Sundays have lately become my favorite day of the week. I don’t work on Sundays, and since I also have Monday and Tuesday off, there is no urgency to get things done. I have plans, of course, but I approach them slowly. The most important thing on my Sunday agenda is relaxation.
I don’t set the alarm for Sunday. My morning routine stays intact, but it begins when I wake up naturally. I take my time with it, too. Journal-writing can get a little more expansive on a Sunday morning; I put additional time and effort into my drawings. I may spend a few extra minutes in meditation practice, or increase the time spent exercising.
When I open my book to study, I don’t have to watch the clock. On a work day, I may only get through two or three pages, reading and taking notes. Sunday mornings, I can finish a chapter, or complete a topic. I can continue until I’m tired of it.
On days when I have to be at work by eight o’clock, the dogs don’t usually get a morning walk. They often sleep in, and wake up slowly. One by one, they go outside, and come back in. I take all three of them out for a quick turn around the yard before I leave for the day. Most of their exercise happens after I get home in the afternoon. Sunday mornings, though, we set out early.
I bring my little tablet to take pictures, and to listen to whatever book I currently have downloaded. Right now, that is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. Often, the book I’m studying, the one I’m listening to on Audible, and the one on my nightstand for reading before bed are widely disparate. At this time, they are all quite similar in topic and energy. In the morning, I’m taking notes and doing exercises from Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte is what I turn to before I switch off the light at night.
When we’re back from our walk, the dogs are ready for a nap; I’m ready to turn on the news. Because the programs I like are available on my computer, I’m not tied to their programming schedule. I enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. It’s the news, but more inclusive of personal interest, arts and entertainment as well as the usual headlines. Then I watch Face the Nation, which gives me an in-depth look at the current happenings.
After that, I plot out my day. My blog had moved to Friday, when that was my only day off. Now, I think, it’s better planned for Sunday, when I have the whole day to fit it in. In addition to that, I have a few choices. The weather is cool, but the sun is shining; I could start the mower and finish giving the yard one last good trim. The raspberries need to be pruned before winter, and I’d like to transplant the roses this fall.
I brought movies home from the library yesterday, to entertain me while I worked in the studio. That’s another good possibility; there’s plenty to do there. I also picked up a book review, and haven’t read it yet. I got a new catalog in the mail yesterday, and a magazine the day before that. No need to rush to any decisions. I have this entire wonderful Sunday ahead!
My niece, Tina, was born when my sister, Nita, was still in high school Nita’s friends would come over, and they’d all go upstairs to “play with the baby.” Tina had more ruffled dresses, frilly bonnets and darling pajamas than there were days in a month. Before she had time to grow from one size into the next, another entire wardrobe would show up, one outfit at a time, gifts from doting teen-aged girls. By the time she took her first steps, Tina had been the subject of hundreds of professional and amateur photographs.
In spite of the many high-school girls that adored her, several young aunts that dearly loved her, and her firm position as my mother’s favorite granddaughter, Tina was not a spoiled child. She had piercing, dark eyes and a toothy grin that gave her a look that combined thoughtful intelligence with clownish good humor. It suited her. She was a bright child, a fast learner, and an exceptional student. She never seemed to take herself, or the world, too seriously. She was quick to smile, and her giggle was contagious.
Because she was close in age to my daughter, Kate, they paired up as cousin-friends whenever the family gathered. Tina came to my house for birthday parties and overnight stays. As an adult, she often mentioned how kind I had been to her when she slept at my house, even though she wet the bed. Having been a bed-wetter myself until I was past eight years old, I always treated those occurrences like the accidents they were, no matter who the child was. Though I was glad she remembered that I was nice about it, I honestly have no memory of the incident.
Once, while drinking, my sister Nita was going on about how beautiful my daughters were. With Tina sitting beside her, I said, “Nita, all of us have beautiful children!” Nita waved her hand dismissively in her daughter’s direction, and said, “No, but your daughters…” I know what she meant: she was trying to give me a compliment about my girls; it wasn’t about all children, and it wasn’t about her daughter. Plus, she was tipsy.
