Category Archives: Books

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 25

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List the ways that you enjoy investing in your mind, body and soul:

[I read that direction last night, so I could think, before falling asleep, about today’s essay. I thought, “Ugh! I’ll be writing about meditation,  prayer and spirituality and other things that I think I should care more about, but don’t, trying to make it sound like I enjoy it, when I don’t…and I hate this assignment!” Maybe it was the word “soul” that threw me into such a fit of discouragement. I am still and always the product of my Catholic upbringing, after all. Anyway, this morning I read the same direction with an entirely different response!]

  • I like mild forms of exercise, in modest doses. I have the tiniest little yoga routine that I try do each morning…but if my back is aching or other activities are pulling me away, I do an abbreviated version of the tiny routine, and have no regrets. I like a bit of Pilates: some stretching, and simple balance and flexibility exercises. I enjoy lifting weights for strength and definition, though the heaviest weights I use are only five pounds. I like walking, swimming and bicycling, but not for speed or distance. I like to avail myself of the fresh air, open spaces and scenery while doing something that is good for me, but I’m not out there to break any records.
  • I enjoy walking. Not for exercise (though that is a bonus, no matter), but with my dogs, a camera, and a couple mesh bags in case I find treasures along the way. For the familiar walkways, the sound of chipmunks and birdsong, and the joy of two dogs sniffing along, walking feeds my soul.
  • I take pleasure in cooking a good meal. It’s better – though rare – when there is someone to share it with and to appreciate it, but still.
  • I make things. Calling myself an artist, it might seem that creating a drawing or painting would give me greater pleasure than, say, crocheting a pair of slippers or making an ornament out of baker’s clay…but it all seems to come from the same place, and the emotional reward is similar.
  • I write. Every morning, or just about, longhand, in a black and white covered theme book. Morning Pages lets me spill out whatever is on my mind, for no one else to see. Sometimes, I surprise myself with a bit of exceptional writing. Mostly, I whine or rant, or write down crazy dreams.
  • I read. I have, at this moment, two self-help books (Sorted by Gillian Perkins and How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White), a creative expression book (The Creative Formula by Holly Shaw), one book of short stories (Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson) and one historical novel (We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter) underway, so there is always something to read that will suit my mood, and the time that I have.
  • I garden. I grumble about the work involved. Work that is never done, it seems. My aching back and my throbbing knees grumble separately. Still, gardening enriches me. It feeds me. And it provides a steady link to childhood, and to my father. Dad was the gardener in our big family. I say that, knowing that most of the weeding,  watering and harvesting duties fell to his children, and that it was Mom that had to – with bribes and threats, begging and coercion – see that it was done. It was Mom that, with rolled eyes and big sighs, greeted bushel basket after bushel basket of beans or cucumbers or tomatoes or corn into her kitchen. Mom coordinated the work crew – again chosen from her children – and orchestrated the tasks that would get the vegetables cleaned, steamed and canned for the winter. Still, Dad was the gardener. He negotiated with Magabelle, who owned the half-acre lot beside ours, to use the land for his garden. He traded electrical work for truckloads of manure. He rose early after his late shift at the factory to plow up the space. He plotted out the garden each year with stakes and garden twine. When company came, Dad, grinning and with long strides, walked them out through the garden to proudly show it off. When I’m in the garden, I know my father is nearby, and I know that he is pleased.

Happy Father’s Day!

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The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #22

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List the things you prioritize before doing what really makes you happy:

I imagine a life of rising to coffee, then yoga, then writing, that would then give way to a long walk with my dogs and a spin around the yard and garden before going to the studio. There, I would have time to fully develop concepts, try out guesses and whims and ideas that come to me in dreams, read, explore and grow. Another run through the garden, to gather vegetables for an evening meal, then a shower to signal the end of my work day. Dinner, then, mindfully prepared and enjoyed. Cleaning time next, then the rest of the evening for relaxing activity. I think a life like that would make me happy. But…

