Category Archives: Cooking

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #8



List the things you like to do that don’t involve technology:

  • I like to read. I always have. When I was six, my mother crawled under the kitchen table  where I was having a sobbing fit because the words I was reading did not make any sense. She looked at what was going on, and with a smile – and a level of patience she was not always known for – explained to me that K-N-E-W was pronounced “NOO,” not – which was the source of my frustration – “CANOE.” It was common, over breakfast, for me say, “Please pass the Corn Flakes,” simply because I had already read everything the Rice Krispies box had to offer. I still like to read the cereal box, when I have cereal. Books were not allowed at other meals when I was a child, but I often rushed through dinner and dishes to get back to a good book. Now that I’m an adult – and often dine alone – books and magazines are grand accompaniment at the dining room table. I always think of books as miracle-workers. From a very young age, they gave me an idea of how other families behaved and how the world worked. I have looked to books to learn a skill, make a repair, or solve a problem. They have given me vast insight into other places and other people, imaginary and real. Books have given me hope when I saw no hope.
  • I like to walk. I’ve become very familiar with the changing scenery down the Fox Lake Road through all seasons of the year. Still, there’s always something fresh about it. A change in the color of the sky, the brightness of the sun or its position overhead makes the whole view brand new. Sometimes I choose a heart-pumping pace; other times I meander. There are days when my mind is full of problems that I am trying to solve. Sometimes, the purpose of the walk is to get away from them. And, sometimes I sing, loud and off-key, for the distance.
  • I like games: board games, card games; word games; dominoes; dice. Solitaire is okay, if there’s no one else around.
  • I like working in the soil. Gardening offers many benefits – that I also enjoy – but in the early spring, when the ground is just warming up, long before the promise of flowers or vegetables, I am out there, on my knees with my hands in the dirt. And I am enjoying myself!
  • I like exercise…a little. And that’s how much time I devote to it.
  • I like to cook.
  • I like crafts. Crochet, mostly, but I’ve enjoyed knitting, sewing, and embroidery, too.
  • I like art. I like the “doing” often as much as the “making” in that often the act of pushing paint around the surface, or shaping clay is every bit as meaningful to me as the product that may come of it.
  • I like writing. Though I use the computer for most of the writing I do these days, I have several volumes of sappy, melodramatic and angst-y journals that I wrote by hand through most of my adult life. And, if the hours in my days ever expand to allow time for it again, I’ll add it back in. There’s something about the physical act of putting words on the page – different than typing them onto a computer screen – that makes it more meaningful.




The 52 Lists (for Happiness)Project #3



List the things that you are really good at:

  • Cooking. Nothing very fancy, but always good.
  • Baking. Sweets, mostly, but I also have several good bread recipes that I use regularly.
  • Writing.
  • Letter-writing. People say a letter from me makes them feel like I am sitting right there talking to them. My mother encouraged her children to write letters to our grandparents in Chicago. I really took to it. I enjoyed telling the news, and was always happy to be rewarded with a letter in response. My best friend and I always wrote to each other through summer vacation. We were quite dramatic in our recitations, and went through thousands of exclamation points in each letter. I had pen pals throughout my life. When I first moved to Beaver Island, Mom reminded me that I wrote a good letter, and told me to be sure to keep in touch. I did, updating family and friends of our adventures here, and of how my daughters were growing. I wrote my daughters whenever they were away from me, through their childhood. I’ve gotten lax in recent years, with letters giving way to phone calls, Email and instant messaging. I still have a list of letters to write, in answer to cards and gifts I received at Christmas. I always appreciate receiving letters, so should be better about sending them.
  • Growing things. Again, nothing fancy. My house plants are not exotic, but simple green plants that usually make the lists of “easiest houseplants.” Still, other than sometimes having to droop a little to remind me to water them, they thrive. Outside, again I choose hardy specimens that suit my sandy soil, and – with very little special attention – they make me proud.
  • Drawing. Though it is one of the skills that needs to be practiced, to prevent getting rusty…and I’m pretty lax about that, too.
  • Color theory. I have studied it, of course, but it is one of those things that I’ve always had a knack for. I remember Doug Warner, an instructor in one of my earliest college drawing classes, on the first day that we worked with pastels, saying with surprise, “Oh, my, I can see that color is your forte!”
  • Organizing. Though the level of dis-order that I live with would seem to make a lie of that statement, I am very good at making sense of big mounds of disparate items.
  • Arranging. Whether pictures on a wall, items on a shelf, or furniture in a room, I’m very good at arranging things. With my combined abilities in color theory, organizing and arranging, I might have done well in a career as a interior decorator.
  • Reading. It’s easy to be good at things you love, and I have always loved to read. I’m also good at reading out loud, which is related, but different.
  • Customer service. I was an excellent waitress for more than twenty years, because I truly enjoyed the job. I was happy to do my best to make each customer’s experience outstanding. For the same reasons, I am good at my current job at the hardware store.
  • Entertaining myself. Though I sometimes get lonely, I don’t pine away for companionship. I can enjoy games of solitaire for hours on end. Add a few books, writing materials and a few art supplies, and I’d be just fine on a deserted island.