Still, I saw Tina’s face fall. I wondered if I had ever inadvertently broken the hearts of my own daughters like that, without realizing it. Then, Tina waved her hand right back in her mother’s direction, shrugged her shoulders, and mouthed, “She’s drunk.” Then she grinned.
As the years went by, our family grew up and stretched out in all directions. The years – a distant memory – when we all got together for Sunday dinner gave way to years where many miles and many states separated us. We gathered, then, infrequently, and too often for funerals. Social media and occasional telephone calls helped us keep in touch.
In recent years, Tina had moved around the country, and then settled in Texas. She came back to Michigan for a visit when my Mom was ill, and then to stay when her own Mom was dying. Clearly, extensive alcohol and drug use had taken a toll. Even more evident was her rejection of any lifestyle other than the one she had chosen, or fallen into. She declined all offers of help.
Shortly after her mother’s funeral, Tina packed up her belongings and headed south, to New Orleans. From a distance, we watched her roller-coaster life from sporadic posts to social media. Photos often showed her with lidded eyes and a vague smile, dressed in one goofy costume after another. She got an apartment…but then the place was flooded during a hurricane. She sobered up, from time to time, but it was hard. And definitely “not fun.”
Tina sometimes put out vague requests for money, or complained that she got no help. Once, I sent her a private message, scolding her for saying she had no support, when she deliberately moved far away from people that loved her, and that could help her. “Sorry, Aunt Cindy,” she answered, “I didn’t mean to post that…still trying to figure out my phone.”
Often her posts were pleas for affection, and her aunts and cousins and friends would jump in to reassure her, “hang in there, Tina,” and “we love you!” Tina and Kate had long, rambling text-message conversations that would go on for days. “Wow, you got old,” Tina told her once, in response to Kate having to either go to work, or get some sleep.
Last weekend, while out walking, Tina was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Suddenly, I live in a world without Tina in it. And even though she was far away, not a big presence in my life, and often aggravated me, this feels like a big loss. Maybe greater because she was so far away from all of my memories of her. Maybe because she died alone.
Tina, I hope you knew that your aunts and cousins and long-distance friends kept track of you as well as we could, that we missed you, and worried about you, and cheered your progress. I hope you knew that you were beautiful. I hope you always felt loved. Good-bye, sweet girl.
Not that I’ve been trying to rush the season. No…summer, could have stayed awhile. I am not yet tired of long, warm and sunshiny days. I could stand several more weeks of it, without complaint.
Still, this year more than others in recent memory, fall started announcing its pending arrival early. Chilly nights brought out the blankets, and warned that cold weather was coming. First, it was acknowledged as a relief:
“Great sleeping weather!”
“I’m loving these cool nights!”
Warm days at the beach followed by nights nestled under heavy quilts is how I remember August on childhood vacations on Beaver Island. Wonderful! “Chilly,” though, gave way to downright cold this year. Almost a month ago, I went around and closed every window, stored the box fan in the attic, and carried the portable heater downstairs.
For weeks, conversations have turned toward all the signs that warn of a hard winter coming. The days, which lengthen by such slow increments in the spring, seem to shorten rapidly this time of year. “Dark, already,” I observe with surprise day after day. The activity of deer and squirrels; the gathering of birds; the behavior of small rodents are all signals to watch.
The mice are unquestionably moving inside. At the hardware store, the section of the store that holds rodent-control products is depleted weekly. I’ve heard many stories of mice showing up in homes and in places where they’ve never been seen before. Too many apples? Too few coyotes? We can only speculate on the reasons.
“Are the leaves changing yet?” The questions come from other locations, from people who would happily travel north for the glory of fall colors. We watch closely, as that is another signal that fall is coming. First it’s just one branch showing red, on a whole tree of green leaves. Or one single golden leaf. Then, just overnight, it seems, the King’s highway is ablaze with color!
