, finally, in frustration, I pulled the little camera out, put in fresh batteries, and tucked it into my coat pocket.

Preparing to sit down to write, I found the device that transfers the images from the camera’s SD card, and hooked it up. I checked on its progress as I was making dinner; it was sure working very slowly. I continued what I was doing while the computer continued working. When I finally took time to notice, I saw that it was downloading over seven hundred images!

What an adventure! What a trip through time! What memories! There is my sweet granddaughter, Madeline, with me, at Crow Canyon, when we went on an archaeological dig together, for her high school graduation. There are hundreds of photos taken in Hawaii, of my family, the amazing sights, and the back-yard rooster. There are all four seasons here on Beaver Island, showing spring blooms, fall color, tomatoes on the window sill, and my dogs at all times of year, both inside and out. There’s my darling little Blackie Chan, who died last spring. He always was the most photogenic of all my dogs!

I’m sure you can guess how my evening was spent…not writing, but reliving memories of the last three years!

Trying to Teach


Shortly after I started working at the Community Center, it was suggested that I’d be a good one, because of my art background, to spearhead some art offerings there. It’s true, I have a Master of Fine Arts degree, and have been working as an artist for most of my life. This is something I should have no trouble with. I agreed, and accepted the challenge.

I plotted out a few classes, and dove in. Some have been very successful. We had a good group for “Simple Prints and Card-Making.” Many enthusiastic participants of all ages showed up for “Rock Painting.” “Paper-Making” went over very well. The guest artists that I brought in were always welcome, and a breath of fresh air. It didn’t take long, however, for me to feel that I was in over my head. There is something about the teaching of art that stymies me.

I’ve always loved the idea of being an instructor. Good teachers have been wonderful life-changing influences in my life, all through my life. Sister Marietta was my fourth grade teacher at Bishop Kelley School; she influenced my whole life with her kindness and enthusiasm. I gave my oldest daughter the name Jennifer Marietta, in honor of this dear Sister. Miss Timponi taught 12th grade English; she encouraged my love of reading, and opened my eyes to a world of good books. I had several marvelous and memorable college professors, and I was fortunate enough, as an adult, to observe both Mr. and Mrs. Stambaugh excelling at their jobs in their respective classrooms here on Beaver Island. These are the types of inspiring teachers I aspire to be like.

I like to think I could become good at teaching. I did, after all, become an outstanding waitress, though everyone familiar with my clumsiness and timidity (including me!) would have never believed it was possible. I became an excellent and knowledgeable hardware store employee, though I knew little about tools and fasteners until I started working there. And, in both of these occupations, I’ve been in the position of training others various aspects of the job, so I know I’m capable of teaching. I know that I can eventually excel at anything I devote myself to.

There’s something different about the teaching of art, though, from giving lessons in how to take an order, or cut a piece of glass. I suppose the same issues come up when instructing in any creative pursuit. Each person has their own style. I don’t want to get in the way of individuality, while teaching skills. I struggle with breaking down the elements and conveying the means, without eliminating the fun. In fact, the joy of art-making is the most difficult thing to convey. My “teaching style” is a jumbled list of directions: do this…but don’t try to do it just like me; work at it…but don’t forget to enjoy yourself; try hard…but be spontaneous. I have never felt completely comfortable with this style of instruction, and don’t feel that I’m terribly successful at it…but it’s all I’ve got. Surprisingly, folks continue coming. So, I soldier on.

First of February, Fox Lake Road


Here it is, February.

Winter on Beaver Island.

I’ve seen several memes that report we are now half-way through the darkest days of the season, and are working our way toward the light. It’s true! I notice already that I’m no longer getting out of bed in total darkness. There’s a glow in the window, that lets me know the sun is out there somewhere, even if it happens to be hidden today, behind clouds. I can find my way to the coffee pot without flipping on lights as I move through the house. This is hopeful!

It is cold! Sixteen degrees (that’s -8.8 Celsius!) at ten o’clock this morning. This is the third day in a row with this kind of cold. And, according to this morning’s news, we have even more extreme frigid weather on the way.

As I walk down the Fox Lake Road, I can see tracks where snowmobiles have been. My neighbor has been cross-country skiing, and others have gotten their snowshoes out. If you have the time and the endurance, this is a wonderful time to explore Beaver Island. Biting insects, which can be torturous in the woods and trails in warm weather, are absent. My tracks through the snow show where I’ve been, and can lead me back to where I started, if I happen to get turned around. Which I often do!

The Beaver Island community has enough offerings to keep everyone as busy, and as social, as they would like to be. The bars and restaurants do a reasonable business all winter long. For balance, so do the churches. And the library. The Commission on Aging has many programs for seniors each week, from Tai Chi to Yoga, to Bingo. The sewing group gathers two mornings a week. The Brewery hosts Euchre every Thursday evening.

At the Community Center, art classes are held on Wednesday evenings. Trivia (“Let’s Get Quizzical”) happens every other Tuesday. “Open Mic Night,” sponsored by the Harbour Bodega, happens on the opposite Tuesdays. Movies are shown every Saturday. Holidays offer more excuses to plan themed events.

All around town, folks are planning special offerings and entertainment for Valentine’s Day. Then, we’ll be getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day, which is a big event here on this Irish island. By that time, we’ll be halfway through March, and looking forward to spring…once again certain to have made it through another northern Michigan winter.

But, today it’s the first of February, and it feels like there’s still quite a bit of winter ahead. At my house, I ward off seasonal despondency with brisk walks, hot soups, fresh breads, and a good supply of books!

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.