Category Archives: Books

Maturity

Standard

Maturity is one of those concepts whose meaning has changed through my life.

As a child, maturity was something we wanted to achieve. Being mature was equated with acting in a dignified, grown-up manner. In voices dripping with sarcasm, “Oh, that’s really mature,” was a common insult among my brothers and sisters. “You’re being childish,” was another. Other, similar chastisements came from parents, teachers and friends, as well as siblings.

“Grow up!”

“Act your age!”

“Behave yourself!”

“Quit being such a baby!”

So, I strived to be more mature. Through my childhood, and right on into adulthood, I worked to control my temper and my tears. Both have always been my most common responses to frustration or stress. Those, and sometimes a case of the giggles at the most inappropriate times. They still are. Clearly, none are very mature ways to deal with difficult situations. I still try to do better.

Something changed, though, while I was rehearsing conversations, practicing alternate reactions to possible scenarios, and reading up on The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. I got old! Wrinkles and gray hair would give me away if I tried to deny it, which I don’t. But, you know how old age is referred to? Maturity!

So, maturity has finally found me, though not in any of the ways I went looking for it. I still lose my temper more often than I’d like. I continue to embarrass myself by my inability to control my tears when I’m frustrated by a confrontation. Sometimes, still, I laugh when it is definitely not the proper response. I doubt anyone, though, looking at my wizened countenance, is going to tell me to “grow up,” or “act my age.” Clearly, I have matured. I’m just not yet very mature!

Learning

Standard

I love to learn. I say that easily…but is it true?

More accurate, I guess, is that I like knowledge. I like knowing things. I like being smart. What I often lack, unfortunately, is the required humility to be a good learner. It’s often difficult to be open to instruction. I’m impatient. I want to jump ahead, to already have the information or ability. And, because I am pretty smart, am a good reader, have some problem solving skills and artistic ability, I tend to over-estimate what I’m capable of.

I have often walked into classrooms fully expecting simply to show off the knowledge or ability I already possessed. Then, at the first test, submitted paper, or art critique, I’ve been stunned to realize that I’m not nearly as exceptional as I led myself to believe. After that shock comes defensiveness and false justification. Who or what could I blame for the fact that I’m not as bright as I thought I was? Humility follows, and with that, finally, the ability to learn.

It’s not usually easy to get to that point. It feels like a surrender. A failure, somehow. Once there, though, it’s a good feeling, to be receptive to new information and to give in to the idea that there is more out there to learn. That, in fact, I don’t already know everything.

That’s not always the case, of course. There are classes I’ve taken that were clearly well beyond my realm of knowledge or experience, when I entered knowing that I was a novice, and was fully open to being enlightened. Spanish, for instance. Art History. Geology. And any course involving Mathematics. The experience, then, is like that huge leap from zero to one. That’s when learning is most rewarding: offering brand new ideas; opening windows and doors in the mind; and creating pathways for thought and comparison that hadn’t existed before. For that feeling of enlightenment, I am a lifelong learner.

Though my instruction comes mainly from books these days, I actively pursue new information and insights. One book leads to another and then another. I became interested in Women’s Studies in the 1970s; after reading Greer, Friedan, Daly and other modern authors, I was anxious to know more about the history of the movement. That led even farther back, to the persecution of witches, women’s lives in Medieval times, and then back to ancient Greece and Rome. A few years ago, I went down a path on Arctic and Antarctic exploration. They are good books to make our Michigan winters seem mild and quite bearable! Recently, a historical novel set during the French Revolution has spurred me to learn more about that period of time.

I am always striving to be a better – more enlightened, healthy, contented and organized – person. To that end, much of my reading is in the realm of self-help. And, though I could count a dozen books I’ve read, for instance, on forming good habits, and they often even reference each other, they rarely seem redundant. Part of that stems from my belief that I have a lot to learn. Part of it is because I forget. It seems my memory is not as good as it once was, and I don’t retain knowledge the way I used to. That’s okay, I guess, as long as I keep giving myself more information. Luckily, I love to learn!