The cold weather continued, through August and into September. Cool night temperatures dipped to cold, and stretched into the daylight hours. We compared the readings on indoor and outdoor thermometers. We asked each other, “how cold did it get?” The farther you live from the Lake Michigan, the more vulnerable you are to early frost. When Doug Tilley reported he’d had to scrape ice from his windshield, I knew my garden was on borrowed time.
On the last day of summer, I filled one basket with spinach leaves, and another with kale. I pulled up the basil, and plucked every precious green leaf off the stems. I picked all of the tomatoes. I was merciless in discarding those with blemishes and bruises. I threw away the ones that were too immature to hold any hope of ripening, and filled one bowl with perfect green tomatoes. The red ones, I lined up on the counter near the sink.
I stacked and stored the metal tomato cages, then filled the wheelbarrow with the vines. I pulled up the cucumber plants, harvesting four that were hiding in the greenery. Squash was next. I saved every blossom. I tossed two tiny butternut squash that had no hope of ripening. The zucchini and other summer squash, which has produced spottily all summer long, served up more than a dozen new fruit, no bigger than my index finger.
I dug the shovel into the ground where my potato plants had been, then pushed my hands into the loosened soil. I was rewarded with a half dozen fist-sized potatoes. I pulled up all the bush beans plants, then yanked out the branches that formed the pole bean teepees. The tall vines yielded a handful of overripe beans that I’d missed when I last gathered them. Everything harvested at this late date seems dear: the last the garden has to offer.
On the last day of summer, I simmered peppers, basil and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar to make a fresh sauce that seemed to capture the essence of the season. I spooned it over diced and roasted potatoes for dinner. Before I went to bed, I put a handful each of dried black beans and great northern beans in a pot. I carefully peeled back the pods of my own pole beans, and added each bean seed to the mix, then added water to let them soak.
On the first day of fall, I made end-of-summer soup. I put the teakettle on to boil, then sliced an X into the top of each ripe tomato, and set them into the sink. When the water boiled, I poured it over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. I drained the soaking water from the bean pot and set it on the stove. As I peeled and rough chopped the tomatoes, I added them to the softened beans, and brought them to a simmer.
As the day progressed, the dry beans softened and took on the flavor of the tomatoes they were stewing in. I cut up the spinach, kale and squash blossoms, and added them to the pot. I chopped up a green pepper, a half head of cauliflower, two stalks of celery and three carrots that were in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator. I diced an onion, and the last of the potatoes. I washed and sliced each tiny, seedless zucchini, letting their fluted edges dress up the mixture. To finish, I tossed in a slight handful of barley, and sprinkled some salt and pepper.
When it was done, I filled a bowl with soup. I carried it outside into a day – the first day in more than a week – that felt like summer. Warm enough to sit outside without a sweater. Warm enough to think, if it weren’t for the calendar, and the fall colors, and the now barren garden spot, that summer was still with us.
We all mark the changing seasons in ways large and small. In my house, warm soup made from the last of the garden’s offerings is a good way to welcome the beginning of fall.
so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.”
~ Victor Hugo
In my on-going, continual effort to (1) organize my life, time, space and daily activities and (2) make actual change to foster personal and creative growth, I came upon the “Open Loops” concept.
According to the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen, “open loops” are any tasks, projects and commitments you’ve started and not finished. “Started” can even mean “had a random thought about doing.” Open loops are not regular tasks that you do automatically. They are not “favorite things.” They are not chores.
Open loops are things that you’ve invited into your brain by starting them, or by acknowledging that you want to start them, or that you should start them. They are physical things, these thoughts and ideas that represent a task or project to be completed. They take up space.
Our brains can only hold so much information in active memory. If you’re holding everything you want or need to do in active memory, you are inviting anxiety. You’ll feel overwhelmed at the number of tasks vying for your attention, and anxious that you’ll forget something.
Open loops foster procrastination, by constantly presenting several optional activities to any job-at-hand. They all feel pressing. They are like promises to yourself. Promises feel urgent, so they end up taking precedence over dreams. No matter how insignificant the open loops. No matter how important the dreams.
