Category Archives: Books

Doing Nothing

Standard

In the United States, today is Mother’s Day. I celebrated by doing almost nothing. Not that I needed a holiday to manage that. Sundays, except in the summer when my second job kicks in, tend to be lazy days. I like to watch the lighter news and features on CBS Sunday Morning. That is followed by Face the Nation which handles more serious issues. I usually make a good breakfast on Sunday. I manage to do the few tasks that I set for myself every single day, and that’s about it. Often, I make big plans for what extra stuff I’m going to accomplish, but it rarely happens. Today, I didn’t even try.

This morning, I woke up early, wrote in my journal, did a little reading, let the dogs outside and back in, then went back to bed. When I got back up, I made coffee, checked social media, read Email, and settled in for my Sunday morning programs. I made a “Dutch Baby,” essentially a large, baked pancake, and had wedges of it with mixed fruit jam for a buttery, sweet breakfast.

I took a long walk. Rosa Parks opted to stay at home. We miss her, of course, but when we aren’t hampered by the Chihuahua’s short legs and bad joints, the big dog, Darla, and I are able to go both faster and farther. Today we walked to Hannigan Road, then turned and went quite a ways down that road, too. Sometimes that area is pretty wet in the springtime, but it was dry today.

I was watching for morel mushrooms. The time is right, the weather is good, and several people have found them already this spring. I don’t have a good eye for spotting them, so I didn’t have much hope, and, in fact, did not find a single one. The wildflowers are out in force, though. Trout Lilies and the tiny Spring Beauties are bountiful, and I’ve never counted so many Trillium. They seem to have all opened at once!

In my own yard, the forsythia is already dropping its yellow flowers, and the cherry tree blossoms are just about to burst open. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinth are blooming. The rhubarb is unfurling its leaves. The garden spot needs lots of work; I just glanced at it as I walked quickly by. I wasn’t in the mood for that today!

I received Mother’s Day greetings from sisters, friends, children and grandchildren. I warmed leftovers for my dinner, and cleaned up the kitchen. Of course, tomorrow will be a full day, doing all the things I didn’t do today in the areas of housekeeping, gardening, prepping for my art class, and planning for family coming to visit next week. On this day, though, I was happy to do nothing!

Shadows and Blessings

Standard

It was a rough weekend.

On Saturdays and Sundays, I start with morning news. The coverage of the coronation couldn’t outweigh the preponderance of grim reports. More devastation in Ukraine. Violence in Sudan. Another mass shooting in this country. In another city, a driver plowed into a group of people waiting for a bus.

Here, it rained. I didn’t sleep well. There is turmoil going on within my family that I’m unable to fix or alter. Doing nothing is difficult, even when there are no helpful actions to take. And, I’m still working at getting over this sickness that has grabbed onto me and held on.

I’m much better; sometimes I think I’m completely recovered. But, I still have a persistent cough that that catches me by surprise at the most inconvenient times. And, I’m lacking stamina. My daily walk wears me out. Yesterday, I stripped the bed, laundered the sheets and comforter, and remade the bed. For how exhausted I was after that endeavor, you’d have thought I’d run a marathon! It was all I could manage to get through after-dinner clean-up and a bath before collapsing into bed, dead-tired.

No matter how bleak things seem, though, I have learned to look for the blessings. There is always something of value to find.

A phone call from my daughter, Kate, was a nice surprise. A long walk with my big dog did us both some good. Words of encouragement and understanding from friends and family made my heart swell. A long, hot bath, with scented salts and a good book, is always so relaxing. And it is such a good feeling to crawl into bed between freshly laundered sheets!

Today, the sun is shining. I think it’s going to be comfortably warm. I have the day off. There is nowhere I have to be. As for what to do, I could go in several directions. The flower beds need to be raked out. There’s still organization to be completed in the studio. I have to go over my notes for art class. Right now, I’m going to pour another cup of coffee while I consider my options!

