Category Archives: Books

Things Get In The Way

Standard
Note the drastic lean to the left!

It seems I’ve been writing “Finish painting the Floor” in the “Tasks” box of my Bullet Journal every month for a year! I know I’ve mentioned the project in several blogs, and bored many listeners with my snail’s-pace progress. With the summer season’s long hours, company and general “busy-ness” over with, I dove back into my project with renewed determination.

I have a small house. The entire downstairs floor is less than six hundred square feet. This should be a simple thing! And yet, it is not. For one thing, I live here, in this small space, with all of my furniture and accessories taking up space. With three dogs, and their dog beds and water dishes to work around. With the necessity to always maintain a route for the animals to get outside, and for me to get to the bathroom.

For another thing I, for some crazy reason, decided that deep-cleaning should be done simultaneously with the painting of the floor. So, the task of painting has been compounded by the sorting, organizing and purging of my accumulated stuff from every cupboard, cabinet, shelf and drawer.

It has, naturally, made the original goal much more elusive, but it has been rewarding nonetheless. How nice to have every drawer that I open be neat and tidy! Wonderful to have shelves clean, dust-free, and in good order! It’s a good feeling to be rid of much of the excess: unused, outdated and unnecessary stuff that has cluttered my space.

Then, there is life. A week ago, I noticed that my newly reorganized living room bookshelves were listing at a dangerously rakish angle. One of the vertical supports had given way. Obviously I’d accidentally missed the stud when I put the shelves up several years ago. All other progress had to stop while I tended to this.

a closer view of the cause

I had to remove everything from the shelves: television; stereo; speakers; baskets of CDs, cassette tapes and DVDs; and too many books. All of which had been recently sorted and arranged by category and alphabetically. With stacks of books now covering the living room floor, I ran to town to purchase wood screws, drywall anchors and spackling compound.

In my haste, I neglected to put the trash can up out of the reach of my big dog. By the time I got home, Darla had my plastic recyclables spread all over the laundry room floor. Just another detour along my route! So, first I got that mess cleaned up, then I patched the wall and rehung the shelves. Finally, I was able to replace everything on the shelves! I like the – slightly tweaked – arrangement even better than before!

After that lengthy roundabout, I got the flu. For two days, I’ve done almost nothing but make my way from the bed to the bathroom. Sleep twelve hours, sit up for two hours has been my routine. Bundled up as if I were on the North Pole, I managed the shortest, shivery walk with the dogs. I’ve been living on water, chicken broth and jello. Sipping hot tea and Thera-Flu.

Today, not yet feeling one-hundred percent, I am back at it. I’m continuing my slow progress, priming and painting small sections between dog walks and work hours and other projects. Too much time is spent simply waiting for paint to dry, but I’m getting there. Working my way toward completion. Hoping nothing else gets in the way!

It Must Be Tuesday

Standard

Tuesday announces itself to me with a sense of urgency, from the moment I wake up in the morning. It comes with a nervous feeling that shows itself in various ways. I may notice a rapidly pounding heart or an upset stomach. Sometimes it’s a severe headache. Often, it’s a combination of many things. At the same time, my brain is working overtime, compiling lists and sorting through possibilities.

Tuesday is the end of my “weekend.” Tomorrow, I go back to work. It’s not the job that causes the stress, but all of the things I wanted to accomplish on my days off. Tuesday is the day of reckoning.

Tuesday is the day I chastise myself for the things I didn’t get done on Monday. No matter how much I believed, on Monday, that I deserved a “lazy day” to catch up on sleep, Netflix, and social media, by Tuesday, I regret it. Why, for heaven’s sake, did I feel justified in taking the dogs for three long walks? And whatever made me think it was okay to just sit and read?? What insanity made me believe I could put everything off until Tuesday??

I do the same thing every week. No matter how much I get done on Monday, it seems insignificant by the time I wake up on Tuesday. Whether my accomplishments are many or few, Tuesday always has an impossibly long list.

This week on Monday, I stripped the bed, washed the sheets and comforters, and finished the rest of the laundry. I swept the floors. I balanced my checking account, and paid bills. Outside, I pulled up the squash and bean plants, and hauled the vines to the woods. I stacked the tomato cages. I worked on weeding in the garden and in the flower beds. I picked up windfall under the maple trees.