Allen’s advice for dealing with open loops? Write them down! Listing all of the onerous little “to-do”s will prevent them from sabotaging legitimate efforts toward progress. Once they are on paper, they no longer need to play constantly at the edges of your thoughts. No need to worry that they’ll be overlooked or forgotten. They have a place.
Now that they are all written down, it becomes obvious that some are trivial, and that others are truly important. Amazing, that they all seemed to carry equal weight when pulling at your attention! You can rank them, now, in order of urgency or significance. There may be some that can simply be crossed off the list. Some can be easily knocked-off by a letter or a phone call. Others will need to be planned for, and scheduled in. On paper, dealing with open loops becomes a real but not insurmountable goal.
My own list, which easily covered two full journal pages, included “thank-you”s and other letters owed, subscriptions to cancel, and phone calls to make. It also had several big projects (move the snowball bush; re-hang the bookshelves), and a few dreaded activities (last year’s taxes, for one). I was able to check many items off in the first week. Others, I continue to plug away at.
Unfortunately, I continue to come across new or forgotten items to add to my list. I may never have a blank page! Still, I find it is helpful to have all of my open loops down on paper, rather than playing constantly around the edges of my mind.
I’m a pretty careful writer, but I’m especially good, if I take the time, at editing. I don’t always do it, though. Sometimes it’s a friend that points out that I’ve used the same descriptive word (often something like “large” or “extremely,” mundane and uninteresting enough if used only once) thirteen times in a single essay. Sometimes I notice a problem (that “friend” showed up as “fried” when I missed the N, for instance) weeks after publishing, leaving me wanting to send each reader an amended copy, with an apology.
In re-reading the story I wrote last week, about being lost in the woods, I came upon a few problems. In one of the first paragraphs, I noted that this incident happened more than twenty years ago, that I worked, then, as the morning server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, and that I did not have dogs at that time. None of these bits of information had anything to do with the story as I wrote it. Why did I even put them in?
Well, actually, I should have also mentioned that my Aunt Katie was still alive, and living here on Beaver Island, and that my walking routine rarely varied at all. Two more loose ends to be sewn up!
The dogs deserved a mention because in the years since then, when I’ve gotten turned around or momentarily disoriented while out berry-picking or searching for morels, the dogs are quite good at finding their way. If I’d had dogs with me, I certainly would not have traversed that wide, watery bog. Thinking of the burs they’d pick up in their fur, I likely would have turned back as soon as the trail narrowed. And maybe they could have led me out when I couldn’t find my way. That’s why I brought up the dogs; I just forgot to bring them to any conclusion.
I mentioned my job at the Shamrock, and my morning coffee drinkers because, as I was wandering through the woods in the middle of the night, I was thinking, “No one knows I’m out here. No one will miss me.” Until, of course, I wasn’t at the restaurant to serve coffee in the morning. Then the coffee drinking group would wonder. They might call my house. Maybe, they’d send out a search party to see if my car was broken down on the side of the road. If they made it all the way to my house, they’d see the dirty dishes I’d left in the sink. Dread!
Finally, they would call my Aunt Katie, to see what was going on. “Her car is in the driveway,” they’d tell her. They’d speculate, together, about various possibilities. Maybe they’d make a call or two, to make sure I wasn’t asleep on the sofa at Emma Jean’s, or out on a boodle with Diane. If they wondered that I got turned around while on a walk, my aunt would be quick to assure them, “Cindy always walks along the road.” So, there would be no way to know that I was back in the trees and bog behind Fox Lake, lost in the woods.
As I wandered that night, and in the years since this happened, these considerations have all seemed an important part of the story. I just presented them, then left them hanging there. It took another entire essay just to sew up the loose ends!
