Category Archives: Books

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #8

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List the things you like to do that don’t involve technology:

  • I like to read. I always have. When I was six, my mother crawled under the kitchen table  where I was having a sobbing fit because the words I was reading did not make any sense. She looked at what was going on, and with a smile – and a level of patience she was not always known for – explained to me that K-N-E-W was pronounced “NOO,” not – which was the source of my frustration – “CANOE.” It was common, over breakfast, for me say, “Please pass the Corn Flakes,” simply because I had already read everything the Rice Krispies box had to offer. I still like to read the cereal box, when I have cereal. Books were not allowed at other meals when I was a child, but I often rushed through dinner and dishes to get back to a good book. Now that I’m an adult – and often dine alone – books and magazines are grand accompaniment at the dining room table. I always think of books as miracle-workers. From a very young age, they gave me an idea of how other families behaved and how the world worked. I have looked to books to learn a skill, make a repair, or solve a problem. They have given me vast insight into other places and other people, imaginary and real. Books have given me hope when I saw no hope.
  • I like to walk. I’ve become very familiar with the changing scenery down the Fox Lake Road through all seasons of the year. Still, there’s always something fresh about it. A change in the color of the sky, the brightness of the sun or its position overhead makes the whole view brand new. Sometimes I choose a heart-pumping pace; other times I meander. There are days when my mind is full of problems that I am trying to solve. Sometimes, the purpose of the walk is to get away from them. And, sometimes I sing, loud and off-key, for the distance.
  • I like games: board games, card games; word games; dominoes; dice. Solitaire is okay, if there’s no one else around.
  • I like working in the soil. Gardening offers many benefits – that I also enjoy – but in the early spring, when the ground is just warming up, long before the promise of flowers or vegetables, I am out there, on my knees with my hands in the dirt. And I am enjoying myself!
  • I like exercise…a little. And that’s how much time I devote to it.
  • I like to cook.
  • I like crafts. Crochet, mostly, but I’ve enjoyed knitting, sewing, and embroidery, too.
  • I like art. I like the “doing” often as much as the “making” in that often the act of pushing paint around the surface, or shaping clay is every bit as meaningful to me as the product that may come of it.
  • I like writing. Though I use the computer for most of the writing I do these days, I have several volumes of sappy, melodramatic and angst-y journals that I wrote by hand through most of my adult life. And, if the hours in my days ever expand to allow time for it again, I’ll add it back in. There’s something about the physical act of putting words on the page – different than typing them onto a computer screen – that makes it more meaningful.

 

 

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What I’m Reading

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This morning, neither my brain or my body seems to want to work correctly. My back is “out” today. During several days of discomfort leading up to this, I told myself, “moving will ease the pain” or “gentle exercise will help” or “walking will make it feel better.” Today I moved unabashedly from bed to chair, crooked and moaning, and made a good dose of ibuprofen my first menu choice.

My mind is foggy, too, though I’m sipping my way through my second cup of coffee. I just looked over the notes for the writing I had planned to do today, and thought, “I have absolutely no idea where I was going with this!” A glance through a few drafts of blogs I started, and saved for later, gave me nothing better to work with. The only one near completion was titled “Ice Cream” and we’re right in the thick of winter here!

Not writing today is not an option, for many reasons. One of them is that tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. Though I’m not an actively practicing Catholic, I’ve been looking at using Lent as an impetus to get back on track, in all the little ways I’ve been back-sliding since January 1st. Blogging on a regular basis is one of my few successes in habit forming and maintenance, so.

I love to read, and usually have several books going at once, so that I can choose based on my mood, my attention span, and the amount of time I have. Winter is the time, for me, to think about self-improvement, to explore new ideas, and to delve into books that grab and hold my attention. I enjoy reading reviews of books, but am not much for writing them. This is simply a list of the books I’m reading now, with notes:

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  • A Morning Cup of Yoga by Jane Goad Trechsel. This 15-minute yoga routine (designed to be completed in the time it takes for a pot of coffee to brew) has some of the best (that is, clear and easy-to-follow) directions I’ve ever encountered. The illustrations add clarity, and the program is a great introduction (or, as in my case, a re-introduction) to the daily practice of yoga.
  • Sorted: freedom through structure by Gillian Perkins. Yet another self-help book to help me get organized and stay that way. The back cover suggests it will “enable you to finally achieve order for your schedule, home and future plans.” I hope so!