Tuesday, what torments me are all the things I did NOT do on Monday. Along with big indoor projects (like painting and putting up baseboards), there are still plenty of large outside jobs to finish. The lawn needs to be mowed once more, before the end of the season; the garden needs a lot more work to put it to bed for the winter. There are rose bushes and berry bushes to prune. Beyond that, there are studio projects to give my attention to.

When I’m working, I look forward to Monday, and protect it like the Holy Grail. If I have to schedule something away from home, or go to town for any reason, Tuesday is the day I choose. That’s why, today, with my long list of things to do at home, I also had to go to town for a meeting at the school, and a trip to the post office. I passed on the transfer station, the grocery store and the gas station; I’ll find time on a work day to take care of those things.

Tuesday is the day to think about what I’ll pack for work lunches for the next several days. It’s a day to get more exercise in than I can manage around my work days. It’s my last chance to get the house, car and yard in whatever condition I can live with for the next week. It’s a good day to spend in the studio, if I’m ever caught up enough to allow myself that. It’s the day I try to write this blog. It’s all too much!

So, Tuesday also becomes a day of bargaining, trade-offs and multi-tasking. Right now, waiting by the back door, I have a box of donations waiting to be loaded into the car, a small bag of papers to be burned in the fire pit, and the annual tags that should have been put on my car in August. Toilet bowl cleaner is doing its job. Two bottles of spray cleaner and a couple rags sit on the table for when I’m ready to clean the windows, cabinet fronts and other surfaces. As I write this, I have homemade soup simmering on the stove for weekday lunches. It must be Tuesday!

Effort

Standard

Starting today, October 1st, I’m participating in “The Last 90 Days Challenge.” It’s one more self-improvement strategy cooked up by Rachel Hollis and her company. With best-selling books, wildly popular seminars, blogs and social media, her topics range from building a business to fitness to decorating napkins for a child’s lunch box. I’ve aged beyond the need for much of her advice, but I’m always drawn in by self-improvement.

The purpose of the “last 90 days” is to prepare to start the new year strong. Rather than ending the year on the downside of all the neglected plans and ignored resolutions that were made last January, this is a way to finish with a bang!

The plan has five basic requirements:

  • Hydrate! This one is hard for me, as I’m not much of a water-drinker, but it’s an area that I know I have to improve. Many days I only drink the water I need to take my pills and vitamins! This will be a good time to make an extra effort. They recommend drinking half your body-weight in ounces of water. My personal goal is to increase my intake, and keep track of it.
  • Wake up earlier. One extra hour in the morning, to read, exercise, write or meditate. It’s a good idea; it will be a big challenge.
  • Give up one category of food or drink. I’m doing this in 30-day increments because, you know, Thanksgiving and all. For October, it’s alcohol and candy. There are things that are bigger indulgences, and would do me more good to abstain from, but too bad, I’m starting this way.
  • Move your body at least thirty minutes a day, every day. That’s easy. I have dogs, and already have the habit of walking them morning and night. At least one of those walks is a combination of speed walking and intermittent jogging. I have a job that often requires quite a bit of physical activity, too. I’m going to try to be more regular about other exercise, especially strength training, for the rest of this year.
  • Practice active gratitude. They suggest writing ten things, each day, that you are thankful for. This is also something that I’ve been working to incorporate into my life. Time, now, to be more disciplined about it.

That’s it! In addition, I plan to keep up with my “Morning Pages” every day, and blog posts twice a week. I intend to get my studio organized so that it’s a pleasant place to work again. I have one window to repair before the cold weather sets in, and a couple house painting projects. Outside, the garden has to be readied for winter, and the lawn will need one last mowing. I could make a longer list of things I want to get done, but it would probably lead to disappointment and failure. At this stage, I prefer to keep my expectations in check, and plan for good results from my effort!

Read to Me

Standard

I love to read, but in the last few years, problems have arisen.

My vision is not what it once was; I now need bright light to read by. That has pretty much eliminated reading in the bathtub, as the bathroom light fixture cannot handle a bulb brighter than 60 watts. Sometimes I still try, as reading in the bathtub used to bring me great enjoyment. The awkward position that I have to hold to get the book in the light and my face close to the page takes the relaxation aspect out of the experience. Squinting at a page in dim light while sitting waist-deep in a tub of cooling water is not the grand indulgence that reading in the bathtub used to be.