A customer came into the hardware store this week, wanting to purchase a compass. We didn’t have one, but his query reminded me that I have several. Or, at least, I did. After I got lost in the woods, it seemed like I was receiving compasses right and left, from anyone that heard the story. Over the years, I have given away most of them, to grandchildren and others, and probably misplaced a few, too. If I had to, I don’t know if I could put my hands on a single compass in this house today. I hope I don’t have to; I’m pretty careful not to get lost, these days.
Have I told this story here? I can’t remember. I’ll tell it again.
It happened a little more than twenty years ago. I was working as the daytime server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, opening at 7 AM for customers who gathered for conversation with their morning coffee. Then, as now, I was in the habit of taking a daily walk. I did not have dogs, then, so I generally walked alone. That year, I’d set a goal to walk one thousand miles from January to December, so I’d increased my daily distance.
Instead of trekking from my house north to the end of Fox Lake Road and back home, which was two miles, I was going south, to the other end of Fox Lake Road where it meets the West Side Drive, and back again. That was three miles. I’m a steady walker, but not particularly fast. Twenty minutes per mile is my speed, unless I deliberately speed up or slow down. I’d usually set out from home at about five o’clock. Three miles, and I’d be home by six.
One day in late October, I got an early start. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny fall day, and I left my house at four o’clock. One mile south, Hannigan Road bumps up to the Fox Lake Road. On a whim, I turned left onto Hannigan Road, then right onto Middie Perron’s Trail, which starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road. I’d never walked the whole length of the trail, but I’d encountered it from the other end, where it met the Camp #3 Trail.
So, rather than my usual route down the Fox Lake Road and back again, which suddenly seemed so dull, my plan was to take Middie Perron’s Trail to the Camp #3 Trail, which would then take me out to the end of Fox Lake Road, where it met the West Side Drive. I’d see more of the beautiful fall foliage, and have a different than usual view. If it turned into a longer walk, it was no problem, because I’d gotten an early start.
Now, I should mention that, at that time, we’d had three nights in a row so dark that neither the moon or a single star was visible in the sky. That played a part in the decisions I made. The other thing was my dislike for retracing my steps. When lost, I’d rather go forward and find my way than turn around. It has gotten me in trouble while driving, and it caused me some trouble when out walking that evening.
Middie Perron’s Trail curved and zig-zagged. It narrowed from a rustic, leaf-covered two-track down to a skinny trail barely wide enough to squeeze through. Blackberry brambles grew up on either side, and arched overhead. The sun sat low over the treetops to the west. If the sun went down, and I was left in a night as dark as the last three had been, would I be able to find my way forward on this path? Could I find my way back, if I turned around?
In a moment that seemed like a flash of courageous genius, and quickly proved itself to be otherwise, I made a decision. I turned off the trail and walked directly, through tall grass, small trees and towering, thorny brambles, toward the setting sun. West, just a short trek through the wilderness, to the Fox Lake Road. Some things I forgot, didn’t know, or didn’t factor in, when choosing that course:
Just because Middie Perron’s Trail starts out parallel to the Fox Lake Road, it does not remain so;
Neither Fox Lake Road nor Middie Perron’s Trail run exactly north/south because of all the twists and turns they both have;
The sun does not set exactly to the west all year, and in the late fall of the year it is decidedly off course;
Fox Lake bog, which makes much of the land in the vicinity of Fox Lake very swampy, especially in the spring and fall;
Fox Lake. Yes, the entire lake stood between me, on Middie Perron’s Trail, and the Fox Lake Road, that was, in my foolish estimation, “just a short way to the west.”
I walked away from the trail. I pushed through thorn bushes and sharp grasses until I was far enough from where I’d started, I knew I couldn’t find my way back. That’s when I came upon a huge wet area. I looked back, considering. I looked ahead. Clumps of tall reeds grew from bits of earth rising up out of the shallow water. I went forward. I propelled myself from one bit of land to the next, clinging to low branches and reeds, and now and then sinking in up to my knees in cold water.