Walking in October

Standard

There are a many good reasons to get out for a walk. Walking has benefits for both my physical and mental health. It strengthens my bones, makes me feel fit, and is a great stress reliever. My dogs love their daily trek down the Fox Lake Road. So much so that, when I wasn’t here to take them, little Blackie Chan set out on his own. It sent my dog-sitting grandson into a panic, and gave me quite a scare, too, but it all turned out okay. Now that I’m back home, I make sure to get them out for their fresh air and exercise.

In October, there are a few more reasons to step out. First, I just received a new book: Walk Your Way to Better: 99 Walks That Will Change Your Life by Joyce Shulman. I’ve only gotten through the prologue and first chapter, but so far find it to be both inspiring and motivating. Second, an on-line course I’m taking today talked about “Gratitude Walking” for good health and peace of mind. Third, the colors are beautiful, and changing daily. Fourth, the weather is outstanding, mild and warm here on Beaver Island. Fifth, winter is coming. No matter how mild this season, it will be followed by cold weather, and snow, and ice that will make walking outside less pleasant often, and sometimes nearly impossible. Better to take advantage when I can.

Finally, and this is new information to me, this is “Walktober!” I learned about it through my friend, Kathy, who writes her blog, Lake Superior Spirit, from the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She has, over the years, often been a source of information and enlightenment. This is no exception. She told me (well, me and any other person who is wise enough to read what Kathy has to say) about Robin, who whose blog is Breezes at Dawn, and who had the bright idea to share our October walking experiences. Kathy wrote about a lovely walk with her mother, and inspired me to share my walk as well. Because it’s so lovely out there, today I’m going to share it with a few photos.

Happy Day!

Standard

Today, I’m good.

I slept well, and woke up feeling rested, strong, and ready for the day.

I’ve lost about ten pounds so far this year. I notice it a little bit in my face, and I have a few pair of pants that now need a belt, but mostly I look about the same. Still, it feels like a good accomplishment.

The dogs seem content. Though they each have health issues, this has been a good week for them.

I’ve got several good books going. I’m reading That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs, Everything is Figure-outable by Marie Forleo and Indelible by Laurie Buchanan. For my morning study time, I’m reading The Power of Daily Practice by Eric Maisel, PhD. For my evening walks, I’m listening to Eternal by Lisa Scottoline.

I’ve just completed filling every page in my sketchbook with drawings, and I’m ready to start another.

My bush beans have finally poked through the ground in the garden. The peas are up, too. The pumpkin is looking quite impressive. After a traumatic start, I think my tomatoes are all going to make it. The pole beans have just started to climb their tepees.

I had a couple really productive days outside last week. I moved a rhododendron plant to make room for several daylilies that I had to thin and move from another bed, to make room for two Gold Drop Potentilla that I bought on sale. I think the bushes will stand up better to my big dog’s thrashing through the flower beds looking for snakes. The daylilies seem to have handled the mid-season transplant just fine. In fact, I swear they seem a little relieved to be out of the big dog’s path of destruction! My hollyhocks are up, taller than me, and loaded with buds, just outside the kitchen door.

I crawled around on hands and knees pulling weeds. Nothing new, except that I can actually see the progress I’ve made. I moved the last of my straw to the garden, to mulch the tomatoes and squash. I picked up a bunch of windfall and a dozen dog toys. I mowed the back yard and, oh, it looks nice!

I met a few friends and cousins after work for a drink on Friday. On Saturday, I ran into a couple other cousins, and had a good chat over coffee. Then I ran to the gallery for a wonderful conversation with another cousin, who shared the news that my work is selling well this year. And even better, reported that she’s getting good feedback about it, too.