Reading in bed is another pleasure gone now by the wayside. The bedside lamp is bright enough, when it is directed at the page. If I change my position, though, I have to also redirect the lamp. I can’t hold one position for long. Whichever elbow I’m using to prop myself up gets tired and sore. My old back is not as limber as it once was, and I feel the strain after just a few moments. When I need to roll over to the other side, I have to sit up to reach the lamp, to redirect its light. I also have to readjust two small dogs that have settled in beside me. It doesn’t seem worth the trouble. I’m usually too tired to read more than a page or two before bed, anyway.

When I get a chance to have lunch in a restaurant, a book is my chosen companion. With the cost of of eating out these days, that’s a rare thing. I pack a lunch on days that I work, and rarely get more than a few uninterrupted minutes to eat it. I’ve quit trying to read at that time.

Used to be, summer was a time for reading on the beach. I always had a blanket and a good book at the ready, for any opportunity. There are books whose re-reading conjures up memories of warm sun, sand, and the sound of the waves, as that is where I first opened the pages. Now, summers seem way too busy for that. My hours at work are long; I have dogs at home waiting for me. This last summer, I think I only made it to the beach once, and that was when I had company.

At home, I used to sit in my comfortable armchair with a good book, for hours at a time. I’m sorry to note that the straight-backed chair I’m sitting on now has replaced the armchair. The computer, with its easy access to friends and family, news, and mindless entertainment has taken over many of the hours that I used to spend reading.

Last winter, having acquired a small handheld computer, I downloaded a program that allows me to listen to books. Other things, too! I am working my way through a series of guided meditations. My morning walk has become “intense walking with jogging intervals” thanks to Jamie, the trainer who speaks to me through the earbuds. She believes she’s building me up to a full out run in the series of twenty workouts, but I’ve got her fooled.

After nearly collapsing with exhaustion on Workout #13, I decided to take control. I repeat Workouts #1 (eighteen minutes of walking and speed walking, with 3 thirty-second jogs thrown in), #2 (more of the same, with longer jogging segments), and #7 (thirty minutes of intervals: walking for two minutes, jogging for one), depending on the time and energy I have. In-between lessons involve strength training and stretching; I do those inside, in the evening. I plan to eventually get all the way through her program…but on my own terms!

The books, though! My evening walk, which goes at a more relaxed pace than the morning workout, is also reading time. For about forty-five minutes, as the dogs and I wind our way down trails through the woods, someone is reading to me! I’ve finished several books this way! Currently, I’m listening to Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S, Dweck, and I have several other books waiting. So far, I find non-fiction more suitable than fiction in this format, and, of course, the reader’s voice influences the entire experience. Still, for my life right now, this is wonderful. I am thoroughly enjoying having someone read to me!

What’s the Difference?

Standard

What’s the difference? That’s a question that has plagued me throughout my life. I think I invite it with my Virgo tendency to believe there is one correct way to do a thing. Is it really so important that T-shirts or underpants or towels be folded one particular way? What’s the difference? Does it really matter if the books on my shelves are sorted both by topic and alphabetically? And will the world stop turning if one is re-shelved out of order? What’s the difference?

I’ve tried to relax. It’s true, most times, that, in the greater scheme of things, my little rules-of-order mean very little. I recently overheard my daughter giving a recipe to her daughter. When she came to the part about thickening a sauce with cornstarch, I wanted to jump into the conversation with, “No, always use flour to thicken a sauce!” I held back, though. It really doesn’t make any difference. Likewise, now that my children are grown, and not perfect, I’ve let go of the idea that there is one right way to raise a child. With caring and love, the particulars are less important. Sometimes, though, rules are there for a reason, and care in following directions makes all the difference. That came clear to me the other day.

I decided to make bread. That decision was born from a need to use up an uninteresting pot of soup that had been sitting for several days in the refrigerator. It wasn’t a bad soup. It had all the right elements for an outstanding soup: two kinds of dried beans, wheat berries, carrot, celery, green pepper, onion and tomatoes. Garlic and spices. A couple shakes of Tabasco sauce. Not bad, but – for some reason – not interesting.

