Author Archives: cindyricksgers

About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

Trying to Teach

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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

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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

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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

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[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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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[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

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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!