Category Archives: Books

Listing

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I’ve said it before: I love a list.

Lists give organization to my days. They work as outlines, to highlight my accomplishments and help my scatter-brained self to continue from one task to the next.

Lists can be memory aids. The children in my family, when I was growing up, in age order: Brenda, Cindy, Ted, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin, David, Darla, Amy, Bobby. The children in my father’s family: Henry, Alfred, Robert, Katherine, Margaret, Kenneth. The children in my mother’s family: Janice (no list there!). My own children: Jennifer, Katherine. My grandchildren: Michael, Brandon, Madeline, Tommy, Patrick. My great-grandchildren: Lacey, Faith, Lincoln. These recitations seem silly and unnecessary…right up until I stumble trying to remember a grandchild’s name. Then I know that – especially as I age, and fumble over even common words and things I should absolutely know – any assistance is a good thing.

My job is easier when I refer to my mental lists. The lights to turn on when I open the hardware store: two switches by the front door; six switches by the stairs; one switch in the front of housewares, one in the back and two slide controls on the side wall; one switch in the front of the gift shop; the toggle switch for the paint color display. Opening procedure at the hardware: punch in; turn on the lights; start up the computers; count and record the starting till for each register; turn on the radio; turn on the mixer for the paint machine; put stuff outside, according to the season: grills, lawnmowers, lawn chairs, wheelbarrows, snow blowers; tidy the entry. And the day continues this way, with procedures for sales, returns and charges on the registers, lists for ordering…and on and on.

I have a list of staple foodstuffs I like to keep on hand, and will usually put another list together before going to the grocery store, of things I need based on my planned week’s meals…which is another list. There is a list of foods I cannot have if I follow one diet plan, and a list of foods I need if I go with a different plan. If the cupboards are bare, and I don’t want to go to the grocery store, there is a list of basics that – if I have one or two of them on hand – I can use to put a satisfying meal together with, in a pinch. It is both heartening and scary to think that, with flour, eggs, and frozen vegetables, I could survive.

I have a list of “Nine Habits of People with Clean Houses,” because I do so aspire to be one of them. I have a list of chores to do on a daily basis, and another – often neglected – for weekly and monthly tasks. There is a separate list, for reference, of things that I should tackle, when I have time. There are lists of springtime jobs, autumn chores and holiday-oriented tasks. Always, in my day planner, there are lists of the cleaning I do manage to get done.

I have lists of books I have read, that I am reading, and that I want to read. The same with movies, Ted talks, on-line classes and art projects. Lists of pets, both living and dead. Lists of places I’ve been (few), and places I would like to see (many). I have lists of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Lists of accomplishments and (sadly) of failures.

I picture my life as a large outline, made up of lists with arrows leading from one to another, with quite a few scribbles…and a lot of stars and exclamation points.

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These Days

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I took some time yesterday to update my bullet journal. Through the busy summer months, it had been kept up in just the most rudimentary fashion. Yesterday, I filled in the workdays and paydays, habits and activities to the monthly charts, based on the notes I’d jotted on the daily pages as I rushed through my days. I went through the long-term lists for home and garden, and highlighted the tasks that I’ve completed.

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I made pretty good progress in the garden; in the house, not a bit. But, winter is coming, with more time to devote to painting and repair.

There is still plenty to do around here, no doubt. In addition to all the items on my list – many of which take money as well as the time that I seem to always be so short of – there are sorting, deep-cleaning and organizing tasks all through the house. There is – new to my household – the old footstool to reupholster. Soon, if the weather holds, I’ll have tomatoes to put up for the winter. The lawn needs to be mowed. On top of all that, I have big plans in the studio, with projects to finish and new skills to learn. And, the exercise program that I’ve neglected for so long. Every single new day, week and month, I think, “It’s time RIGHT NOW to re-commit to that!” There is plenty to keep me busy, but – these days – I do not feel overwhelmed.

I was recently able to pass on the Beaver Beacon, the bi-monthly news magazine that I have struggled with (as writer, editor, reporter-at-large, bookkeeper, distributor, bill-collector, and sometimes photographer) for the last two-and-a-half years, to someone more capable of the job. I have gone to press with my last issue, and expect it to arrive any day now. I feel like I’m learning to breathe again.  I’m remembering what it is like to wake up in the middle of the night without a sense of panic and a long list of things to do immediately. Now, there is no guilt and self-recrimination involved when I simply roll over and go back to sleep. These days, I feel like there is time, and that I will find the energy, for whatever life brings.

