Category Archives: Books

Beginning the Year with A, B, and C

some books on my nightstand

A brand new year. New expectations; new promises to myself. A new journal to keep track of my life…or to keep my life on track, I’m not sure which. It will be filled, soon enough, with resolutions, plans and good intentions, and a number of graphs, lists and charts to record my progress…or lack thereof. I start by noting accomplishments and memorable things from the year just past.

For that, I page through last year’s journal. It is a wealth of information, often discouraging and sad. I can see, for instance, that, though I devoted lines each month in my “Habit and Activity Tracker” to “weights,” “yoga/pilates” and “walk,” I fulfilled those goals only a tiny fraction of the times planned. I did better in other areas. I rarely missed a scheduled work day. I posted a blog twice a week, occasionally more, almost without fail. I read every single day. From the pages I devoted to “Books I Read, 2018,” I see that I completed thirty-three books last year.

With that in mind, I’m going to start this year off on a positive note, focusing on the books I am reading right now. It just happens – coincidentally – that they begin with the first three letters of the alphabet.

Atomic Habits by James Clear is the perfect book to have first on my reading list at the start of a new year. So far, it has given me such confidence that change (improvement) is possible, that I have put off all my usual resolution-making until I finish this book. Clear suggests that it is not helpful to focus on goals; we should, instead, focus on “systems,” the behaviors that will help us get to the results we want. “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” Systems are the steps you take to get the desired outcome. This is a highly technical – i.e.: lots of graphs and studies – but very easy-to-read book. I’m thinking it just might change my life!

Becoming by Michelle Obama. My daughter and I were talking about this book just before Christmas. “Do you have it?” she asked. “No,” I told her, “I’ve seen so many good, in depth interviews with her, I feel kind of like I know how it goes. Maybe I don’t need to read it.” That wasn’t quite true. I had seen many wonderful interviews, and I was telling myself that it was unnecessary to invest in another freshly published hard cover book right now. However, when I received the book on Christmas Eve – a gift from that same wily daughter – I was thrilled! I’ve only just started it, but Michelle Obama is an extremely engaging writer, and I’m thoroughly enjoying her book!

Calypso by David Sedaris is the third book I’m reading right now. My two daughters and I met in Lansing last year, to see Sedaris at the Whiting Auditorium. I’ve loved his books, and his readings on NPR for years, and his talk there did not disappoint. To commemorate that special get-together, I got each of my daughters a David Sedaris book for Christmas. For Jen, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. I own that book, and re-read it whenever I need to improve my mood. I can’t get through the first essay in that book without tears of laughter running down my face! I hope Jen likes it as much as I have. For Kate, Calypso. Because I had not yet read that one, I bought it for myself as well…an early Christmas present for me. Unnecessary, gift-wise, as I was very generously inundated with all kinds of wonderful, thoughtful presents, but I appreciate this book anyway.

So, A, B and C. I’m sure reading – my biggest success – will continue through the year. I can’t say if it will continue to follow the alphabet!


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #49



List the things you are ready to rid yourself of, things in your home, in your closet, and in your heart:

Let me point out, first, that this directive clearly asks for the things I am “ready” to rid myself of, not the things I “could,” “should” or “ought to.” That distinction alone makes for a much shorter list.

  • I am almost – but not quite – ready to get rid of the cheap candle holder that hangs in the back window. It consists of a glass barrel-shaped chimney sitting on a circle of metal. A loop of wire attached to the bottom plate allows the whole thing to hang by a chain. The chain is rusted. The glass that shields the flame used to be green, but the plastic coating peeled off the first time a candle was burned there, so now it’s clear. It has to be taken down to lift the chimney, in order to insert and light the candle. It only holds a votive candle, anyway, so for the trouble of lighting it, I get about an hour of glow. And yet, when I start thinking of getting rid of it, I remember that this particular candle holder was one that my sister, Sheila, and I carried, in our little “Seven Sisters” shop here on Beaver Island. It was  one of the items that Sheila picked out, and ordered for us. The shop has been closed for many years and, now, Sheila is gone, too. So, for now, the candle holder stays.

I have a hundred old, decrepit items that have stories like that. This one, that was an early gift from someone that loved me, way back when they loved me; that one, that my daughters used when they were small; another that reminds me of my childhood; this, that my mother gave to me; and those jeans that are proof positive of how skinny I used to be. I am not yet ready to be rid of any of them!

