Category Archives: Books

A Late Report

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“Late” seems to be the theme today. I was up late last night working on home projects. I slept in late this morning. I was barely on time for my drawing class. After walking the dogs, working in the yard and fixing supper, I am now, late in the evening, finally sitting down to write my Tuesday blog.

I had a little trouble coming up with a theme. I’ve been publishing a blog for seven years now. Since I most often write about myself and my own experiences, I feel like raw material is getting rather scarce. I’m afraid I’m getting repetitive. Looking for inspiration, I went through a couple books of writing prompts; nothing piqued my interest.

When I was about to give up hope, I remembered: my “birthday list!” Each year, for my birthday, I have published a list, corresponding to my age:  favorite people and life-changing books have been the theme of past birthday lists. Of course my birthday this year is long past; I was in Chicago then, having a glorious time with my youngest daughter and her family. That’s okay, I can do the list now. Late. Because that’s how my day is going.

66 Random Things That I Know

  1. The sky is most beautiful, here on Beaver Island, in the fall of the year.
  2. The water in Lake Michigan is warmest in the fall. That probably holds true for other bodies of water, too.
  3. In places where there are evergreens among the deciduous trees, fall colors are most breathtaking.
  4. Water, too, provides a good backdrop for the changing autumn colors.
  5. Winter apples need a frost to bring out their juicy sweetness.
  6. If you count the seconds between the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning, that is how many miles away the storm is.
  7. Sleep is better when it’s raining.
  8. A jet stream is a weather pattern. Until I was forty years old, I thought a jet stream was a contrail. A contrail is the white trail that a jet leaves in the sky.
  9. Cheap wine is better appreciated if you can’t see the label.
  10. Better vodka is worth the extra cost.
  11. A good haircut can be life-altering.
  12. Sisters and brothers who grew up in the same household are more alike than even they know, no matter what their current differences.
  13. It takes about thirty days to form a good habit or to get rid of a bad habit.
  14. Either can be turned around in one moment of weakness.
  15. I think lateness is a way of revolting from life experiences that are not ideal.
  16. I believe procrastination is a side-effect of perfectionism.
  17. And perhaps what looks like laziness is actually the inability to act because of a lack of direction (or too many directions to pursue).
  18. Dogs are comforted by familiar voices.
  19. Pigs are some of the smartest animals.
  20. Chickens respond to novelty.
  21. You can move a chicken at night, without them knowing. Just drape a cloth over them to keep out the light, pick them up and carry them to their new location.
  22. Having the right tools for a project makes a big difference.
  23. Bicycling is easier on the knees than running.
  24. Cheaters never win.
  25. Honesty is the best policy.
  26. Summer always goes too fast.
  27. Humidity makes hot weather feel hotter, and cold weather more bitter.
  28. Most savory dishes can be improved with something from the onion family, or by lemon.
  29. Butter is now healthier than margarine.
  30. When it was new, margarine was sold as a block of white fat. The purchaser had to stir in the little packet of yellow colorant to make it look like butter.
  31. Friends that I know only through their writing are still true friends. Sometimes I know more about their lives and inner feelings than people I see every day. Likewise, I often reveal more in my writing than I ever would in “real life.”
  32. Letter writing is a great way to communicate.
  33. Everybody, deep down, wants to be accepted, appreciated and loved.
  34. Morning glories and moon flowers are more likely to sprout if the seeds are nicked before they are planted.
  35. Dogs have the right attitude toward life.
  36. We are all born with a sixth sense. It can be recognized and nurtured or denied and buried. In either case, awareness and practice will always improve intuitive ability.
  37. Anyone can learn to draw. If they want to.
  38. People that are good readers and enjoy reading, have a richer life than those who don’t.
  39. A book doesn’t have to be high literature to be good. It only has to speak to the reader at the time.
  40. That said, there is a lot of lousy writing out there.
  41. That holds true in the art world, too. If you like a piece, good. Enjoy it.
  42. Good teachers change lives.
  43. Continuing to learn, through life, is the best way to feel truly alive.
  44. Music communicates with us through our beating heart.
  45. Games are good for the mind.
  46. Plants have feelings.
  47. All life is precious (though I still set mouse traps this time of year).
  48. Daughters are more fun than sons (says this mother of two girls).
  49. Grandchildren are a blessing.
  50. Grocery shopping when hungry is never a good idea.
  51. A good experience, in a restaurant, is expected. Often food and service needs to be over-the-top before it is recognized.
  52. Inadequate service or a bad meal in a restaurant will be noticed right away, and never forgotten.
  53. A word of encouragement or praise goes a long way.
  54. Coming from a boss, it’s great incentive.
  55. Coming from a co-worker, it builds camaraderie.
  56. A compliment from a stranger is easier to believe than the same from an acquaintance.
  57. We are all, generally, too stingy with our feelings.
  58. Everyone deserves to hear something nice.
  59. A day can seem interminably long, when doing something unpleasant.
  60. Hours speed by when doing something enjoyable
  61. On that same theme, children seem to remain at two years old much longer than any other age…
  62. Until they reach their teen years, which drag on for a lifetime.
  63. But all in all, children grow up way too quickly.
  64. The longer you live, the more loss you have to bear.
  65. It’s always worth it.
  66. Life goes on, like it or not. May as well find the silver lining.
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The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #39