Today, before work, I’m going to stop in at the farmhouse to say good-bye to my cousin, Keith, as I won’t be able to be in town to see him off. I’ll be working at the golf course, then, for the rest of the day. After today, though, I have three days off. Oh yeah, plus…the boat that will be coming in to the harbor and carrying Keith away…will be delivering my sisters to the island!!! Oh, Happy Day!!

Giving

Standard

I enjoy giving much more than receiving.

I think that’s how most people are. Giving opens my heart; receiving intimidates me.

I can hand out compliments all day. I try, in every single interaction, to find something honestly positive to say. I’m good at it. When I’m given a compliment, however, I freeze. My first instinct is to deny it. No, I don’t look nice, I’m not that talented, and I’m not so smart. I worry that the compliment-giver is just being patronizing, that their words aren’t sincere, or that they are speaking out of pity. I have to force myself to accept their words, and to voice a simple “Thank you.” The same dichotomy is present in gift-giving and gift receiving

In The Mirror Has Two Faces, Barbra Streisand says, “I want someone to know me…to really know me!” Choosing thoughtful gifts for others based on their interests is a way to show them that they are known, and understood. It can be as simple as remembering a favorite color or a hobby.

Shared interests make giving even more fun. My daughter Kate and I are both avid readers, and we often share similar taste in reading material. Lately, we’ve both been working to expand our knowledge and awareness about race relations in this country. We have lively discussions about books we’ve found, and give each other suggestions about what to read next. She told me about The New Jim Crow; I sent her a copy of Caste.

Even when I limit myself to buying books as gifts (because shopping for and shipping out other things can be hard to do from this location, and because I love getting books as gifts, so I assume everyone else feels that way, too!), I work hard to match the book to the recipient. I know that both of my daughters share an appreciation for the works of Stephen King, and that my grandson Michael always appreciates a book about Beaver Island. It’s more of a struggle to find the “perfect” book for my other grandchildren, but I’m always up for the challenge.

Gifts that are given to me are, first of all, just too much. Too generous. Either too big and too expensive, or too many small, thoughtful things. They are so thoughtful! So timely! Immediately, I feel shame that I have not met the gift-giving standard. Did I even send a card? What measly or cheap gift did I give, to now be receiving this wondrous thing? What did I ever do to deserve such kindness?

Of course, if I voice these doubts and concerns out loud, I am generally reassured with compliments…which are equally difficult to accept. Receiving is just plain hard. Giving, on the other hand, is easy!

Rest

Standard

When my “To-Do” list is long and overwhelming, I have to remind myself to rest.

When deadlines loom, and time seems short, it’s not easy to take time out, but that’s when it is most necessary.

Sometimes a few minutes is enough. I step out the door, breathe in fresh air, and take a moment to admire what’s budding or sprouting or blossoming. Or, I sit down in the comfortable armchair, where I almost never sit, beside whichever small dog has settled there, and open a book. I might make a cup of tea and page through a magazine. Sometimes, I just allow myself a few moments of stillness.

Other days, a longer break is in order. The dogs are always up for a walk, no matter the weather, and it is a welcome break for me, too. Or, I might call a daughter, a sister or a friend for a few minutes of conversation. Or, I gather a book, a beer, my camera and my sketchbook. I load everything – plus three dogs – into the car for a run to Fox Lake. There, I’ll sit at the picnic table while the dogs enjoy the brand new smells, and change of scenery.

Sometimes, simply changing from one activity to another is enough. When I’m struggling with tax documents, writing a blog can seem restful. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by a blogging challenge, shaking out the rugs gives me a break. As a master procrastinator, I recognize these things for the diversionary tactics that they are. Still, if something productive is getting done, seriously, what the hell.

Then there are times when the only thing to do is come to a full stop, I can feel the agitation of too much to do and not enough time. Nerves are getting in the way of any progress. I know that panic, or tears, are close. No break, whether long or short, and no alternate activity will cut it. Then, I just have to respect my need for rest. I have to be bravely careless enough to let all forward motion stop. Make soup. Watch a movie. Read something mindless. Take a nap. Save shame and judgment for another day. Just rest.