It is a good question to ask yourself: what things are you really good at?




Today is one of those misty days that makes the landscape appear hazy.  Everything looks as if it’s shrouded in gauze. Everything feels damp. Even the air is moist. A quick walk around the yard through the melting snow, and my feet are soaked. I slide out of wet shoes, and put them near the heater to dry. I peel off the heavy, cold and dripping socks, and replace them with thick, soft, warm ones. This is a day to have a pot of soup on the stove…a loaf of bread rising on the table.

Yesterday…did I even make it outside? Maybe, briefly. I didn’t pay much attention to the weather then, or the many times I opened the door to let the dogs inside or outside. I tackled a few chores, but left a list of things undone, too. Yesterday, I got the idea to make slippers…like the slippers I used to make for my husband and daughters when my family was young…for Christmas gifts. Everything else went by the wayside.

First I pulled down the basket of yarn from the top shelf, where it has sat, neglected, for weeks. My last project was a giant sock to fit over one unfortunate grandson’s cast. Before that…I can’t remember. It was maybe a year or more since I’d crocheted.

As a young mother, I crocheted every day. Out of each week’s grocery budget, I’d buy one skein of yarn: a different color every week. All of my projects were improvisations, based on the yarn I had on hand. I made hats and scarves, slippers and ponchos. I made piles of granny squares to be fitted together into afghans. I made stuffed animals and puppets. I plotted needlepoint designs to use up all the bits and scraps of yarn. For every single finished project, I always had a dozen that I’d abandoned half-way through.

Yesterday, after assessing the available yarn, I decided the slippers would – out of necessity – be not quite identical. I used two strands of yarn: one four-ply, one two-ply, and when I ran out of one, I attached another. I finished two pair of slippers, and started a third, while watching about four hours of programs on my computer. I drank coffee until I’d emptied the pot, then water, then wine. It was a lovely, self-indulgent day. I don’t dare repeat it!

Today, I have to get busy! I have to complete the tasks that should have been done yesterday, plus all the ones on the list for today. I have cards to write, and phone calls to make. There are rugs to shake and floors to sweep, and laundry to be put through the circuit. I have a collection of staple foods still sitting on the kitchen counter, where they’ve been since I emptied the old cabinet that housed them…to make room for the freezer. There is compost to be taken out to the bin near the garden, and recyclables to be loaded in the car.

If I get to the point where I can say “enough, this will do,” with the housework, the garden still needs to be put to bed for the winter. The long hose needs to be picked up, rolled, and hung in the garden shed. Vines – from beans, peas, squash and tomatoes -need to be pulled up and disposed of. I have to, then, cover any open spaces with straw, to keep the weeds from taking over. There is at least one shovel and a three-pronged cultivator still standing out in the weather.

If I happen to manage to get all of that done, I have a back-up list. It includes things like re-arranging and repairing the kitchen cabinets, painting the floor, and cleaning the car. And now, of course, there are slippers to work on, when there is time. And the studio, always, with projects and plans awaiting. It’s unlikely that, on this day,  I’ll have time for any of that. Especially since – first on my list – I have to get that bread dough started…and get vegetables cut up for the soup!






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.

Report from the Fox Lake Road



We are not yet officially done with summer…but fall is clearly in the air. Even the warmest days offer a hint of autumn in the feel of the breeze or the smell of the air. Sweaters are a nice accessory to have on hand these days. By evening, they are a necessity. We have not yet had a frost, but temperatures have dipped to the forties some nights. Yesterday, I turned the heater on to chase away the morning chill.

Leaves are beginning to change color. The rhododendron beside my big door has a cluster of bright red leaves at its center. The “Autumn Joy” sedum in the side bed has taken on a rosy glow. The blackberry brambles, though still offering fruit by the double handfuls, are drying up. The leaves are showing yellows and reds; the thorny canes have become downright dangerous. The maple trees, with just a slight change in disposition, have reminded me of the glorious show they’ll soon be offering.

In the garden, I pick beans and tomatoes every day. Now and then, the nearly dried up pea vines serve up one or two new pods. In September, fresh garden peas are a special treat. Butternut squash and pumpkins are plentiful on the vines. If the weather holds long enough for them to ripen, I’ll be rich with golden squash!

Around the perimeter of the yard, low in the fields, High in the centers of the big juniper bushes, blackberries are ripe for the taking. Some days it’s just enough for a bowlful, with cream, as dessert. Other days, I fill my big colander. I still have blackberries in the freezer from last year’s harvest, measured and sweetened for pie-baking or sauce-making. That means what I harvest this year are for using right away.

I’ve made three pies, and given two away. I have twice made a dinner of blackberry pancakes. I eat a bowl of blackberries every single day after supper. Right now, I have three large dishes filled with berries in the refrigerator, and one on the counter, waiting to be cleaned. It’s been a very good year for blackberries!

I took the dogs down to the Fox Lake today, when I got out of work. Once again we had the place all to ourselves! That, more than anything, signals the end of the busy summer season. On the tenth day of September, that’s how things are here on the Fox Lake Road.


These Days



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.


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.


Time Out



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!