Category Archives: Gardening

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!

Mornings Like This



Mornings like this, I have no clear path.

Outside, the sky is bright, but clouds hide the sun. It’s chilly. Not freezing, though. It’s not one of those warm and sunny fall days that demands I find an outdoor project. Nor is it cold, windy or rainy enough to necessitate staying inside. I could go either way.

Inside, as usual, projects pull me in many directions. Yesterday, I tidied the house and did my daily chores. I brought the compost to the bin, and the recyclables to the transfer station. I did all of the laundry, picked up packages at the airport, and went to the grocery store for a few necessities. That completed list left today open for projects.

For several months now, cleaning and rearranging the studio has been on the top of my “Tasks” list. Noticed regularly, and ignored. With new art supplies to find a spot for, I talked to myself this morning about getting at it. In my handwritten journal, I spent a whole page plotting out the manner and order of getting it done. The last line I wrote was, “but the floor…”

There is still the job of painting the floor. My progress is glacially slow. The bathroom floor is painted, which diverts my attention with its sloppy edges screaming out the need for woodwork there. In the laundry room, after weeks of contemplation and procrastination, the patch of floor under the clothes dryer is done. Now, I’m stymied by the need to disconnect the washer, and pull it away from the wall.

Fortunately, being Tuesday, I have this blog to divert my attention. And yet, on mornings like this, I am engulfed with doubt and misgivings about writing. Do I really, still, have anything worthwhile to say? I struggle more and more each week with topic and relevance.

Today is my grandson’s birthday. Patrick is sixteen today. I was present at his birth. All photos taken in that hospital room of his newborn self have a holy glow. I can still clearly picture my daughter’s tired smile. At sixteen, Patrick is a strong, handsome and respectful young man, and I’m very proud of him.

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. If he were still here, he’d be ninety-two years old. As it stands, he’s been gone twenty years last August. I still talk to him, though, when I see things that I know would interest him, and we have lively conversations in my mind whenever I’m working in the garden.

On other days, either of these topics could fuel an entire blog. Today, I worry about the universal appeal. Am I being self-centered? I eke out barely a paragraph on each subject, and wonder if I haven’t said it all before.

Some days, circumstances or blind enthusiasm direct me to action. On days like this, it’s rather a matter of just plodding on, one foot in front of the other.



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.

The Last Days of Summer



Now, in September, the signs of fall are sneaking in. It’s inevitable. And it makes me appreciate every precious bit of summer that is left.

Nights are cooler, now, often dipping into the low 40s. It’s lovely for sleeping, but I put the little heater on in the morning and wear my fleecy robe while I have morning coffee. I sometimes put a jacket over my work clothes before I go out the door. And yet, by midday, the sun is bright and has warmed everything up. Another beautiful summer day!

The garden is almost at its end. The tomato plants have withered and died, but the tomatoes hanging from the vines continue to ripen. I eat them raw every day, My lunch yesterday was a salad of fresh tomatoes, avocado and chunks of mozzarella cheese in a light vinaigrette. In the afternoon, I stewed a kettle-full of the sweet little plum tomatoes, and put them in the freezer. The bush beans are done for the year, but the pole beans – planted later – are still producing. I’m still getting summer squash each week, more than enough for my needs. I have two little muskmelon on the vines that may – if frost holds off long enough – have a chance to ripen.

I’ve pulled up the pea vines, once they were finished. When I dug my little mound of potatoes, I added the withered plant to the compost heap. Otherwise, I leave things in place. Where a plant is taking up space, it helps to keep the weeds from coming up there. The rows of bush bean plants are still green and healthy; the zucchini vines are waist high, and beautiful. Whether they continue to produce or not, I’ll continue to appreciate their lush summer greens.

The cooler temperatures have made walking in the woods a pleasant activity again, and the dogs and I are taking full advantage. Even in the big woods behind my house, mosquitoes are now rare. We take that trail every couple days, to gather the blackberries that grow on either side. Cotter’s Trail, which begins across the Fox Lake Road and leads off  through the woods to the west, is another regular walk.

When we go to Fox Lake, and after the dogs have had a swim, we walk up the access drive and down the Fox Lake Road to the big rock and beyond. Fall mushrooms are out, and now and then there is an early glimpse of autumn color. Mostly, though, these still feel like summer days: the best, most appreciated summer days.



On Into September



It rained, here on Beaver Island, long and steady through the night. It was perfect for sleeping, and I took full advantage. I’ve taken a few phone calls, but otherwise have had only the dogs in and out activity interrupting my coffee-drinking, news-watching lazy day.

The clothes I put on the line yesterday are still there. Last evening, they were damp, after hanging in the still, humid air all day, and I decided to just leave them, to finish drying. This morning they were dripping wet. My newly tightened clotheslines were drooping with their weight. The second load, waiting for clothespins and clothesline space, remains in a basket on the floor of the laundry room.


Every meal, this time of year, includes something fresh from the garden. Fresh cucumbers and sliced tomatoes show up daily. Beans get a place on the plate day after day. Last evening, golden rounds of summer squash, sauteed, accompanied hash browns made from a potato dug from a plant that came up as a “volunteer.”

I didn’t plant potatoes this year, in my small garden space. I compost my potato peels, though, along with other kitchen scraps, and use the resulting humus as fertilizer and top dressing in my garden. Now and then, a plant will spring up from composted seeds or – in this case – the eye of a potato. it always feels like a bonus. This year, the volunteer potato plant, which grew up not too inconveniently in the pathway between a muskmelon and a zucchini plant, yielded eight large, firm potatoes!

Yesterday, I set squash to simmer in the kettle, and tomatoes to stew in the slow-cooker while I went out to pick beans. Today, I’ll be filling the freezer containers. I pick blackberries every day, but have not yet gotten enough to consider putting them up for winter. I eat them fresh over cereal, in yogurt, or simply topped with milk. The rain might change that. If conditions are right, the canes will continue producing berries right up until frost.

It’s early, yet, to think about frost, but several nights recently the temperatures have dipped into the 40s. That’s a reminder that it is inevitable…and not that far away. I set a large, sickly jade plant outside this spring, to take advantage of the fresh air and sunshine. It has thrived! Before I look to bringing it back inside for the winter, I have to consider a larger pot…and which piece of furniture it will replace!


Other than an occasional bloom here and there, the flower beds are almost finished for the year. Except for the upright Sedum, which is just getting started. The Autumn Joy pushes up in the springtime and spends most of the summer looking an awful lot like broccoli. In September, it has reached its full height, developed flower heads, and started to show color. Soon it will be in its full glory. On, into September!