Fresh bread would turn that boring soup into an interesting meal. I thought of it first thing in the morning. I’d make the easy, healthy whole wheat bread that has been my standard go-to bread for more than thirty years. I know the recipe by heart. Start by warming seven and a half cups of whole wheat flour in the oven. I scooped the flour into my metal bowl. Assuming it was a one-half cup measuring cup in the wheat flour canister, I counted out fifteen cupfuls, and put the bowl in the oven, set to a low temperature.

I greased two loaf pans, set the yeast to proof, and measured out the molasses and water. I pulled the bowl from the oven, and combined all of the ingredients. Always a fairly sticky bread, it seemed a little looser than usual. Hmmm. Well, I hadn’t made bread in a while. Between trying to limit my carbohydrates, and trying to avoid using the oven during the heat of the summer, it had been several months since I’d used this recipe. Maybe I was just remembering wrong. After all, I had followed the directions perfectly.

I set the bread to rise, which it did in record time. I put the two loaves in the pre-heated oven to bake. When I checked on it, the bread had spilled over the top of each loaf pan, dripped over the sides, onto the shelves and the oven floor. It was then, finally, that I thought to check. The measuring cup that I used, that I keep stored in the flour canister, was a one-third cup measure, not a one-half cup, as I’d assumed. Ugh!

What’s the difference? Well, beyond the mess in the oven, the hard-to-clean loaf pans, and the sunken loaves that are crumbly and difficult to slice, no difference. The bread did, in fact, make the soup a lot more interesting. Exactly as I planned!

A Day on the Mainland

Standard

Tuesday, I had to go to the mainland, to the hospital, for a screening procedure. I scheduled my flight off the island for 10 AM, so that my morning wouldn’t be too hectic. My appointment at the hospital was set for two in the afternoon, and my return flight was 4:30. I made arrangements to use the car that my cousin keeps on the mainland.

Because I’d be off and back on the same day, in roughly the same time that I’d be away for work, it wasn’t necessary to tell the dogs any different. I had time to walk them before I left. There would be plenty of free time for browsing or relaxing or shopping before my appointment, and time to get groceries afterward. It should be an easy trip. I hated to count on it, though, because there’s always lots that could go wrong.

This is a busy time of year all over northern Michigan, and the little town of Charlevoix is no exception. They have major traffic congestion in the summer, compounded by a bridge on the main street that opens to let boats pass underneath. In the last couple months, the bridge has been stuck in the open position at least twice, for hours at a time, necessitating a lengthy detour. Under the best of circumstances, automobiles and pedestrians can make it difficult to get from one end of town to the other.

The last time I went over for a mammogram, the technician was mean. She snapped at me for not getting into the position that she was doing a poor job of describing to me, but clearly wanted me in. I was unprepared for rudeness so, instead of standing up for myself, I struggled to please her, and crept out of there feeling inept and ashamed. Then, put off scheduling another mammogram for longer than is recommended.

Monday night, I lay awake, trying to prepare myself. Traffic would be fine. If it made me too nervous, I could just park in a central location and walk. As for the technician, I would be ready. I planned my response, to be delivered with confidence and only a hint of sarcasm, as soon as her attitude deemed it appropriate.

“I’m sorry to be flat chested,” I planned to say, directly. “I’m sorry that, with age, my breasts have tended to gravitate toward my armpits. I’m sorry for many reasons, not the least of which is because it obviously makes your job so much more difficult. And it’s kind of a crap job to begin with, isn’t it?”

Having gotten her attention with empathy, I’d add a bit of sharing. “I have kind of a crap job, too. It’s not always fun, and it’s often damn hard. But I do it, because it’s my job. And I don’t take my frustration out on my customers. I’d appreciate it if you’d show me the same courtesy.”

Too pumped up from creating a plan for my anticipated problem to sleep, and having introduced the thought of my job into my restless brain, I went on to write an imaginary letter to my boss. I mentioned how discouraging, and bad for morale, it is – right in the middle of a killer-busy season – for him to talk about his plans to start dissolving the inventory before the end of summer, and shut down the business for the winter. He might presume he’s giving us fair warning, but what it sounds like is, “Ha-ha, you bunch of screw-ups, you’ll all be out of a job before long!”