Gratitude

Standard

After she retired, my mother regularly watched the Oprah show on television. Sometime in the 1990s, Sarah Ban Breathnach was a guest on the show. It was shortly after her book about gratitude, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, came out, and she was there to promote it. It made a huge impression on Mom.

That Christmas, Mom got every one of her daughters a copy of the book, and the accompanying journal. We each thanked her, and did the obligatory gushing over what a thoughtful gift it was. And maybe my sisters took it more seriously than I did, but I remember thinking, “yeah, I don’t have time for that!” Mom might have sensed my reluctance, because she took me aside and spoke to me directly.

“Just try it, Cindy, and see if it doesn’t help,” she said, “give it a chance!”

I don’t know where my hesitation was coming from, to begin with. I devour self-help books! I always think I need improvement, and that the help I need is right around the corner…or in the next book of instruction or advise. Anyway, I assured her that I’d read it and give it a try, and I did.

It certainly made sense, and my attitude surely could benefit from a little adjustment. So, I started a gratitude practice. Several times, actually. I’d begin, then forget about it, or let it fall into neglect. I’d pick up a journal to make an entry, only to find that several months had gone by since I’d last written anything.

Even when I was writing regularly about it, my idea of gratitude was pretty skewed. The “dark side” of gratitude. Entries included:

“I’m grateful that I wasn’t totally depressed today”

“I’m so glad the tire didn’t go completely flat”

“My hair looked okay for a change.”

“I did not sit home alone feeling sorry for myself tonight”

“I’m glad I left the party before I got even more depressed”

“I am grateful to have made it through the day”

“I’m grateful that I don’t feel totally miserable today”

“I’m glad the green paint doesn’t look so bad on the bed frame”

I was a pathetic excuse for a thankful person!

Then, some time last year, what had been a miserly, sporadic habit suddenly seemed important…and worthwhile! Now, I fill a whole page, every single morning, with things that I am grateful for. It has caused me to pay attention. I’ve learned to look at simple, ordinary things – a cup of coffee, a wag-tail dog, birds on the lawn, a good night’s sleep – as the blessings that they are. I’m sure I am more appreciative; I’m probably happier, too.

Last week, after a rough few days, I got out of the shower and put on my Mom’s old fishing shirt, to wear as a pajama top. The next morning, I pulled on the fleecy white robe she bought me, some other Christmas. And, when I sat down to write down what I was thankful for, I realized that, in a week when I needed a little comfort, there was my mother, her presence in the old fishing shirt, the warm bathrobe, and the gratitude practice that she’d encouraged.

“I’m so grateful for my Mom,” was my first entry that day.

A Year After “Aloha”

Standard

Last year, when I started the “April A to Z Challenge,” I was in Hawaii, and my title was “Aloha.” I was, in fact, stranded in Hawaii by shut-downs associated with the – then brand new – Corona Virus. What a year it has been! What a time we have all been through! Today, beginning on this first day of April, I feel that this last year has got to take center stage.

First of all, let me remind you what the April A to Z challenge is. Through this month, I’ll post one blog every day except Sunday, based on the letters of the alphabet. I don’t have a particular theme in mind; maybe one will develop as I move through the letters. For now, it’s just the commitment. During this month, I am setting aside the list of blog topics that I’ve been writing about on Sundays, based on David Whyte’s book, Consolations. I plan to take Sundays off from blogging in April; I’ll pick that up again in May. I’m also changing my “Timeout for Art” blog. I’ve been working my way through the alphabet with that, too, and had just gotten to those difficult few letters at the end…I’m happy for the interruption there! Though art will still turn up as a topic, this month it will have to fall in to whatever letters turn up mid-week..