Quiet

Standard

Quiet. That’s my topic for the letter Q. Maybe you expected another post spent complaining about my spring cold? I could have! I’m pretty good at those whiny, self-pitying diatribes. I am still sick, though I’m starting to feel like I’m on the mend. I decided to give it a break. I still have the rest of the alphabet (Recuperation, Sickness, Temperature, Under-the-Weather…)if I feel the need to grumble.

Today, the subject is quiet. Mostly, I love silence. Growing up in a large and raucous household, I went to great lengths to find spaces where I could be away from the fray, alone with my thoughts. The top shelf of a deep built-in bookcase became a cherished hideaway for me. With a soft toy and a book as my only companions, I’d spend hours up there. There were nooks in climbable trees, thickets in the big field behind our house, and spaces in the garden when the corn was tall that were welcoming spaces, too, for a child looking for quiet.

I’ve always felt that I need time alone. When my children were small, no matter how tired and sleep-deprived I was, I’d be up after everyone else was asleep, for the peace and quiet. I rarely feel like I need the background noise of radio or television. Though I talk to the dogs, my house is mostly a very quiet place. Sometimes when I pick up the telephone, I’m a little surprised at the sound of my voice!

For most of my life, I’ve worked in some form of customer service. And, I’m pretty good at it. I could rattle off daily specials, the merits of one product over another, or all the services offered by our Community Center. I’m pretty chatty, when the circumstances warrant it. One time, as I was about to embark on a lengthy lecture about how her behavior was unacceptable, and why the consequences were justified, my young daughter begged, “Pleeeease stop telling me! Just give me the punishment!” But, for all the talking I do, I feel like I have to regain my equilibrium…and for that, I need quiet time.

Island Time

Standard

What, exactly, is “Island Time?” The concept seems to suggest long lazy days spent on tropical beaches. It implies a slower pace, where people are not bound by the rules of clocks and calendars. It hints at ease, and relaxation.

Even though Beaver Island is far enough removed from the mainland to feel like a world all its own, the people that live here are still subject to the basic rules of time. We have calendars, and use them. We have clocks, and we switch them forward and back for Daylight Savings Time. We grumble about the switching, and the adjustment it requires, just like anywhere else. We keep schedules. We are expected to be on-time for work and other appointments, just like every other place.

Businesses on Beaver Island keep regular hours, though it can be hard to keep up with them. As the year cycles ’round from our slow, sparsely-populated winter, to spring, which brings seasonal residents back, to hectic, crazy over-the-top summer, and then back to the slower days of fall, business hours change constantly. “Budger” Palmer (RIP) used to complain that Beaver Island “has more goddamned schedules than Grand Central Station in New York City!” That is a pretty accurate assessment! It’s a common thread of conversation all year:

“How late is the grocery store open these days?”

“Will the gas station be open when I get off work?”

“Is this a bank day?”

The bank, this time of year, is open from 9AM to 1PM, on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Their hours will adjust, as business picks up, until finally, in the summer, they’ll be open five days a week, with a one-and-a-half hour break for lunch splitting the day into two parts.

Some businesses are only seasonal, often from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The ones that are open all year expand their hours when business picks up, and cut back in the off-season. Sometimes this follows a regular pattern; other times it depends on the weather, available help, or a whim.

Even the Post Office, which keeps regular hours year-round, can be confusing. They are open Monday through Friday from eight AM to 5 PM. They close for lunch from 12:30 to 1:30, during which time the window is closed, so you can’t buy stamps, but the lobby is open, so you can pick up your mail, if you have a Post Office box. And the window closes at 4:30. Saturday, I don’t know.

My point is that we spend a lot of time here, thinking about…TIME.

So, what’s this “Island Time?”

Well, when you rush to the bank, only to find that there are a dozen people ahead of you…RELAX. Turn it into a social occasion. Ask folks what they’re up to these days, do they have plans for spring break, and how are the kids doing. There is only one teller, and impatience will not make the line move any faster. This is island time.