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  • Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott. Though her Bird by Bird is hands-down my favorite guide book on writing, I have found less to identify with in other books by this author. They are always well-written, easily injecting humor and spirit into hard times, they simply have not resonated with me. Hallelujah Anyway is an exception, and I’m enjoying it immensely. Her writing is such that I go back over sentences, paragraphs, and whole sections, just for the joy of seeing how masterfully she puts words together.
  • The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. Beck does a regular column in O magazine that I have read and enjoyed. I like this book, but am only very slowly working through it.
  • Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. I enjoy Larson’s work (Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts) for the good writing and accurate historical periods he depicts. He tends to toggle back and forth between events and people which demands a bit more attention than I sometimes have to offer.
  • Redemption Road by John Hart. My daughter recommended this author to me, when I was looking for a “can’t-put-it-down” read. This one fit the bill, and I’ll watch for more of his work.
  • Simply Clean by Betty Rapinchuk. I learned of this book from the author’s “Clean Mama” blog. It’s concise, well-written and helpful.
  • Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi. Hegi is of of my favorite authors, along with Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Alice McDermott, Amy Tan and Laurie R. King; their writing never disappoints. I’m always happy for a new offering, and am looking forward to starting this one.

That’s some of what I’m reading, in my cozy home, in the middle of this winter.

A New Month

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Here is February. On Beaver Island, it comes with colder temperatures than we’ve seen in a couple weeks, and lots of fresh snow. In my house, the new month causes an assessment of progress “so far,” and a renewed commitment for the future.

Looking over the “Task and Activity Tracker” for the month of January in my Bullet Journal, I can see – first of all – that my fancy method for marking completed tasks was a bust. It was hard to fill in, and got pretty sloppy-looking early on. It is very hard to see where I succeeded and where I failed. Perhaps that’s not all bad, because I had plenty of areas where my performance was less than stellar. My daily yoga fell off by the last week of the month. My “no sugar” and “no spending” goals never took off at all. In fact, reading – which I have always done every day for the last sixty years – is the only thing that was marked off on each day of January.

That’s okay. This is a new month. I have a renewed commitment and a brand new tracker. This month, I have an easy-to-read grid, and completed activities are marked with a simple “X.” In February, I will be serious about exercise and all the other areas of self-improvement that are important to me. I will continue making time for studio work and home-improvement projects. I will write letters!

January is usually a month for correspondence: thank you notes for gifts and cards, responses to holiday mail, general greetings and “I’m still here” messages. Not this year. I’m still far behind in that respect. It just so happens, the month of February is International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo). Perfect! So, along with many other participants, I committed to writing a letter each day, for the 28 days in this month. Today is February 3rd; I’m writing two letters today, because I (already!) missed yesterday. It seems like that’s the norm when it comes to me and commitment.

Still, it’s way too close to the beginning of the month to start getting discouraged. Every new page of the calendar is a chance for starting over. And if you know me, you know how much I love a fresh start!

 

 

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #5

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List the best choices you have made in your life so far:

Let’s keep in mind that I am 65 years old…probably at least two-thirds of the way through my life. Many things that were wonderful choices at the time…and for a very long time…have come to be less sensible in the long run. I am going to try to answer this from the perspective of the person I was – full of wide-eyed innocence and intense hopefulness – when I made those choices…annotated.

  • Going to college. I was not the best student in high school. I was married, with children, before I decided to go to college. It opened my eyes, expanded my mind, showed me whole worlds I never knew existed, and gave me the chance to prove to myself that I was, in fact, both smart and capable. *In hindsight, and purely from an economic and security standpoint, there are many courses of study I could have pursued that would have probably served me better than the fine arts.
  • Studying art. Having said that, let me be clear: art has enriched my life in a thousand ways. *Still, it was not – for me – a good fiscal decision.
  • Moving to Beaver Island. Away from Lapeer, where I’d spent my whole life so far; away from family and friends who loved and supported me. I moved to an only vaguely familiar, remote place, where I had to make friends, find work, get my daughters into school and other activities, and create a brand new way of living. *My idea of what life would be like on Beaver Island was based on things like the essays of E.B.White from his farm in Maine, the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and ten years of family vacations there. In many ways, it has been wonderful. Still, it’s much lonelier than I ever imagined it would be.
  • Becoming a waitress. Who would have thought that taking a menial labor job in a small bar and restaurant on Beaver Island would count as a good choice? Not me! It turns out, though, that it was one of my best. I learned that I was really good at waiting tables: I was more coordinated than I ever imagined, able to make any “special” sound delicious, balance trays, juggle many tasks at once, add long columns of numbers quickly and correctly, manage large groups of not-always-agreeable people and – most importantly – do it all with a smile, and without panicking. I made some of the best friends of my life. I collected many of my favorite stories. *The sad truth is, no matter how willing, waiting table is a job that one does, eventually, age out of.
  • Having children. I wonder, if we could see ahead to the pain of childbirth…the sleepless nights…the worry, if any of us would ever have children. Then, terrible twos, sibling rivalry, the angst of the teen-years. The inevitable sadness, disappointment and pain that comes from loving someone – with a mind of their own – with all your heart. If I had known…I might have missed out on one of my life’s biggest joys: having children. Despite the wisdom hindsight has to offer, having my daughters was one of the happiest choices of my life.