I should clarify that “stranded in Hawaii” sounds a lot more dire than it actually was. My older daughter and I had travelled together for a visit to my younger daughter and her family. Our one week planned vacation was extended to almost a month. Truly, it was quite wonderful! The weather, of course, was fabulous. We always felt safe. We were comfortable and well taken care of in my daughters house. Until last spring, I hadn’t had more than a couple days at a time with my two daughters together in at least thirty years. So, though there were concerns about our jobs and pets, and our lives were put on hold, I feel blessed to have experienced that special time.

By the time I got home, and finished my mandatory self-quarantine, I had been replaced in my job at the hardware store. That was, without a doubt, challenging in many ways. Still, it offered me several weeks OFF, in the spring and summer, on Beaver Island, for the very first time since I moved here in 1978! My vegetable and flower beds were never so well-tended. My lawn got mowed before it looked like a field. My dogs basked in the attention. And I loved it!

Since last year at this time, I started a new, seasonal job at the Beaver Island Golf Course. I began volunteering at the Island Treasures Resale Shop. I worked out the details for an art show next October. I read at least one book each week. I continued and expanded on a rewarding morning routine. I took care of several long-neglected medical procedures. I found and enjoyed quite a few new recipes. I walked almost every day.

It’s not possible, though, to look back on this year without acknowledging the tremendous devastation caused by Covid-19. How many lives have changed? How many jobs have been lost? How many businesses have closed? How many have died? Everyone knows someone lost to the disease. Everyone has been affected by it. This virus has touched all of us, in the entire world, in one way or another. We are experiencing trepidation and fear, trauma, and grief on a scale never experienced in my lifetime. This year has altered our thinking, and our behavior. I think, as humans, we are forever changed.

That’s the crux of it, I guess. This last year has been defined by the ways that the virus has changed our lives. Everything else seems unimportant in comparison. That makes it all the more necessary, I think, to continue to notice all the little pleasures along the way. As long as I’m here to appreciate them, they still matter!

Genius

Standard

So, what could I write about genius? I’d been puzzling over that topic for days. I have no special knowledge nor even a particular opinion about the subject. Certainly, I’m no genius!

Then, in a bit of synchronicity that the author would have relished, I turned to a new chapter of The 5AM Club to find The 10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius. “Well,” I thought, “It’s about time I received some kind of pay-back for the endurance I’ve shown with this book!”

I used to be a more steadfast reader. I finished every single book I started. Some were more worthwhile than others, but I appreciated every one. I was younger then. I had better vision. I had more time for reading. No more! If a book doesn’t grab and hold my interest, I will set it aside.

There are exceptions. The Shipping News not only started slowly, but had one of the saddest first chapters I’ve encountered. Sad in the manner of The Grapes of Wrath. Discouraging, like The Beans of Egypt, Maine, where every single character lived a sad, pathetic life. I wasn’t in the mood for another depressing book! At this time in my life, I am almost never looking for that in my reading material. I stuck with it, though, and The Shipping News redeemed itself, and became one of my all-time favorite books.

I didn’t expect that from this book, though. The author, Robin Sharma, has written several well-received books, and the premise sounded interesting. Anticipating some travel that would give me more time for books, I downloaded it onto my reader in January of last year. Yes, last year. A self-help book disguised as a pithy romance, this book did not appeal to me at all.

Now, I don’t mind a self-help book. In fact, I have kind of a weakness for them. I almost always feel like I could use improvement, and that more insight would help. I get a little bristly when other humans offer advice, but I accept it pretty easily from books. I don’t mind information being passed on through the telling of a story, either, when it is done well. Daniel Quinn managed it brilliantly in Ishmael; Richard Bach succeeded, too, with Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions. The Celestine Prophesy, not so much. It, and the several sequels by James Redfield. had a wonderful message, but I found the story-line distracting.