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List the things that you hope will bring you joy this week:

  • Barring more company (which is so worth it!), rain or wind, I intend to cut my grass this week. It’s amazing how happy it makes me, to have a freshly mowed lawn. It makes all the shrubs and other plants stand out, and freshens everything up. It should be the last time I have to mow this year, which is also a good thing.
  • My Autumn Joy Sedum are brightening up daily, and should be in their full glory – or very close to it – this week.
  • We’ll be working with shadows and shading in drawing class this week. Sometimes, that helps everything else come together. If so, I’ll be happy!
  • This week, I should be able to get caught up on a few long-standing bills, and pay off a personal loan, too. I just love having an empty “bills” folder!
  • This week, I am filling boxes of items to take to the Re-Sale Shop. My goal is to eventually cut my belonging down by half. I feel joyous just thinking of the results: being able to easily find what I want in cupboards and drawers; knowing that I have what I want or need and nothing more; and having space for what’s important.
  • Walks with the dogs. That brings me joy all year, but especially this time of year, as the colors start to turn and the landscape changes daily.
  • Conversations. Having had time, recently, to catch up with family and friends, I am hungry for more of the same.
  • Writing. After working hard to re-form the habit of writing every day (three pages, longhand, stream-of-consciousness, “Morning Pages”), I misplaced the black and white notebook I was writing in, and used that as an excuse to drop the habit again. Last week, while dusting a bookshelf, I found it. This week, I’m back to writing again. If I keep it up, I’ll be both proud and happy.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #35

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List the elements of your life where you feel challenged in a positive way:

[This is a perfect time for this list! It’s my birthday week, and I am just back (not quite home yet) from a wonderful birthday trip, to Chicago with my daughter, Kate, and her family. I am assessing all the usual signs of aging, plus taking note of accomplishments and goals. I am warmed by time spent with family, amazed by the bright wisdom and kindness of my grandchildren, and awed by my daughter’s determination, bravery, common sense and ability. I feel inspired and changed by my experiences, as I look toward my goals for the next year of my life.]

  • We did quite a bit of walking over the last several days. Chicago is a good city for walking, and the weather was perfect for it. It was fun, at the end of the day, to ask Kate how we did. She’d tell me the distance in miles, and also how many steps we’d taken and flights of stairs we’d climbed. I was pleased to be able to keep up with the young people. I’m determined to reincorporate daily walking into my life.
  • If anything has slowed me down in life, it is a lack of courage. I almost always stay close to my comfort zone. Listening to my daughter and her family discuss big changes, I realize how much I’ve chosen to play it safe, despite the cost. I am sixty-six years old, with only a fraction of my life still ahead of me. It’s time to stop letting fear dictate my direction. Time to be brave!
  • Having wandered, enthralled, through three wonderful museums, I feel challenged to get into the studio and be guided by all the fresh inspiration!
  • Seeing my daughter, who works very hard to be able to have the life experiences she enjoys, put out the effort and never lose sight of the big picture, I am encouraged to expand my boundaries, too.
  • I read every day. Sometimes, though, it’s a challenge to commit to good books that expand my view of literature and the world. This year, I selected five books for summer reading that seemed able to do that. Four were authors I had not read before. Of those, two are authors I will now seek out.
  • I write every day. The challenge is to not simply devolve into mindless drivel.
  • Everyday, I feed myself. I aim for meals that enrich me, beyond just physical sustenance. I think about flavors, colors and textures. The preparation. The arrangement of food on the plate. The experience as a whole.
  • I challenge myself, always, to be nice: to find an honest complement to give; to put a positive spin on something; to say the kind thing. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes not. It’s always worth it.