Many times, as I maneuvered through the muck, I thought I was making a big mistake. The way back, though, seemed just as scary and treacherous as the way forward. When, at last, I was through the boggy area and on dry land, there was no choice but to continue forward; I was not going to tackle that watery obstacle course again! Some things worked in my favor:
Though it was late in October, the weather was good. It was warm enough so that I was comfortable in a light jacket. It wasn’t windy or rainy. I wasn’t cold, even when wet;
The moon came up full and bright that night;
I knew, from observation, that the moon rose in the east and set in the west, so I could prevent myself from walking in circles by using it as a guide;
I was accustomed to walking, and in pretty good shape.
Once the earth under my feet was solid rather than liquid, and the moon was out, I started methodically trying to find my way. Keeping the moon behind me, I walked until I reached water. I carefully walked into the water until I was sure it was not just a puddle, then back-tracked. I did the same thing with the moon on my right side, then left, then straight in front of me. I seemed to be surrounded by water.
I continued in this way for several hours, changing the angle slightly each time. As the moon rose higher in the sky, I had better visibility. One body of water was a creek. Great! Any river or creek will lead to a lake. At that point, I didn’t care if that would be Fox Lake, or Lake Michigan; either would give me access, eventually, to a road.
I followed the creek until it spilled out shallowly over a large area of wet land, with no clear edges to follow. I turned and followed it in the other direction. When it appeared to turn into a large body of water, I tried to follow that around the perimeter. Every lake has an access road, after all. That, too became impossible to follow, spreading out into watery swamp filled with willow-like branches.
In this way, I continued on, through the night. Once, I tried calling out for help; not appearing to be anywhere near human habitation, that seemed like a waste of energy. I never panicked, but grew increasingly frustrated. At one point, I cried. I was tired, but never considered stopping, even just for a rest.
Eventually, I came upon a pile of cut logs in a clearing. They were dark, and moss-covered, indicating that they’d been there for quite a while, but I could still see the slashes of red paint on their ends that the loggers marked them with. There would be a road, leading to this spot! I scrambled over cut logs and through piles of brush until I found it. It was a narrow two-track; the deep tire ruts were filled with muddy water. Still, it was a grand sight to me!
I stayed on that path, sloshing through the mud when I had to but never considering changing course, until it came out onto West Side Drive. I got my bearings there, and walked north until West Side Drive met the Fox Lake Road. And that road took me home.
I walked into my house, and looked at the clock. It was just after two in the morning. I’d been walking pretty steadily for about ten hours! I peeled off wet clothes, brushed pickers and twigs from my hair, and stood for a long time in a hot shower, relieved to have finally found my way out of the woods. That’s my story of being lost.
Night before last, I couldn’t get to sleep. I tried! It was one of those nights, though, that, no matter how much nighttime ritual is observed and despite how long I lay in bed waiting for it, sleep would not come. Yesterday, I was tired and cranky. Last night, I went to bed early, and fell asleep right away. Because today is my day off, and I had a sleepless night to make up for, I didn’t set an alarm. I should have.
I woke up this morning, too early. I felt well rested. Based on the quality of light coming through the window, I decided it must be 5 AM, or thereabouts. I get up at 5 AM on the days that I have to be at work by eight o’clock. I congratulated myself on becoming an early-riser, and on being able to tell time by the color of the sky. I counted backwards to bedtime, and determined that I had gotten enough sleep, though barely.
I fluffed the pillow and rolled over. Maybe I could fall back asleep for an hour or two. Seven o’clock would be good. I’d be well rested and ready to tackle the day. I started going over in my mind all the things I want to accomplish on this one day off. Why not just get up, and get started? I could always catch an afternoon nap, or go to bed early again tonight. Just think of all that I could get done, with an early start! I’m awake, anyway, may as well be up.
Having convinced myself, I slid upward on the mattress to try not to disturb the two chihuahuas that sleep on either side of me. I found my glasses on the low shelf beside the bed, and headed for the bathroom. On the way, turned on the coffee pot. Washed hands, brushed teeth. Pulled on socks, because the floor is chilly. Added my cozy robe. As I stopped in the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee, I noticed the green, glowing numbers of the clock on the back of the stove. Three o’clock in the morning!?!