Looking into other books by Robin Sharma, it appears that this author is both prolific and popular, and I may be unfairly judging his work or ability based on my singular experience. From what I’ve read, though, the characters that promote the message in The 5AM Club are poorly drawn caricatures that introduce and promote the information through one stupid question after another. Answers are doled out in a painfully slow manner, between burps, inexplicable bits of yodeling, and severe bouts of coughing. Only one character has a name; the others are known only as the Artist, the Entrepreneur, and the Spellbinder. The fourth, Stone Riley, is most often referred to as the Billionaire. For most of the book, it seemed like I was the only one who knew that his terrible cough was something to worry about.

In fairness, the book does have merit. There is good information, and even some inspiration in it, but it was a dreadfully long time coming. It was only because it was on my reader, and I was without any other reading material, that I ever got back to it. If it had been an actual book that I had set aside, I would have never picked it up again! But, then, I would have missed out on “The 10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius,” and something to write about today. As for the actual tactics…well, maybe you’ll have to read the book!

Disappointment

Standard

The more I think about it, the more it seems that disappointment is a pretty common emotion in my household. I’m surprised at how often it comes up!

I was planning to write about a job I recently applied for, and did not get. With help from my sweet daughter, Kate, I updated my resume. I filled out the application form and read through the job description. Then I debated about whether I really wanted the position or not. At the eleventh hour, I turned in the paperwork. An interview was scheduled. I anticipated topics and prepared possible responses. I also wrote out several questions about the job requirements. I had a long conversation via “zoom” with Kate and her family, to make myself comfortable with the on-line meeting format, and to make sure the screen was placed so that I was not looking ghoulish, or like I had a double chin.

The only glitch, on the day of the scheduled meeting, was several inches of fresh snow. While I was waiting for the interview to start, the road truck went down the road, throwing all of my dogs into fits of barking. They had just calmed down when the other participants showed up on screen. I started right out with a warning that, if the young man showed up to plow my driveway, I’d have to interrupt the interview to put at least one dog (Rosa Parks is the instigator) into “time-out.” It’s good that I warned them, because that exact thing happened!

Beyond that, though, the interview went well, in my opinion. I was able to communicate my abilities, voice my concerns, and address their questions confidently. I know all of the other participants, and they were each as friendly, kind and generous as I expected they would be. The next day, I got a call letting me know I did not get the position.

I felt a little twinge of disappointment, sure. It would have been nice to be working at something challenging like that. It would be a chance to use my abilities and education; I’d be learning new skills, increasing my knowledge and stretching my boundaries. The money would be helpful.

If I had gotten the position, though, I’m sure I would have felt an equal amount of disappointment. I’d had so many concerns. Did I really want to take on a third part-time job? The hours to fulfill the requirements of the position would not, I’m sure, include the self-training I’d need to update my computer skills. Would I be a failure? Was I trying to do too much? When would I find time to make art? To walk the dogs?

So, that’s one example, in my life, of “Disappointment-No-Matter-What.” It’s a fairly regular occurrence. I walked, penguin-like, to the end of my icy driveway yesterday, only to find the entire length of Fox Lake Road to be equally as icy. Too slippery to take a long walk. That’s a disappointment. The day before, the road to the north was nearly clear, and the dogs and I went for a good long walk…which eliminated time to get in the studio before dinner. That was disappointing.

It’s kind of a trade-off. I’m always a tiny bit disappointed when I finish a good book, but I’m excited, in equal measure, to begin a new one. Every page that I turn in my journal gives me a wisp of disappointment at the lack of accomplishment and the too-swift passage of time. Yet every new page is a fresh start, with new promise and possibility. Disappointment at not being able to travel means, at the same time, no guilt and turmoil over leaving the dogs at the kennel. Disappointment over not being able to eat out is accompanied by the comfortable pleasure of enjoying my own cooking at home, with book in hand, and three dogs waiting for leftovers.

Disappointments are just little bumps along the road that remind me to take notice. They aren’t devastating; they don’t lead to despair. They are part of the juggling act in my life, where there are many good things that cannot all be acted upon at once. That kind of disappointment, I can live with!