Category Archives: Books

A Day on the Mainland

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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!

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Long Night

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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!

Zest (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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Zest is defined as “keen interest or enjoyment, relish, gusto, piquancy.” I must admit, I’m not as “zesty” as I used to be. And that’s a sad thing. There is nothing better than being pulled forward by the sheer excitement of a plan, an experience, or an idea.

That kind of energy just doesn’t come my way as often as it used to. It seems harder all the time to drum up enthusiasm. That’s partly because I’m tired, and partly due to my age and experience. Things that can be really thrilling the first time around become somewhat commonplace after more than half a century. Some things, though, never get old:

  • Sunrises and sunsets. Every day a double blessing.
  • The view of Beaver Island’s good harbor as I drive past the church into town.
  • The view of Beaver Island, on approach, from the deck of the ferry boat.
  • My daughters. When I pick up the phone and hear either of their voices, my heart sings.
  • Christmas: the memories, the traditions, the music.
  • A good, baked macaroni and cheese.
  • The colors of autumn.
  • A perfect peach.
  • Almost any movie starring Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, or Julia Roberts.
  • Riding a bicycle.
  • Any essay by E.B. White.
  • The first snowfall.
  • Perfume, especially Chanel #5, as that was my mother’s scent.
  • Smooth, flat stones.
  • A bookstore.
  • A clear blue sky.
  • The first cup of coffee in the morning.
  • A new art project.
  • A nicely scented candle.
  • Warm summer nights.
  • Rearranging the furniture.
  • A new book arriving in the mail.
  • A handwritten letter.
  • Hot chocolate with whipped cream.
  • A heartfelt “Thank You.”
  • A fresh bouquet of flowers.
  • Clean sheets fresh from the clothesline.
  • A beautiful bar of soap.
  • Messages from my grandchildren.
  • A sky full of stars.
  • Homemade bread, warm from the oven.
  • A boat ride.
  • A good song on the radio.
  • New pencils.
  • Fresh peas from the garden.
  • A good bout of uncontrollable laughter.
  • Lemons.
  • A new journal.
  • A private joke shared with a friend.
  • A pot of soup.
  • Springtime.
  • A new skein of yarn.
  • Games with my sisters.
  • A stretch of beach.
  • The moon.

Yet Another Difficult Letter (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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Lists from A to Z seemed like a fine idea at the beginning of the alphabet, not so much now that I’m nearing the end.

Y! I could write about yeast breads, or yoga, or yarn…but how to come up with a list for any of those topics? And my plan emphasized lists, for this challenge, this April.

I have yarn, in several weights and colors, but I’m not well-versed enough in the nuances of yarn to write about it. I do a little yoga practice each day, but the routine I do could be found, and described more accurately, in any book on the topic. I do quite a bit of bread-baking, especially in the wintertime, and have several recipes that have been successful for me. Short of printing out the recipes, though, what is there to say about yeast bread?

So, in frustration, yet unwilling to give up when I’m this close to the finish line, let me just grab, in desperation, for any Y word. Yesterday!

Yesterday:

  • I managed to make it through the whole day on very little sleep. Once again, I’d been unable to fall asleep the night before, and spent many hours lying awake (unable to “toss and turn” when sandwiched in between two small dogs!), pacing the floor, paging through magazines, and any number of other non-productive, time-killing activities, until I was finally able to fall asleep, somewhere around five AM. I often blame a bright night sky for my inability to sleep. A full moon is an almost sure guarantee of a restless night. And yet, with the sun already brightening the sky, I can sleep soundly in the early morning hours. It’s a puzzle.
  • Yesterday was a work day for me so I still had to be out of bed by eight in order to stumble through at least some of my morning routine: yoga; coffee; morning pages (which yesterday amounted to one-half of one page); walk the dogs; shower, dress, and out the door.
  • It was a busy day at work, with customers trying to finish week-end projects, and taking advantage of our paint sale. I was there late, in order to finish up the order that had to be submitted at the end of my shift.
  • After work, I walked down the street to the Community Center, to meet my cousin, Pam. She had bought tickets to the annual community play, and we were attending the Sunday matinee! This year’s offering was “‘Til Beth Do Us Part,” a Jones Hope Wooten comedy. It was performed brilliantly by talented island residents, who I see in daily life as friends and neighbors. It’s a special treat to see familiar faces as such unexpected characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
  • When I got home, the dogs were waiting, more than ready for their afternoon walk. We took the Cotter’s Trail into the woods, then turned in to Hoopfer’s drive to circle their big yard. Finding the little trail through the woods that leads to the Murray place still too wet for walking, we backtracked and continued down Cotter’s trail to the little cabin at the end. There, Blackie Chan surprised a rabbit; he watched with big eyes as it bounded away. Then back the way we came. The wild leeks are starting to poke out of the ground, and the dappled leaves of trout lilies are visible under the trees. The snow is, finally, almost gone.
  • I fed the dogs. They like to have their meal at six-thirty, with a chewy treat immediately after. I eat later.
  • While preparing my dinner, I checked the news.
  • My dinner was macaroni and cheese, made with the last of the cavatappi pasta, and some sharp cheddar. I boxed up the leftovers for lunches later in the week.
  • Kitchen clean-up was my final task before giving in to my sleepiness.
  • I went to bed early, and managed to read less than two pages of my book before turning out the light. I slept well, through the whole night.

Writers (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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I read every day. I’ll read just about anything that comes my way, from high literature to cheap mystery stories to the backs of cereal boxes. Still, I have my favorites. These are writers whose work I watch for:

  • E.B. White. I think I’ve read just about everything he’s written (and, now deceased, he’s not producing new work), but I keep his books handy, and enjoy re-reading his essays, letters and poems.
  • Alice Walker. Whether essays, poetry, autobiography or fiction, her work is always worthwhile.
  • Louise Erdrich. I’ve been reading her loosely connected stories for twenty years. The setting remains roughly the same, and the characters repeat: a person may show up in one book as a young woman and the main character; in another as a minor character in old age. I feel like I’ve gotten to know them all, through the generations and over the years. It’s always exciting to see a new book out.
  • Barbara Kingsolver. Though I have to admit, I fell in love with Kingsolver’s writing through her early work, and I’ve struggled through more recent titles, I still look forward to her writing.
  • Anne Lamott. I don’t always agree with her perspective, but I always find her writing glorious.
  • Maxine Hong Kingston. Her output has been pretty spare in recent years, but I re-read The Woman Warrior last winter, and was reminded what a strong, magical writer she is. I’m looking forward to re-reading China Men.
  • Amy Tan. A master at developing characters and situations, I love everything she writes.
  • Laurie R. King. Though I’ve read some of her other work, I am mostly enthralled with her Mary Russell series. She can’t write fast enough!
  • Kate Atkinson. I’m reading her work kind of backwards, because I just discovered her a couple years ago. I first read Life After Life, then A God in Ruins. Then, in love with her work, I started going back through her earlier books.
  • Mary Blocksma. My friend, Mary, who has written children’s books and nature books and memoir, is one of the best writers out there. I’ve been privy to some of her work-in-progress, and know what treasures await the reader of her One Hundred Enchantments!

Useful (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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Today, I focus on things that have been most useful to me:

  • Dictionary. I have a couple book versions, and I also rely on dictionary.com. When I think I’ve spelled a word correctly, and the spell-checker tags it, I immediately go to the dictionary to find the right spelling. It’s also helpful to check pronunciation, or to make sure I’m using a word correctly.
  • Thesaurus. When I proofread, I often notice I’ve gotten hung up on one descriptive word, and used it over and over again in just a few paragraphs. The thesaurus offers enough other words with similar meanings that I can choose ones that fit with my vocabulary and writing style.
  • Google. Whenever I’m confronted with something I don’t know, whether how to change a faucet, what year Princess Diana died or who Sarah Jessica Parker is married to, I turn to Google. “Let’s Google it,” I say to customers when they ask me how to acidify soil, or what epoxy is best for vinyl repair. I depend on Google for my lack of knowledge and my fading memory.
  • YouTube. Google will often direct me to YouTube for video answers to my technical questions. Some things are easier to learn by seeing it done. YouTube has often helped me gain confidence to tackle a project I would otherwise be terrified to try.
  • A big, long coat. Mine is brown tweed, with a leather collar. It comes almost to my ankles. I bought it several years ago at a Re-Sale shop. I feel like Mary Poppins when I wear it. It’s handy for throwing on over pajamas to take the dogs for their morning walk. It looks dressier than my parka for travel. It was the best $10.00 investment I ever made!
  • A blazer. Blazers, I think, make the perfect light jacket for spring and fall, or even for chilly summer nights. They can easily dress up a pair of ratty jeans or other casual clothes. I’ve been caught out dog-walking in some god-awful outfits, with teeth un-brushed and hair uncombed, only to be told, “you look nice…” I attribute it to the blazer every single time.
  • A birthday calendar. Otherwise, birthdays get lost in the clutter of other obligations. If they fall near the beginning of a month, they aren’t noticed until the page is turned. A separate birthday calendar makes me more confidant that I won’t miss those special days (Happy Birthday today, to my grandson, Tommy!)
  • A few good, cheap, dependable recipes. Best if they can always be pulled together with ingredients at hand.
  • Important phone numbers and addresses, written down. Even if all of that information is stored on a cell phone, what if that system were to fail? I do not have a cell phone, but I have pertinent information with me, in case I need it.
  • A daily to-do list. Whether I use it as a reminder of appointments and obligations, or just to mark off tasks as I do them, this is an important aspect of my daily life. When it seems to me that I am lazy, slothful and never accomplish a goddamned thing, I can look back through my daily lists and see that I’m not doing so bad after all.
  • Bullet Journal. My bullet journal contains my daily to-do list, important phone numbers and addresses, my birthday calendar, and a few good recipes. It also has my work schedule, my monthly task and activity tracker, a wish list, a list of things (books, movies, Ted talks, podcasts, etc,) that I want to check out, books I’ve read, a future planner, and a schedule for medicines for my three dogs. Among other things. It is most useful to me.

What things make your life run more smoothly?

Twain (April A ~ Z Challenge)

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My daughter, Kate, and I share a love of Mark Twain. I appreciate his somewhat cynical view of the world, and his ability to speak about it with understated sarcasm, wit, and a good heart. Some wonderful examples:

  • “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of twenty-four hours!”
  • “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”
  • “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
  • “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
  • “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”
  • “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”
  • “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
  • “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
  • “A man’s character may be learned by the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”
  • “Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.”
  • “Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.”
  • “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
  • “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”
  • “Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.”
  • “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
  • “The rain is famous for falling on the just and unjust alike, but if I had the management of such affairs I would rain softly and sweetly on the just, but if I caught a sample of the unjust out doors I would drown him.”
  • “To create man was a quaint and original idea, but to add the sheep was tautology.”
  • “Happiness ain’t a thing in itself–it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.”
  • This, from a letter to an unidentified subject: “My sympathies are also with you in your desire & purpose to preserve your native language in your American homes, & keep it alive in the family along with our American tongue. My sympathies could not fail there, for this movement of yours, so publicly & trustingly expressed, is a high compliment to our free institutions. There are countries where it is a punishable crime for the alien subject to use the speech that was born to him, but in America we do not care what a man talks; for we know that the sentiment back of the words will be American, every time — & deep & strong, too.”
  • And this one, from a letter written to the gas company, is one of my all-time favorites: “Some day you will move me almost to the verge of irritation by your chuckle-headed goddamned fashion of shutting your goddamned gas off without giving any notice to your goddamned parishioners.”