When you’re treating yourself to a restaurant meal, and the service turns it into an hours-long venture…STAY CALM! Have a book to read, for occasions like this. You never know how short-staffed a place may be. Island time.

With several stops to make in town before you go to work, you’re running late, nearing panic, when a deer crosses the road in front of you. STOP. Watch the deer. He may stop to watch you, too; they are curious creatures. Wait for the second deer, and sometimes even a third, that will be following close behind. This holds true if the wildlife you encounter is a few dozen ducks crossing the main street downtown, a flock of wild turkeys, the rare fox, or occasional beaver. PAUSE. This is island time.

Dead tired and looking forward to a good sleep, you hear that the Northern Lights could be visible tonight. Take a short nap…make a cup of coffee…set an alarm…do whatever it takes. You don’t want to miss the Northern Lights!

That’s “Island Time!”

Early

Standard

For most of my life, I’ve liked to stay up late, so I have not enjoyed getting up early. Except on Christmas morning, of course. Even when I’d been up until the wee hours, making last minute gifts for my daughters and arranging the under-tree display, I was the first one out of bed. But, other than that one day, I’d prefer to sleep in. I didn’t think I’d ever change.

I told myself, and others, that I was, by nature, a night owl. I believed that I was most productive in the evening hours. Sometimes, it was true. Often, though, and more and more as I got older, I was really too tired to get much quality work done. I could stay awake, but those hours were often spent in quiet, low-energy activities. Too frequently on things like watching television or playing computer games, that could not honestly be considered productive at all.

Then, on mornings when I could sleep in, I did. The snooze button on my alarm clock became a terrible habit. When I had to be up, I wasn’t at my best. I was known for arriving late anytime I had to be anywhere before noon. I didn’t seem to be getting much of anything worthwhile done morning or evening. Instead, I was always playing catch-up. Until I decided to switch it up.

It started with reading the “five to thrive” suggestions posted by Rachel Hollis. These consisted of daily gratitude, 30 minutes of exercise, drink one-half your body weight in ounces of water each day, release something that is limiting, and get up one hour earlier than usual. Then, I read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. His morning routine, gained by getting up at 5AM, was outlined with the acronym SAVERS. That is Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading and Scribing. Yeah, it seemed a little “woo-woo” to me, too.

Still, I could see the benefits of that extra morning hour, and Elrod gave a lot of helpful suggestions as to how to make that happen. So, about four years ago, I started getting up early. My morning routine doesn’t look like Hal Elrod’s, but it is good for me. I enjoy the time for my own thoughts, before I have to rush around to go to work or do anything else. I drink coffee; I write; I read; I draw. I let the dogs outside and back in. Often, I meditate; sometimes I exercise. I think about the day ahead. I watch the sky brightening.

In the dark and quiet, with books and papers around me, I feel like I am in control of my life. I never would have imagined I’d ever be a morning person. I like to get up early!

Books

Standard

When I’m beginning the April A~Z challenge, and I come to the letter B, of course my topic will be books! Books have always been a big part of my life. As a shy and somewhat reclusive child, books were my closest friends. As a young adult trying to navigate the larger world, books were my teachers. And now, as a person who lives alone and is still shy and somewhat reclusive, books keep me company.

I always have a few books underway at any given time. Currently, I am savoring The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli. It is one of those books that I don’t want to end! I carry it with me, to read during my lunch break at work, or when I’m out to lunch in a well-lighted restaurant. The Simple Home rests on the bookshelf near the dining room table, for my morning study time. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd waits for me on my nightstand. Jon Irving’s latest novel, The Last Chair Lift, is on my tablet, for situations where it is easier or more practical to read from that format. I also have The 2 Meal Day, 1000 Creative Writing Prompts, Project 333, and The Power of Self-Discipline on that devise, for when I’m in the mood for a little instruction.