  • I prioritize things I have to do. Because my life falls apart if I don’t. Things like laundry, and dishes, and sweeping the floor. My life is so much better – and happier – when these things are done, I even incorporated “cleaning time” in my imagined ideal life. Then there are the seasonal “have-to”s. Like planting the garden or mowing the lawn. When it’s time, other things have to be put aside to make time.
  • I prioritize things I ought to do. I go to funerals. I make an appearance at benefits, showers and retirement parties. I attend the annual meetings of the Beaver Island Boat Company. I am a sitting member of the Amik Circle Society, and serve as secretary at their meetings. I occasionally attend township meetings. I vote. These are obligations. Still, there is satisfaction in fulfilling them.
  • I prioritize the things I need to do. I need to have a job with a paycheck I can count on. Though art sales and art classes have supplemented my income for the past thirty-five years, and I have imagined a hundred different scenarios (and tried out more than a couple) where art-related activities could support me, realistically, I need a job. I will probably have to hold a job for the rest of my life. I call it the “work until death” track. For more than twenty years, I worked as the morning waitress at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant; I have been working at Powers Hardware for the last sixteen. Though I work because I need to work, I am fortunate that it makes me happy, too. I saved a few lines – I can’t remember the author, but have that written down somewhere, too – that would be perfect for my eulogy: “I slept, and dreamt that life was joy. I woke, and found that life was service. I acted, and found that service was joy.”
  • I prioritize joyous things that come along. Sometimes, it’s a grandchild or two, coming for a visit. Sometimes, it’s a day when I’m simply too exhausted after work to walk the dogs, so I load them into the car – along with a camera, a beer and a book – and we go to Fox Lake. We have the place all to ourselves, the dogs are happy and the water is beautiful, so I stay, ignoring all the things I should be doing. Most recently, it was last week, when two of my sisters and one cousin arrived, to open the farmhouse for the season. I didn’t get into the studio, even for a minute. I didn’t get my lawn mowed. I didn’t get my windows washed. I didn’t continue any of my organizing or deep cleaning. The trade-off was an entire week of family time: dinners around Aunt Katie’s farmhouse table with people that I love; good conversations; evenings of euchre, Bingo and Scrabble; laughter; good hugs; wonderful companionship. Worth every bit of time I could give!

Though my imagined “happy life” is a far cry from my life as it is, I am happy, and my priorities contribute to my contentedness. So!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 21

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List the best opportunities that others have given you throughout your life:

  • When I was in the first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Daly, walked me down the hall to the fourth grade room. There, I was made to stand in the front of the classroom, filled with all of those big kids, and read to them. The fourth grade teacher, a Dominican nun, introduced me. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something like, “This is what a good reader sounds like. This is what you should be aiming for. Pay attention!” I was a shy child, and it was a terrifying experience. Still, I was given, that day, an identity that I would treasure:  “I am a reader.” Not only that, “I am a very good reader.” That self-knowledge, instilled in me at six-years-old, has been a strong foundation through my whole life.
  • My parents gave each of their children the opportunity to become an integral part of the family. We were not “accessories” or “bonuses,” but absolutely necessary to the smooth running of the whole operation. From basic housekeeping, helping with the babies, taking care of the lawn, planting and harvesting, to caring for the livestock, there was work for everyone. It wasn’t always fair (there is a story I tell about walking through the living room with a giant pile of clothes to be put away. My brother, lounging on the couch watching The Three Stooges, threw out a leg to try to trip me. When I yelled, he said, “Oh, come on, Cindy…make me a grilled cheese sandwich.” All of which was perfectly acceptable behavior in our house…for a boy), and it didn’t always work as well as it should have. We had arguments constantly about who was working harder, or who’s turn it was to dry dishes. There were charts and lists and allowances to try to smooth out the rough edges. It seemed like some kids managed to avoid all the worst jobs anyway.  But it was still a good opportunity. Though I was a lazy child, and one of the biggest “shirkers,” by the time I left home, I knew these things: I could take care of mountains of laundry from start to finish; I was great at folding clothes; the babies loved me, and I could get them to settle down and go to sleep when no one else could; I was a master at picking peas and beans; I was good at cleaning out and organizing drawers; I could  plan meals, shop for groceries and put a dinner together, plus dessert. Beyond that, there were many jobs I hated, but still knew how to do. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the chance to be a part of a large working family was one of the best opportunities I’ve had!
  • When I was thirteen, I was given a full-time babysitting job for the Leschuk family that lived across the road from us. I worked five days a week, from 7:45 AM until 5:30 PM, taking care of two young school-age children. I fed them breakfast and lunch, entertained them with books and games, and kept them safe. I was expected to do a little light housekeeping, too. The job paid fifteen dollars a week, which seems, today, like a shockingly small amount, but was a good wage for a thirteen-year-old in 1966. I raided their cupboards and refrigerator for tasty treats and unusual foods never found at home. I scoured their bookshelves for literature that wouldn’t make it through the censors in the Catholic bulletin. Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls were each bonuses of that summer job. I bought all of my own school clothes that year, and gained pride in my own self-sufficiency.