Next, ensued a debate with myself. Do I lay back down immediately, and try to go back to sleep? If so, do I leave the coffee pot on, to get strong and syrupy while I sleep? If I turn it off, I’ll have to reheat it in a pan, as I don’t have a microwave oven, and it never tastes like it should when it’s reheated on the stove top. If I go back to bed, will I be able to get to sleep, or will I just toss and turn? If I stay up, will I continue to feel wide awake, giving myself an advantage over my long “to-do” list, or will I peter out for lack of sleep?
Once I pour a cup of coffee, the decision is made. What to do, what to do? What made me so sure that the middle of the night was morning? How could I possibly feel well rested? And what if clocks had never been invented: would I be up and feeling fine, or still asleep? My big chihuahua got out of bed, shook herself all over, and managed a couple yoga poses (Downward Dog is her specialty) on her way to the door. Okay, that clinches it. I poured a cup of coffee. Up before dawn; I’ll see how the day unfolds.
In years now long past, I went swimming in Lake Michigan early in June. By mid-summer, I was accustomed to the bracing water; by August the big lake seemed almost welcoming. I was used to it. That’s not the way it is any more. Nowadays, I rarely go to the beach, and I almost never swim. When I do get to the shore, as I did when my sisters were here on vacation, it takes quite a bit of self-talk before I even dip my toes in the cold water. It’s much harder these days. A lot of things are like that.
August 11th marked the passage of another year since my mother died. She has, almost unbelievably, been gone from this earth for nine years now. Because memories attach themselves to momentous events, whether happy or sad, that also reminds me that my little dogs are nine years old, as they were born in February of that same year. It gives me an idea of how long my brother has been living in the family home, and how long my sisters and I have been gathering for vacations together. Because I started this blog as a reaction to my mother’s death, I know, too, that I’ve been doing this for close to nine years.
Nine years! I’ve published a blog at least once or twice a week pretty regularly. I spent one year writing every single day, and I usually participate in the “April A ~ Z Challenge,” which involves writing every day except Sundays, through the month of April. Judging by my record with commitments, this blog has been a major success! Until this summer.
What happened? I’m not sure. A few “off” days; difficulty finding a relatable topic; a sick dog; not enough of a schedule in my days, switching quickly to too many obligations in any given day; justifications and excuses…and just like that, a habit fell apart. Not just any habit, but one that I was confidant was so firmly ingrained in my weekly routine that I didn’t have to worry about it, like brushing my teeth, or reading before bed.
I should know better. Over the years, I’ve watched other good habits fall by the wayside. One bad winter and a decade-long walking routine falls apart; a few days of giving in to exhaustion, and a cleaning/tidying habit goes out the window as clutter piles up around me. This I know: it’s easier to maintain a habit, even through hard seasons, than it is to resuscitate a habit that has been allowed to die.
In trying to honor the habits that make up my routine, my rule is, “don’t break the chain.” I like the rows of X’s that mark things completed, day after day. When that’s impossible, I tell myself, “don’t miss twice.” That way, one bad day doesn’t destroy all the diligence that has gotten me to that point. The behavior is still intact. When that fails, the habit is at risk. And that’s the point I’m afraid I’ve come to with this blog.
So, here I am, dipping my toes in the water. I don’t have much of interest to say. If I stand here long enough, I’ll get accustomed to the cold. I’ll warm up to topics that I can elaborate on. If I keep returning to it, it will start to feel welcoming again. For now, I’m just here.
Two weeks ago, I was on top of things. At least that’s how it seems, looking back from my present situation, which is polar opposite of “on top of things.” Today, it seems like I’m on the bottom of a very large pile of things, scrambling to get my footing. What happened?
It was just about two weeks ago when my sisters started arriving for their week-long Beaver Island vacation. I’d had a good summer up to that point, both relaxing and productive. My garden was doing well, the house was in order, and work was progressing nicely in the studio. I was working a few days a week, but was looking forward to more time than usual with my family.