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Time Out

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I could have gone to work today; the hardware store was just a little bit under-staffed without me. I didn’t, though. Today is my birthday, and I took the day off.

I was wide awake at one o’clock in the morning, thinking of all the wondrous things I could do on this bonus day off. I was still awake at six o’clock, ticking off activities to fill this special day. Sixty-five years old is a pretty big milestone, and deserving of some kind of notice.

I could watch the sun rise! Maybe I’d bring the dogs, a thermos and a book down to Iron Ore Bay, and spend the morning on the Lake Michigan shore. Perhaps I’d spend this entire day in the studio making art. Maybe I’d mow the whole lawn…in this one day, rather than four or five evenings after work…so the yard would be something to be proud of. Or I could tackle any number of cleaning projects I never seem to have time for. I could take myself out to lunch, and drink a glass of wine right in the middle of the day, and read for as long as I wanted. I could take a really long walk…

Turns out, I did none of these things.

At 6:30 this morning – just about the time my mother and I were together busy with my birth sixty-five years ago – I decided I was hungry.  I made an egg and two pieces of toast, then, belly full, concluded that I could probably fall asleep if I tried. I snoozed on the couch until almost ten o’clock.

Lack of rest led to lack of ambition. Pajamas were comfortable; coffee was plentiful. With a hostage-taking stand-off in North Carolina, a hurricane closing in on Texas, and all the usual madness in Washington D.C., there was plenty of news to keep up with. In between news cycles, I buoyed my spirits by reading the birthday greetings on my Facebook page.

I went to town in the afternoon to pick up a couple packages. I brought the dogs along for the ride. I picked beans, peas and tomatoes from the garden, burned papers, and did one load of wash.

I enjoyed long conversations with – in order of occurrence – my daughter Jen, my best-friend Linda, my sister Brenda, and my daughter Kate. I made a nice dinner. I’m going to bed early. It was a wonderful, lazy birthday…a time-out from everything!

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What I Remember

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On my mother’s birthday, my thoughts go to memories of her. Mom would have turned eight-five years old today. If we were still blessed with her presence, I can imagine a lively, strong woman with a twinkle in her eye, who would probably still enjoy going out for a nice dinner. Maybe followed by a night of “Bingo.” Finished off with a cup of tea and a good book. Unfortunately, she died nearly six years ago.

Mom’s seventy-ninth birthday was the last one she celebrated. Though she was gravely ill, she did celebrate. Many of her children and grandchildren were with her; her walker was decorated with balloons, tied on with curling ribbon. Photos show her smiling as she opened presents and marveled over each one.

She was my own very special mother, and it’s nearly impossible to separate that from everything else I know about her. With her own large brood, and many other children welcome to participate in our crazy family activities, with grandchildren adding to the flock, motherhood and nurturing was a big part of Mom’s identity. Not all, though. She had an eventful and challenging life before she had children, and plenty of exciting adventures after we were grown. Today I am remembering the things that made her the unique and wonderful person that she was.

Red was her favorite color. With her dark hair and fair skin, she could wear it well, too. As a young woman, bright red lipstick accented her perfect smile. That, and a touch of rouge on her cheeks was all the adornment she needed. Her strong brows and long, dark eyelashes stood on their own. As her hair changed to salt and pepper and finally silver, the reds in her wardrobe gave way to softer tones of rose and pink.

Mom loved to read, and she raised a family of readers. As a child, she read adventure stories about animals: Black Beauty, White Fang, Lassie Come Home, My Friend, Flicka. Later, she favored good mysteries. After working her way through all the works of Agatha Christie, she found others she liked. Mom favored gritty, tough-guy, detectives with a soft heart.

Shopping was one of mom’s passions. Weekly trips to the grocery store were prepared for with lists, clipped coupons and meal plans, and anticipated with pleasure. Outings with girlfriends to visit the shopping malls in Flint, or to wander through the shops downtown were highlights for Mom.

She’d come home with bags and packages to be hidden away for Christmas, or revealed to us children as new school clothes or the fabric for sewing them. She’d draw us in to her thought processes and her excitement:

“When I saw this color, I just knew I had to get it…imagine how pretty this will look on Cheryl!”