There have been a thousand other opportunities in my long life that I am thankful for, and far too many people to credit for them in this one list. They range from the good fortune of having my own family to the ability to go to college (thanks to my sister, Brenda, for encouraging me, and the Pell Grant and various student loans for helping to finance it!) to the chance to work as a waitress though I had no experience and was known as a klutz (thank you, Barb Beckers!) Most of the benefits, though, are variations on the knowledge and experience I gained from just these three first, early opportunities.

 

 

 

 

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #17

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List the movies, books and TV shows that make you feel happy:

  • I just finished reading What my Mother Gave Me, with contributions by various authors. The book was a gift, which always seems to make the content extra special. The theme was a good one, and all the different perspectives were a joy to read.
  • The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Always a pleasure!
  • Anything written by E.B. White makes me happy. I’ve recently started reading a collection of his writings on dogs, and it keeps me smiling.
  • Though I never watched Sex and the City when it was on the air, I watch it sometimes on Netflix, and it entertains me.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first season of  The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
  • I did a little Meryl Streep movie marathon during a long weekend in my studio. It’s Complicated, Julie and Julia and Mama Mia are all happy films.
  • Billy Elliot makes me feel good.
  • So does The Fisher King.
  • I truly enjoy reading cookbooks. Some of my favorites are Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, The Little Paris Kitchen, Let’s Get Together, and An Everlasting Meal.

 

Stress (April A~Z Challenge)

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I’m away from home this week, and through the end of the month, visiting family, taking care of some finances and bookkeeping, and traveling to Florida for a week-long vacation with my sisters. It is wonderful to get away…but travel always comes with some level of tension, too.

First, the packing. I have spent some part of every day over the last two months worrying over what I could pack for this trip. Downstate in Michigan at the end of April can be an entirely different climate than Beaver Island, Michigan. Then there is Florida. Land of bathing suits and shorts and sleeveless dresses. And me with all of my winter’s fat to contend with…you can see where the stress is coming from.

Beyond clothes, which had to be divided between the Florida suitcase and the Michigan suitcase, there are all of the papers I need in order to get my taxes filed. Forms, receipts, bank statements and business records necessitated their own brief case. The computer, another. Because my daughters and I were unable to get together over Christmas, we are planning a late celebration of that holiday. So, gifts had to be wrapped and packed for travel, too.

Reading material is another whole category of anxiety. What books shall I pack? If they are too good, I’ll finish them too quickly and be left without anything to read. What if I don’t like them? Should I start them first, to make sure they’ll hold my attention? To complicate matters, my  eight-year-old electronic reader – which was my back-up source – quit working last week. And, books are heavy, when freight is paid for by the pound!

The dogs are a major source of stress before I leave home. I’m sure they are fine in the kennel. I know all their needs are met. I probably miss them more than they miss me. Still, before I leave them, I am practically overwhelmed by guilt and worry.