  • I do, to my credit, have a couple large boxes of things to be donated to the library or the re-sale shop. I am ready to get rid of books that I won’t read again. Someone else may as well enjoy them. I am ready to get rid of dishes and small appliances that I don’t use. I am ready to get rid of clothes that don’t fit, or that don’t fit my lifestyle.
  • In my studio, I have a stack of rejects to be recycled. I have a tendency to work a piece to death, in an effort to turn a failure into, maybe not a masterpiece but, something worthwhile. Sometimes a failure is simply that, and no amount of time or materials will redeem it. I am ready to be rid of it all.
  • Finally, happily, I am ready to throw away the concept that the past holds the key to the “ideal.” For my whole life, Christmas was my favorite holiday. I loved it when I was a child, and I loved it even more when I had children. Then, years went by, circumstances changed, and I found myself living alone on Beaver Island. Some years, I travel downstate to visit my family for Christmas; last year, I went to Charlevoix to meet up and hang out with my best girlfriend. Often, I just stay home. Long ago, I quit decorating for the holiday. “Why bother, just for me,” I asked myself and, “It will be so much trouble to have to take it all down again.” “If the kids were coming, I’d go all out for Christmas,” I’d tell myself, knowing full well that with the time and inconvenience (including the expense, the unpredictable Michigan weather, and the varied schedules of several working adults) of bringing children, gifts and holiday traditions to Beaver Island, my kids were never going to come here for Christmas. So, I let my own traditions go. I have not been sad and miserable, but the season has certainly not had the giddy, anticipatory joy of years past. This year, all of that changed. I cut down a tree, set it up and decorated it. I made hot cider, and put on the old holiday records as I pulled out the ornaments. Then I decorated the tiny artificial tree that I had in the Christmas tote. I set up the little nativity set that was a gift from my husband on the first Christmas after we were married. I pulled out all of the “Santa”s that I collected over the years, and lined them up on a shelf in front of my cookbooks. It doesn’t seem sad, that it’s not the same as when I was little, or as when my children were little. It’s only different. It’s still Christmas. This is what the holiday is like now, for me. It’s not about what is missing, or what is not the same. It’s about me, finding joy in my favorite holiday. It feels good to have the lights and sounds and smells of Christmas around me. And it doesn’t seem, now, like it will be such a terrible chore to take it down after the New Year. If it is, I assure you, it was worth it!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #47



List everything that you think of as a treat for yourself:

  • The first cup of coffee I pour in the morning. With cream.
  • A good book. One that grabs and holds my interest, that can make me laugh or cry or quiver in trepidation, and that expands my understanding or enhances my world view.
  • A perfect poem. The ones I love are treasures, that can be read and enjoyed over and over.
  • Time in the studio. Unencumbered. Without six other things that need to be done diverting my attention and spoiling my fun.
  • A hot bath. In a heated room, with scented salts, nice candles and a glass of wine.
  • Perfume. Having recently found myself in the rare position of being all caught up on my bills, with a little money to spare, I bought myself a bottle of nice cologne, for the first time in years. It feels absolutely luxurious to have it.
  • Fresh flowers. I pick wildflower bouquets all summer long. When I first got divorced, I walked past a little flower shop every day on my way to and from work. At least once a week, I’d stop in to buy a cluster of posies or even just a single carnation. It was well worth the strain on my budget for the way it lifted my spirits!
  • A long walk. Right now, with ice on the pathways, and hunters in the woods, the dogs and I spend our walks just circling the yard. We aren’t fooled, though. We know it’s not the same, no matter how many steps we get in.
  • A square of dark chocolate.
  • A soft-boiled egg. My mother used to make them for her children when we were sick. That feeling of being nurtured and cared for comes back to me when I cook an egg that way.
  • A good meal in a nice restaurant is a rare pleasure.
  • A chat on the phone with someone I love. I’m not usually big on telephone conversations. My daughters decided, years ago, that I must be watching a timer, because I always ended calls after no more than five minutes. True, I don’t stay long on the phone, but I’m not timing the conversations. I simply run out of things to say; I find empty chatter excruciating and silence difficult. So, most phone calls are short. When the conversation flows, though, it’s a pleasure! One day last week, I had a nice long chat with my granddaughter, Madeline, then a good visit with my daughter, Kate. Before the day was out, my daughter, Jennifer, called. What a special treat, to talk to three of my favorite people all in one day!

No Topic This Tuesday



Natalie Goldberg says, “having a topic to plow into can give your mind direction.” A topic evades me this morning. Today, rather than scrambling to come up with something, I have committed to it. This is no-topic Tuesday. With nothing to provide direction, let’s see where this keyboard will take me.

I’m reading Transcription, the newest book by Kate Atkinson. After reading – and falling in love with the writing in – Life After Life, I’ve made a point to watch for her books. They don’t all move me the way that first one did, but she’s a good solid writer, anyway. Other authors I seek out are Laurie R. King, Barbara Kingsolver, and Louise Erdrich. I’ve been putting off getting Kingsolver’s latest book, though. One bad review reminded me of other recent works of hers that have disappointed. I seem to have so little time to read these days, I try not to commit to a book that isn’t worth it.

Other titles on my nightstand include Fear by Bob Woodward, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, and Consolations by David Whyte. Some, I have started, then saved until I’m more in the mood for that particular writing style; others are on-going. Some nights, I’m too tired to follow a plot line. Then, a short essay or a few paragraphs of creative writing suits me.

My dining room table needs to be cleared this morning. It’s the first item on my “to-do” list. It is especially over-burdened today, as I cleared my desk yesterday. All the excess just got shifted over to the table. So, facing south, I’m quite pleased with my newly cleared work space. Turn to the north, however, and I’m face-to-face with the results of the half-finished job.