“Cindy, this is almost just exactly like the dress you picked out from the J.C.Penney catalog…and look at this price!”

“I loved this flannel as soon as I saw it. I bought enough to make nightgowns for all the little girls.”

Mom and Dad shared a love of dogs. They would tolerate cats, but dogs were a beloved part of the family. Mom could name her childhood pets, and every dog we’d had growing up, where we got them, and how they died. Her last dog was terribly spoiled with bits of cheese and meat chunks for treats.

Mom liked games and puzzles, and taught us all to like them, too. After we grew up, she often bowed out of participating, though. I think it wasn’t the games, but her raucous family that deterred her. She still enjoyed putting together a jig-saw puzzle, and often had one going on a card table on the porch. When I was young, Mom and Dad occasionally had friends over to play Pinochle or Michigan Rummy. Later, Mom took to the Bingo halls, and even went to the casino once or twice each year.

My mother liked the World War II era movie stars; Judy Garland was one of her favorites. Katherine Hepburn, too. She was crazy about Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Paul Anka. One of her favorite songs was “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” Mom and I shared a love of Danny Kaye. Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and Kenny Rogers all gained Mom’s approval, too.

Mom loved roses. She would usually receive a bouquet or two for birthdays and other special occasions. As children, we’d call Perkin’s Flower Shop to order them, and have them billed to the family account. Seems that bill never came due, as Mom quietly paid it when it came in the mail. That never dulled her enthusiasm over the next bouquet to arrive that way!

This is just a small sample of the many characteristics that made Mom special. If she were here today, I’d deliver flowers. Since she’s not, I’m letting memories of her enrich my day.

A Day Turns Around

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I won’t go into the many and varied elements that contributed to the end result, but I was bone-tired, grouchy, and on the verge of tears by the time I got home last evening.

I have been determinedly forcing myself, no matter how tired from my day at work, to get in an hour or two of garden work every day, digging, weeding and planting, before I come inside. Even with that, my progress is slow, and the summer will quickly be upon us. There are days when I’m stymied by rain. There is no time to waste!

Last evening, I let the garden go. I quickly unloaded the groceries from car to house. I refrigerated what needed it, and put my precious pint of special ice cream in the freezer. I loaded the dogs in the car, rolled down the windows, and headed for Fox Lake. There, a couple geese with a half-dozen goslings swam leisurely just off-shore. The dogs wandered, and waded, and played. I updated my planner, took a few photographs, and relaxed. A walk through the woods along the shoreline completed our excursion, and we headed for home.

It had started sprinkling by the time we got there. Inside, then! While feeding the dogs and putting my own dinner together, I called my sister Brenda. There was a bonus: my sister Robin was there, too! I spoke to both of them, told them about all the worries and conflict playing around in my head, listened to good advice and welcome empathy, heard about their day, and even found plenty to laugh about. It was a long, good conversation that ended with “I love you”s all around, and improved my mood tremendously.

Off the phone, I sat down to a dinner that included potato salad made to my Mom’s recipe and standards. I mixed it up and served it from the sunshine yellow ceramic bowl Aunt Katie gave me. For dessert, a wedge of rhubarb crisp, from the first rhubarb picking of the year. Again, Mom’s recipe. Later, one small waffle cone filled with raspberry-cheesecake gelato. None of these foods are good for my diet. All were worth it for the good they did for my state of mind!

Finally, I eschewed “cleaning time” and laundry waiting to be moved along in the never-ending cycle. I poured a glass of wine. I used a special hand blown wineglass in swirling blaze colors that was a gift from my daughter Kate. I ran a hot bath, and added scented oil that I’d purchased on a trip with my sisters. I lit a candle. I gathered up a fluffy towel, my good book, and the wineglass. A long soak in the tub, then early to bed.

Not every bad day can be turned around; yesterday, I managed it.

 

 

 

Present, This Day

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Here it is, Sunday morning, and here I am, present for it.

So far, it’s not looking like the best of days.