Not Today, But…

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I’ve been struggling lately with this writing commitment. I missed several days last week, with hardly a reason. Some days, I feel pulled in other directions, away from this chair. There are times when I feel like whatever I have to say is small and unimportant, when doubts and insecurities silence me. Sometimes, it’s the topic that eludes me.

I like it when the direction of my writing comes to me as I type the words, stream-of-conscious style. It’s fun when revelations, memories and insights appear to me at almost the same instant that they appear on the page. “Where did that come from,” I wonder, with amazement, and say “thank you” to the air, where the words seem to have come from.

To write from an outline seems too much like an assignment. I’ve had enough of that! And yet, I want to write. This morning, I re-read a few of my older posts. Sometimes that helps to get the creative juices flowing. Then, I read several blogs by others, who’s writing I admire. That often gives me food for thought, and sometimes spurs a post in response.

In fact, today my friend Kathy, who writes her Lake Superior Spirit blog from the woods of Michigan’s upper peninsula, wrote about missed perceptions, inspired by a post titled “Missed Perception,” by Pam whose blog is roughwighting. Both women are wonderful writers in general, and these pieces – about chance encounters on a plane – are both excellent. I was tempted to write my own story about a long-ago plane ride. Not today, though.

I’ve had a couple writing ideas working around in my mind for a few weeks, now. One is about the rules of my house. The other regards my beautiful granddaughter, who just recently turned eighteen years old. Not today.

I have four drafts started and saved. I opened each of them, to see if I’d find inspiration there. One is titled “Ice Cream.” That can definitely wait until warmer weather! Another is the start of a “Time-out for Art” piece. I’m not sure if the work I was writing about still exists, or if it has changed beyond recognition. It may not be something I want to discuss anymore. Certainly not today. The others show promise, and – some other day – I will finish them.

I have a dozen books – maybe more – on writing. Some, like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors, are designed for finessing what is written, rather than for inspiration. Stephen King’s On Writing and Michael Chabon’s Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands tell how they did it, which can be helpful, but doesn’t get me writing today.

I have, in the past, pulled suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: the Practice of Writing Memoir, Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop and Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open for writing material. Some of their ideas are quite fascinating, and get my mind churning.

Goldberg has lots of 10-minute writing exercises: “What can you give up knowing?” “What have you held onto too long?” “Where did you come from? How did you escape?” Novakovich hands out assignments (“Create a character without relying on anybody you have known or seen. You might consult an astrological chart.”) with an objective (to learn how to work from an idea, rather than a real-life precedent, in making up a character) and a means of checking your success.

Berg offers thought-provoking scenarios as jumping-off points for writing: “What transpires as you stand before the monkey cage at the zoo?” “Demonstrate great wrath in a person by describing only the way he or she is smoking a cigarette. Now great fear. Now sorrow.”  She also offers some encouraging words for the place I am in right now: “Next time you feel stuck, celebrate. You are being given an important opportunity.”