One tablecloth, one small houseplant and two candles: that’s what belongs on the dining room table. This morning, in addition to those items, there is:

  • a small stack of stationery, notepads and stamps, formerly Aunt Katie’s belongings, found by my sisters in a drawer at the farmhouse, and sent home with me;
  • a large stack of books purchased as Christmas gifts for my grandchildren;
  • installation instructions for my new smoke alarm;
  • one bag of Damar resin and one butane torch for encaustic painting, both brand new and not yet put away;
  • a hammer and nail, for hanging the new smoke alarm;
  • a pile of writing books, exercise manuals, receipts, and miscellaneous other papers that used to take up space on the desk;
  • a pair of scissors (used to cut open the clam shell package that the smoke alarm came in);
  • an empty bowl that, two weeks ago, held Halloween candy;
  • my purse;
  • my daily journal, with the directive, “CLEAR TABLE” in plain view at the top left under “Tuesday.”

On the same page, at the bottom of the right-hand column, the reminder says “BLOG POST.” Which just goes to show where my priorities lie, even when I have nothing in particular to write about!



Out and Back



No matter how much I love this island I call home, sometimes it’s good to get away. Even if I go no farther than the small cities and towns that line the coastline of the mainland, it feels like a big change. This trip, just a short over-night getaway, was to catch up with my friend, Linda, to do some shopping, and to see the fall colors.

Granted, Linda and I talk every week, and sometimes several times in the course of a week. I know how her life is going, and what’s keeping her busy. Still, it’s different and better to converse face-to-face, to mull over old experiences and revisit memories and people from our past. Linda has retired since I saw her last, and she has a new puppy, who I was happy to meet.

As for shopping, there aren’t many things I have to cross Lake Michigan for these days. Our Spartan grocery store is well stocked, and I recently took advantage of their annual canned goods sale. I’m still eating vegetables harvested from my garden. Last week, my cousin Brian brought me a big pumpkin and a peck of potatoes from his garden. My Amazon Prime membership fills in the gaps for things not available here.

Still, how nice to walk the aisles of other grocery stores, looking for bargains. The farmer’s market was a fantastic fall destination! Oleson’s grocery had several good deals on meats; the Grain Train cooperative yielded my winter’s supply of beans and grains. It was wonderful to explore the shelves in my favorite bookstore, and treat to wander through other stores, small and large. I spent way too much in the bookstore, but the extremely low prices at the farmer’s market kind of balanced it out. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

It’s true, the colors of autumn are lovely on Beaver Island. I didn’t think I had to travel to be awed by Mother Nature. But I did travel…and it was worth it. Beaver Island doesn’t have the rolling hills that are a stunning feature of the mainland in northern Michigan. They stretch the vista out for miles in every direction, with party-hued trees vying for attention with fields of gold and green. Today I watched as the waves of Lake Michigan crashed over the breakwater in Petoskey, under a big sky of magnificent clouds, with fall colors on the distant shore. And I was awed by the sight.

I’m home now, and happy to be here. New purchases are spread over the table, as I work at putting things away. I’m halfway unpacked, and have clothes in the dryer. The dogs, glad to be home from the kennel, are asleep at my feet. It’s nice, now and then, to get away; it’s wonderful, always, to get back home!



The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #43



List how where you are right now fulfills dreams and desires of your past:

  • Well, for as long as I can remember, I always wanted to live on Beaver Island. And here I am!
  • I consistently wanted a designated space for working on art projects. At the tiny cottage on Lake Pleasant, I used a corner of the front porch for art-making. It was only useful in the warm months, and I shared the space with spare tires, cat litter, and trash bags waiting for the garbage truck. When I was living with my family in a small duplex in North Branch, I would convert the kitchen to working studio, sometimes for days at a time. We ate a lot of cold cereal and sandwiches until my projects were completed. As a student at Michigan State, living in a tiny campus apartment, I’d haunt my studio in the Art Center at all hours of the day and night. When I came back to Beaver Island, I cleared out the area that had been sleeping space for my daughters. I set up my drafting table, and moved in files cabinets and bins for storage. Later, I added a printing press. Finally,  my own little studio!
  • I always imagined dogs as a part of my life…and they are!
  • I dreamed of a small house with a high pitched roof, surrounded by gardens and fruit trees and flowers. That’s where I live!
  • When I was four years old, my Grandpa Ted would take me and my sister Brenda to his electrical shop. We got to sit in the brown leather chair that could spin around. We could trace our names into the dust on the windows. Best of all, we were allowed to sort the nuts, bolts and other tiny parts that were mounded on the desk into rows of baby food jars provided by my mother. I loved sorting! My mother reminded me of that fifty years later, when I started working at the hardware store and took on the wall of nuts and bolts as a challenge. “Oh, you’ll do great at that,” she said, “you’ve loved that kind of work since you were tiny!”
  • I invariably think of myself surrounded by books. And I am.

A Late Report



“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.