Finally, there is the trip itself. Two hundred and fifty miles can seem like a huge distance when I am alone in the car. Especially if the road conditions are not good…or if traffic is heavy…or if I encounter detours…or mechanical problems.

Let me be clear: I love to get away from home. I also think that “stress” is a far over-used word lately. However, when I’m preparing for a trip, there is no word more definitive!

Reading Material(April A~Z Challenge)

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When packing for my trip off the island, I had plenty of things to consider. Reading material should have been the least of my worries. For the bus that would take me from Charlevoix to Flint, Michigan, I was allowed one 50 pound bag, plus one small carry-on. For the trip by plane from Bishop Airport in Flint to Orlando International Airport, I was allowed one 40 pound bag to be checked. No carry-on.

Beaver Island was in the middle of a snowstorm, with ice and freezing temperatures. That storm had already gone through the Flint area. Still, it was April; what the weather would be like tomorrow, or the next day, was anybody’s guess. Do I add a winter coat? What will that do to my weight capacity? Because part of my plans for this trip were also to solicit my sister’s help in filing my taxes, I had to also allow room for several folders of receipts and forms.

When I checked the long-term forecast for the area of Florida we’d be in, it showed cooler temperatures and thunderstorms for three of the seven days we’d be there. Who could tell if that prediction would hold? On top of that, all Florida clothing had to travel well, be versatile, and promise to hide my fat. I know, I was asking a lot.

With so much to consider, I had fallen into procrastination mode until there was no longer any time to waste. I was becoming more tense in every day that went by. The time for making lists and considering options was past; it was time for action! Finally, on the day before I was scheduled to leave, I had two revelations:

  1. I would leave my computer at home. In this day and age, there are computers out there to use, in a pinch. I could check my mail, post my blog and be done with it. No temptation to waste time on social media or in playing internet Scrabble. What a relief to not have to worry about where and how to carry my laptop computer, and all of the cords and accessories that accompany it. How nice to have one less thing to weigh, and carry! What a good time to practice going technology free!
  2. I would weigh my books first!! Because my electronic reader had recently given up the ghost, I had three books set aside to take with me on vacation. Peony in Love by Lisa See, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, and We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter: paperback books that each sounded like they would grab and hold my attention on a plane, on a rainy day inside, on the beach, or before falling asleep at night. Stoking the Creative Fires by Phil Cousineau was the one technical book I allowed myself. A Morning Cup of Yoga  by Jane Goad Trechsel would keep me up on my daily practice. Then, of course, I had to have my journal for writing “morning pages,” my sketchbook to document my trip in pictures, and my bullet journal for keeping track of everything else.

Whew! That did it! Once I made the decision to prioritize reading material, everything else fell into place. Logically, I can say that it shouldn’t have played such a major roll in my decision-making, with all of the other things I had to consider. In the end, though, it seems that having my books with me made all other decisions easier.

 

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #14 (and Day #1 of the April A ~ Z Challenge)

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[What?!? Something MORE than the 52 Lists? Yes! Crazy as I am, I have signed up to participate in the April A ~ Z challenge. That means I’ll be posting a blog every day in April. Except for Sundays. Other than THIS Sunday. Each day’s post will be themed with the coordinating letter of the alphabet, starting today, with the letter A.]

List everything you feel passionate about:

(Today, for sport, everything I feel passionate about begins with the letter A)

  • Articulation, via the written word. Which is why I do crazy things. Like commit to writing, longhand, three pages every morning as a start to my day. Like agree to write every day in a month that includes a twelve-day trip away from home with seven of those days on a Florida vacation.
  • A good book. I am very passionate about reading.
  • A good meal.
  • Alan Alda. Isn’t he the best?
  • Art. I enjoy making art, teaching art classes, looking at art and reading about art.
  • Agriculture. On such a small scale that it is probably better called gardening. In any case, I’m pretty passionate about it.
  • Animals. My two dogs in particular.
  • Ancestry. It seems the more I learn about my family, the more I understand myself.
  • Associations. Though I consider myself a loner, I treasure contact with family and friends.
  • Almost all word games. Including this one.