Audible has opened up a whole new world of reading for me! It allows me to listen to books while I’m doing something else. I “read” while driving, walking the dogs, or doing housework. It has added tremendously to the number of books I can devour in any given time. I’ve also gained great understanding of what used to seem quite impossible: the pre-television phenomenon of sitting around listening, and being entertained by radio programs! Recently, I’ve listened to the books by Lindsey Davis, all set in first century Rome. They have accurate historical references, along with relatable characters, a little romance, and a good mystery.

This year, I finished her Marcus Didius Falco series, and then read all she has published in the Flavia Albia series. The next installment is due to come out in July. That puts Lindsey Davis in a list with a few other authors, who publish slower than I read. I’m always on the lookout for new books by Louise Erdrich, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Laurie R. King, and Kate Atkinson.

On my shelves, books fall into a few categories.

  • There are books that I have read, but that I keep so that I can refer to them again. Art and photography books, and books of poetry are in this category, along with a few reference books, and everything written by David Sedaris.
  • There are books that I have finished, but that I loved so much, I know I’ll want to reread them. Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, falls into this group. I have read that book more than a dozen times since I received it for my tenth birthday. Silences, by Tillie Olsen, is another, as well as all of the writings of E.B. White.
  • Finally, there are books I have not read yet.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever have time to get to them, as my attention is easily drawn to newly published work. But, I take comfort in the idea that if I’m ever trapped in my house without access to new books, I will always have reading material!

Doing This While Doing That

Standard

I am quite certain that I have an attention deficit disorder. I have not been diagnosed, except for self-diagnosis, but all the signs are there. It makes my life interesting…and busy…and messy. I find it extremely difficult to carry anything through all the way to its end. My life is filled with unrealized plans and unfinished projects. Disappointing, yes, but – for me – it’s the norm.

I know I’d be better off if I could be more mindful: to just walk when I’m walking, to take in the sights and sounds and smells of the world around me; to simply eat during mealtime; to only relax before sleep. That’s not me, though. I get frustrated with myself, but I have learned to work with my need to go in ten directions at once.. Sometimes, I even feel a little proud of how many things I can juggle. On a day that I’ve chosen to make bread, for instance, to go with the soup I have simmering on the stove, while I’m putting laundry through its courses and writing letters, you can bet that I’ll decide that this is the day to rearrange the furniture in a room or two…just to throw my life into complete chaos.

Most of the time, it’s not quite that extreme. I’ve learned to plot out activities that I can do, while doing something else. While having my morning coffee, I write in my journal, draw, and read. While watching the morning news, I do an exercise routine. TV works well with multi-tasking. I choose programs with commercials. While watching a show in the evening, I often hold Rosa Parks on my lap to give her some attention. Or, I crochet. When a commercial comes on, I jump up to do the dishes, put laundry into the dryer, or set the coffee pot up for morning.

Audio books have been a wonderful addition to my life. I can listen while I’m walking the dogs, or while I’m drawing or doing needlework, or when I’m driving. Regular books have always been my companions, to fill to overflowing the time while I’m eating, or before I fall asleep. I don’t spend much time on the telephone, but now that my my phone is cordless, I can focus on any number of household chores while chatting. When I’m working in the studio, I put a movie on. I favor ones that I have seen before, so they don’t demand too much attention.

Trouble arises when a task demands all of my focus. That is when I usually fail to make forward progress. It’s just too hard to concentrate on only one thing. Those jobs get delayed. When I finally do tackle one of them, I’ll find a hundred things I surely ought to be doing instead. Or I’ll decide to make a pot of soup. Or rearrange the furniture. That is my life.

Tragedy, Disaster and One Evil Doll

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Enjoy a Wasteful Day

Standard

[Looking for fresh ideas for things to write about, I came across a suggestion to “write a how-to about something you do well.” I found that idea kind of inspiring, and immediately wrote out a list of topics. I don’t profess to be an expert, but there are a few areas where I am quite competent. Not wanting to look like a know-it-all, I’ll spread these “How-To” blogs out over several months, to fill in when I don’t have any other topic. Happy learning!]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Years in Pictures

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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