Cheryl arrived on Saturday. I stopped at the family farmhouse after work to say hello. We made plans to meet later for dinner and a trip to the cemetery to plant flowers, and I went home to take care of my dogs. They met me at the kitchen door. I gave them a good greeting, and we went for a long walk. I wandered through the garden to pull a few weeds and pick what was ripe. Inside, I packaged up my contribution to dinner, and started to fill the dog’s dishes for their evening meal.
It was only then that I glanced into the front room. What in the world?!
My bookshelves had given way, spilling their contents all over the room. My little television was dangling by its electrical cord. The stereo was face down on the floor. Books were strewn over every surface. Baskets, once filled with yarn, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and assorted on-going projects, had been relieved of their contents, too. I was thankful that the dogs, often sleeping right in the path of all of the destruction, had not been hurt. I assessed the damage, made a few necessary adjustments, fed the dogs, and went out the door to keep my plans.
So, it was several hours later when I sifted through the mess to make some sense of it, and cleared enough of a path through the room to make it usable. Cheryl had offered several times to come and help me, but I declined. The room is small, and the mess was huge. Even alone, I often had difficulty finding a place to step; there was no room for a second person.
Books had to be picked from the shelves before the shelves could be moved. Sometimes, removing the books caused a shelf to slide away in an unexpected direction. It was a long, tedious process. By the time I went to bed, I had a huge pile of books in a corner, and a stack of shelves against one wall. The supports were in a mound on the dining room floor, and the TV was on the table. And, my back was out.
And, two weeks later, that’s exactly where everything still is. Because, the next day, I worked eight hours. And my back was still causing problems. And, three more sisters arrived, along with husbands, friends and one niece. My brother-in-law, Keith, brought up my shelves more than once; if I’d asked, I’m sure he would have helped me tackle the project. I didn’t ask. One week is a short time to visit with loved ones that I see only a few times in an entire year. That was my priority.
Meals together; game nights; beach time; catching up on family happenings, mutual acquaintances, general news and health updates after months apart: that was most important to me. That’s how my time was best spent, and I don’t regret it a bit. I took time away from work last Sunday to – sadly – see the last of my family off on the ferry boat.
Monday, I went back to work at the hardware store, after a four-month hiatus. Many of the summer workers my boss had hired are going back to college, so my job was available again. Continuing to honor commitments I took on in the meantime, I am now suddenly working six days a week. And, boy, am I out of practice! This is exhausting! In addition, over the course of the last two weeks, weeds have taken over my garden and the grass needs to be mowed.
Today is my only day off. The electric screwdriver is on the charger; if it charges, I’ll be able to tackle the bookshelves. I bought gas for the lawnmower. Bed linens are in the washer; I plan to hang them on the line to dry. I’m going to take all the rugs outside to shake them, and sweep through the house. I intend to make some salads to carry for my lunches this week. Big plans…if I ever find the energy to get out of this chair!
The grass in my front yard is longer than it’s been all summer. Weeds are gaining the advantage in the garden. More than a week ago, the bookshelves in my living room collapsed. Since then, I’ve had a small television set on the dining room table, baskets of yarn and embroidery floss tucked onto other surfaces wherever they’d fit, and a huge mound of books stacked in front of the front door. The shelves are stacked against one wall; the supports against another. I haven’t stepped foot in the studio in a week. I’ve missed at least three blogging days.
Normally, situations like this drive me crazy. Disorganized procrastinator that I am, I often find myself behind. Usually, I hate it. I berate myself for my laziness and neglect; I rant and rail about all the obligations that keep me from my tasks. I feel anxious and frustrated. Not this time!
My sisters came to the island last week! It was a welcome and long overdue chance to catch up. I spent the whole week enjoying their good company and smiling faces. I relished every conversation, loved every shared experience, and basked in the feelings of comfort and joy that come from sharing time with people I love. I’m behind, yes, but happily so. It was absolutely worth it!