Finally, at around three in the morning, I was able to fall asleep. Then I overslept. Not so much that I missed my flight, but enough to put “hectic” back in my morning. After one quick cup of coffee, I threw on my mosquito netting and took the dogs for their walk. Then a quick shower, dress, put out morning medicine and treats for the dogs, and out the door. In plenty of time…with a big sigh of relief.

The plane ride was lovely. Then I had a cup of coffee in a cute new place while reading the newspapers that were available there. I worked two crossword puzzles while drinking my second cup. I made a trip to the big thrift store, and found pants and shirts that meet the requirements for work, and for a working vacation I’m taking in August. I stopped at the bookstore, just to look, though I am not in need of books. The drugstore next, for a few essentials, and one bottle of jasmine-scented bubble bath. I bought two magazines, and paged through them over a BLT at lunchtime.

I got to the hospital a little early, and was moved through registration without delay. The technician that called me in for the mammogram was not the same Nurse Ratched-like character I remembered from the last time. This woman was cute and friendly. She had a nice smile, and bright red hair done up in braids. She gave excellent instructions, apologized for the discomfort, and never scolded me once!

Next, the grocery store, to take advantage of sales, and generally better prices than can be found on Beaver Island. Fresh blueberries, three pints for five dollars! A big bag of pistachios. Two perfectly ripe avocados. One rotisserie chicken. A Ciabatta loaf. Handmade wild mushroom ravioli!

Then to the airport, and home. An enthusiastic greeting for the three dogs, who were glad to see me, too, then I unloaded the car and put away the groceries. A happy walk through the woods was followed by dinner for all, and an early bedtime.

Trips to the mainland are nerve-wracking affairs, fraught with the possibility of discomfort or disaster. Sometimes, nothing goes wrong at all. Sometimes, like Tuesday, a trip to the mainland is a mini-vacation, refreshing and rejuvenating…and just exactly what I needed!

Long Night

Standard

The hours from dusk to dawn seem interminable when I can’t fall asleep.

When I was much younger, a sleepless night was like a bonus. I simply got out of bed and filled the nighttime hours with things I was behind on, or things I didn’t otherwise have time for. Nights were filled with rearranging, sorting or deep-cleaning projects, with art-making, and with reading or writing. I’d be tired the next day, but knew that I could hammer through.

Now, when I am too wide awake to sleep, I’m also too sleepy to tackle anything productive. I’m often too tired to even get out of bed. If I do manage to get up, I don’t do much beyond sitting at the computer, watching the news and drinking tea. I know that, without a good night’s rest, I’ll be miserable the next day.

Last night, I lay wide awake in bed. There was no particular problem or worry that kept me from slumber, but sleep evaded me anyway. I filled the time with an assortment of mindful deliberation.

First, the book I am currently reading: 1588, A Calendar of Crime, by Shirley McKay. Should I put on the lamp and read for a while? Set in Scotland in the year 1588, the Plague is recent history and war with Spain looms on the horizon. Witches are persecuted; doctors practice bloodletting. The language is a bit hard to follow. I grasped right away that “kirk” means “church,” “bairn” is a baby, and “neb” is “nose.” Verbs are a bit more difficult, but, in context, I get the gist. Still, it’s not the best choice for middle-of-the-night reading.

Next, a rundown of my physical condition. My back was a little achy, but not bad. I had a stitch in my side that welcomed in all kinds of morbid midnight diagnoses. Likewise, the sore throat that has been hanging on since early spring. I stretched as much as possible while sandwiched in between two chihuahuas, and changed position. Was I too warm? Too cold? Did I have to pee?

I plotted out a few drawing workshops. I compiled to-do lists in my head for the next day, and the next week. They included housework, yard work, gardening and studio work. I thought of all the things I need to do before my sisters come to the island…before my trip in August…before cold weather comes again. I made a mental note to remember to write down the dimensions for replacement windows for the kitchen.

I experimented with several relaxation techniques, and a few mind-quieting tricks. I tried to move into a meditative state. I attempted to just embrace my sleepless state. “Just lay here,” I told myself, “eyes wide open, mind racing…just be one with it.” Ugh! Finally, I got up and made coffee.

If I’m going to “be one” with something, I’d just as soon be up, and choosing how to fill the time. So, briefly, I appreciated the extra time for writing, news-watching and coffee-drinking before I had to go to work. Then I remembered, long sleepless nights make for extremely long, exhaustion-filled days!