Good Things

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Sometimes it’s easiest to see what’s wrong: with a particular situation, or a day, or with the whole world. It takes more energy to find the good things. Not always, though. There are times when my natural propensity for looking at the negative flies right out the window. I am left, then, with a humble appreciation of my rich life, and all the blessings in it.

I’ve had a lovely weekend. Well-balanced. It was productive, but not in a crazy-making way, where I plan more projects than I could possibly ever finish. Busy, but not too busy. I put laundry on the line…but also sat on the shore, reading, for one entire afternoon. I tended the garden, but also wandered the fields to collect wildflowers. I went over my notes for a class I am planning, and put hanging wires on a dozen framed collages. Then, I spent the rest of the day in my studio in frivolous and playful pursuits. I cooked and cleaned, but also took time to relax.

I could list the things I didn’t accomplish; there are quite a few. But why? They’ll be there, waiting for me. Right now, I’d rather just relish the good things.

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dried Rhododendron flowers make a nice bouquet

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wildflowers make another

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one almost-ripe tomato, two days before I harvested it for a wonderful BLT

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a row of collages, ready for the Museum Week Art Show

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 29

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List the happiest and funniest stories and news you’ve heard lately:

  • I cheered, just like everyone else, for the successful rescue of the young boys trapped in a cave. With water rising, monsoon season coming, and the whole world watching, it was high drama with a happy ending.
  • Rain, this week, was a relief for many of us around the state of Michigan. It has been a hot, dry season. Our “extreme fire danger” status has been lifted, which is excellent news in this season that brings so many campers to our woods.
  • My best friend, Linda, turned sixty-six years old yesterday. That’s almost unbelievable…and funny (though not unbelievably funny)…because my birthday is not that far away, and then I’ll be 66, too. How has it happened that we, who met in the sixth grade and bonded over a mutual love of mischief-making, have grown so old?  When we were both eleven-years-old, Linda’s perfect Yogi Bear imitation made me laugh. Over the years, my best – rolling on the floor, laughing ’til my belly hurt, almost peed my pants – laughs have been with Linda. Our lives have carried us from marbles, pull-over sweaters and the Beatles; to husbands, housework and babies; to single-life adventures with teen-aged children; to all the things that make life enjoyable today. One of the best things is having Linda, who maybe knows me better than anyone (possible exception: my sister, Brenda), still in my life. We share interests in feminism, activism, art, cooking, gardening and books. And, after all these years, we still share some of the best laughs.
  • I have this Sunday off, for the first time since April. I’m almost giddy with all the possibilities! What I am not going to do is spend it sitting in this computer chair. So, as my mother used to say, “up and at ’em!”

 

Summer Reading

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One long ago summer, when circumstances of home and kids and job allowed me to spend afternoons at the beach, I ordered three books from the brand new Quality Paperback Book Club. The selections were deemed “perfect for summer reading,” and, in fact, they were.

The first book was The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes, edited  by Donald Hall. Well over one hundred authors, poets and essayists are illuminated through snippets and stories. Easy reading, when the time available might be interrupted by a need to reapply sunscreen, or cool off in the waves. I came away with greater familiarity with the writers I knew, and a desire to acquaint myself with the others.

Ironweed, by William Kennedy, was the second. The writing was magical; the imagery was complex. The book grabbed me from the very first line:

“Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods. The truck was suddenly surrounded by fields of monuments and cenotaphs of kindred design and striking size, all guarding the privileged dead.”