The weather is cold, and damp, and drizzly. Yesterday, it rained. That means the grass is too wet to mow, and the garden is too soft to work in. If I bundle up, I could do some outdoor clean up. There are a dozen dog toys to be gathered up before I can cut the grass, abandoned when some other activity caught the big dog’s attention. There are two sturdy, lidded trash cans and a few other items that sit along what used to be the fence line. Now that the fence is down, they just look out of place. There’s still a mound of the vinyl deer fence in the back yard. It needs to be rolled or folded up for storage. So far, I’m not enthusiastic about any of it.

I have plenty to do in the house. I left dishes to drain-dry in the kitchen; there are clothes folded and stacked on the washing machine that need to be put away. There is a load of towels that need to be transferred to the dryer, since it’s not a good day for hanging them on the clothesline. I should wash the rugs…but I think I’ll wait for a better day.

I have several letters to write. This job has been hanging over my head for weeks, now, and I can’t seem to work up a plan or any determination. The letters are to accompany second – or sometimes third – bills to advertisers in my news magazine. The agreed upon service has been delivered: I have included the ads, paid for the printing and the cost of mailing; the burden should be on them to cancel the ad if they don’t want it. I am justified in asking for the payment, as agreed upon. Yet, I struggle.

I weave whiny, defensive, “why am I being taken advantage of this way” letters in my head. I approach it as “one business person to another.” I try out lengthy diatribes about why my bill-sending is so sporadic, taking the blame for their lack of payment. And then I do nothing. But they have probably just forgotten. And I need to collect. I have to just get it done.

I have on-going projects in the studio…several things I’m quite excited about, even. This could be a good day for making art. I could set that as my final goal, and hammer out a few necessary jobs before rewarding myself with time in the studio. It sounds good, but doesn’t stir me to get moving.

I have not yet been able to work up much excitement about any of it. I am not in a rush to move from this comfortable chair. I’m not driven to get out of pajamas, or to abandon my cozy bathrobe. There is still hot coffee in the pot; I could use another cup of it. So far, this Sunday morning, I am here, and that is all.

 

Artifacts to Memories: Things I Can’t Let Go

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There is a lot of stuff in my life. I was hoping for a more delicate term, but “stuff” seems apt. Gifts, purchases, hand-me-downs and inheritances. Sixty-four years worth of accumulated belongings. Enough to divide into several categories.

There are the things I hold on to for their sentimental value. Ranging from drawings and cards that my young daughters made more than thirty years ago, to photographs, to little gifts from friends and family, to my very first hard-cover chapter book, to my dining room table. The table was a junk store find that my Dad brought home, that was used as our clothes-folding table and extra-seating-at-holiday-time table for most of my life. Then, moved out to the garage, it was my brother David’s work and party table (the surface gained a few cigarette burns and saw marks from that phase), my sister Sheila’s table to relax with a book and a beverage…and finally my dining room table.

There are things I keep because they are necessary, or because they seem necessary to me. Most of my clothing fits this category…but so do many books, plants, baskets, candles, art supplies, art work, and a large collection of flat, round stones. I know there is too much. I go through periods of purging and paring down. These “necessities” are spared, because the thought of losing them gives me heart palpitations.

Then, there are the items I hold on to, because of an – often unrealistic – idea of the person I would like to be. A collection of beautiful yarn waits, in a basket with crochet hooks and scissors, for the day when I am transformed back into the woman I used to be: a young mother, making gifts and treasures from bits of yarn. Other baskets, boxes and suitcases hold fabrics, embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, rug-making tools and accessories, and quilt squares. My life doesn’t have room for the activities associated with all of this “stuff,” but I can’t give up on the idea that it will.

That young woman that I was, along with a Katherine Hepburn/Jo March/Martha Stewart-esque vision of a person I would like to be are evident in excesses throughout my house, from bookshelves to closets to kitchen cupboards. I would like to be someone who drinks tea, does yoga, listens to cool jazz, wears hats, raises chickens, grows all of her own food, reads the classics, and hosts lovely dinner parties…including trifle for dessert. I am not, but many of my belonging would lead one to think so.

That is the crux of the problem, when faced with getting rid of things I don’t use. I love that young woman that I used to be, with a dozen projects going and a whole lifetime ahead to finish them. I can’t seem to let go of her, yet. I still picture myself with chickens and a big garden, doing yoga, jazz music coming from the stereo, James Joyce on my nightstand. Until I give up on the person I was, and the person I want to be, I can hardly give up her accessories!