With that, I am setting aside my writing for this day, and going in search of other opportunities.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness)Project #3

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List the things that you are really good at:

  • Cooking. Nothing very fancy, but always good.
  • Baking. Sweets, mostly, but I also have several good bread recipes that I use regularly.
  • Writing.
  • Letter-writing. People say a letter from me makes them feel like I am sitting right there talking to them. My mother encouraged her children to write letters to our grandparents in Chicago. I really took to it. I enjoyed telling the news, and was always happy to be rewarded with a letter in response. My best friend and I always wrote to each other through summer vacation. We were quite dramatic in our recitations, and went through thousands of exclamation points in each letter. I had pen pals throughout my life. When I first moved to Beaver Island, Mom reminded me that I wrote a good letter, and told me to be sure to keep in touch. I did, updating family and friends of our adventures here, and of how my daughters were growing. I wrote my daughters whenever they were away from me, through their childhood. I’ve gotten lax in recent years, with letters giving way to phone calls, Email and instant messaging. I still have a list of letters to write, in answer to cards and gifts I received at Christmas. I always appreciate receiving letters, so should be better about sending them.
  • Growing things. Again, nothing fancy. My house plants are not exotic, but simple green plants that usually make the lists of “easiest houseplants.” Still, other than sometimes having to droop a little to remind me to water them, they thrive. Outside, again I choose hardy specimens that suit my sandy soil, and – with very little special attention – they make me proud.
  • Drawing. Though it is one of the skills that needs to be practiced, to prevent getting rusty…and I’m pretty lax about that, too.
  • Color theory. I have studied it, of course, but it is one of those things that I’ve always had a knack for. I remember Doug Warner, an instructor in one of my earliest college drawing classes, on the first day that we worked with pastels, saying with surprise, “Oh, my, I can see that color is your forte!”
  • Organizing. Though the level of dis-order that I live with would seem to make a lie of that statement, I am very good at making sense of big mounds of disparate items.
  • Arranging. Whether pictures on a wall, items on a shelf, or furniture in a room, I’m very good at arranging things. With my combined abilities in color theory, organizing and arranging, I might have done well in a career as a interior decorator.
  • Reading. It’s easy to be good at things you love, and I have always loved to read. I’m also good at reading out loud, which is related, but different.
  • Customer service. I was an excellent waitress for more than twenty years, because I truly enjoyed the job. I was happy to do my best to make each customer’s experience outstanding. For the same reasons, I am good at my current job at the hardware store.
  • Entertaining myself. Though I sometimes get lonely, I don’t pine away for companionship. I can enjoy games of solitaire for hours on end. Add a few books, writing materials and a few art supplies, and I’d be just fine on a deserted island.

It is a good question to ask yourself: what things are you really good at?

Resolute

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What’s going on here?

I haven’t posted anything here in almost a week; that’s obvious. There has been little else of consequence going on behind the scenes here on the Fox Lake Road, either. I’ve spent precious little time in the studio, and managed only a bit of tidying while I was there. I didn’t tackle any of the big home-improvement projects I have planned for this winter, either. In fact, I have done little more than the bare minimum to keep this house running along.

Some good news: I have been able to – every single day – check off “yoga,” “walk” and “strength” on my habit tracker, thanks to a book on “mini-habits” by Stephen Guise. He advises forming  habits based on the very smallest increments. In his own experience, he set his sights on completing one push-up a day, adding one fruit to his diet, meditating for one minute, and writing fifty words a day. With those minimal goals, he has managed – in a very short time – to form exercise and meditation habits, become physically fit, and write three books.

Of course, this involves going beyond the minimum requirement on many days, but even on the absolute worst days, he can meet his goal. Success brings good feelings which leads to more motivation to continue. It certainly  sounds more inviting than my usual New Year set-up, where failure is inevitable.

So, this year, my concentration is on forming the habits, rather than any end-goal. My minimum requirements are, well…minimal. The first three  [warm-up] poses in my yoga book; a walk to the end of the driveway and back; a dozen repetitions of an upper-body exercise or half that many squats: each counts as completion of that task. With that in mind, I am happy to report that – almost two weeks in to this new year – I haven’t missed a day yet!

It’s also true that engaging in the activity is the most difficult part. Once I get through the warm-up poses in my yoga book, I often continue on to Side Stretch, Tree Pose, Arm Stretches and Cactus Pose. I’ve only stopped at the end of the driveway on a couple of the iciest, coldest days. We usually meander down the road for a stretch, and on a couple exceptional days, Darla and I got more than a mile in, while Rosa Parks waited in the yard. Once the weights are in hand, I generally add a few repetitions of other exercises before I put them back on the shelf.

Taking the author’s advice, I am not starting with a hundred mini-habits (though I could easily think of that many areas that need improvement in my life!). He suggests no more than five, and allowing enough time – say, three months – to absolutely form the habit before adding something else to work on. So far, with not quite two week’s success under my belt, I am encouraged, and already looking toward tiny increments of progress in other areas: “Just walk into the studio,” for one. That’s what I plan to do right now!