I loved each plain-spoken character. My heart broke with their travails, and soared with their small victories. Though I went on to read all of Kennedy’s intertwined books set in Albany, New York, this one is still my favorite.

The last book was Growing Up by Russell Baker. Though I’ve read many good ones over the years, including wonders by Mary Karr and Alexandra Fuller, this stands as the best autobiography I have ever read. Each paragraph introduces a new character, and through them, Baker’s young life unfolds.

I still have these books on my shelves. I have re-read each of them at least twice. No matter what time of year it is, opening the covers of any of them transports me to lazy, hot summer days on Beaver Island beaches, thirty-five years ago.

In other years, accompanied by my sisters, or with grandchildren along, I’ve made different choices for reading material. Magazines are entertaining, and can be picked up and put down easily. Pulp mystery novels hold my interest well enough. They don’t demand much attention; likewise, they offer little beyond the mystery at hand. Short stories, when I find a good collection, are good for fitting in when there is time to read.

Many books will do just fine to go along with summer activities. In the backyard at the picnic table, in the metal lawn chair near the garden, on the sofa with the afternoon sun streaming in, leaning against a tree at Fox Lake while the dogs explore, or on a blanket on a long stretch of sandy beach, almost any book will do.

This year, though, I am determined to have a summer rich in good books. Books that grab and hold my attention, yes, but also stretch my mind. Books that stir genuine emotion. Books that I will remember long after I’ve turned the last page.

I spent weeks reading reviews before placing the order. Waited excitedly for the delivery. I now have a stack of five books that I have deemed perfect for summer reading:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  • Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

So far, I have only finished the first one. If that book is any indicator, though, I’m in for a summer of good reading!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #26

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List the times when you felt like you made a difference in someone else’s life:

[This is a harder question than it should be. Sad, too, to think maybe I haven’t made much of a difference.]

  • There are the obvious, big things, of course. I made a difference slowly and consistently, over the long term, in the lives of the people I raised, or helped to raise: my brothers and sisters, other children I took care of, my own children, and my grandchildren. I made a difference, I hope, to the children and adults that I’ve taught, over the years, through the weeks or months of lessons. I’ve made a difference in every job I’ve held, by always applying myself, working to a high standard and showing friendliness and enthusiasm.

[But the directive says “list the times.” That seems to be asking for specific, individual occurrences. Much more difficult.]

  • When my oldest daughter was a young adult, she moved to Texas with her boyfriend when his job sent him there. Though he was a nice young man, and they were in love, things did not go well for her. They had moved there for his [high-paying] job, so her pursuits took the back seat. My daughter found herself falling into a role of  “little wife” and “helpmate.” She cleaned up after her boyfriend and his friends; she packed lunches and delivered them to the job site; she fit her life around his schedule. Far from family and friends, accustomed to having her own job and income, she was having a hard time, becoming increasingly more discouraged and depressed. My concern grew with each telephone conversation. Finally, I flew to Texas for a visit. I didn’t “do” any specific thing, but I believe my presence made a difference. We talked; we laughed; we enjoyed the pool. We were both reading the series of books by Jean M. Auel, and compared our thoughts as we progressed. We explored the city and its outskirts. We looked into colleges, job possibilities, and other programs. It was a good week! By the time I left, my daughter seemed like herself again. She was asserting her place in the relationship with her boyfriend, and in the household. Many things remained exactly as they had been, but she was no longer the “default” person for all of the clean-up. She had enrolled in business school, and was excited about her prospects.

[So is that it?? ONE bullet point? What kind of list is that? I can’t think of another!]

  • So, then there are the little things, impossible to list individually, often done without thought or planning, and hardly remembered, but that I know have sometimes made a difference. This includes: honest compliments, freely offered; kindness in daily interactions; a smile; genuine empathy for another’s plight; a hand-written note of thanks or appreciation; understanding, with or without agreement; and sometime’s just my presence. Each are easy, thoughtless, little things, but I learned the impact of these small kindnesses by noting how it felt when I received them from others. They make a big difference!