Category Archives: Life

The Color Red

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Like me (or rather I, like her), Mom’s favorite color was red. From the tomatoes she canned, to the handbags she carried, to the bright autumn hues that she loved best, the color red wound its way through all of her life.

When Dad built a large kitchen onto the side of our house to accommodate the needs of their growing family, Mom chose red for the color scheme. The floor was linoleum, in a pattern of black, red and gray. The counter tops were red bordered with crisp chrome edging. The cupboards were painted pale gray (I was surprised to learn they weren’t white!) and trimmed with deep red enamel.

For most of my childhood, the family car was a red station wagon. When one needed to be retired, it would be replaced with another, almost identical. Though Mom didn’t drive, Dad chose red for her.

For church-going, Mom had a red felt hat. It sat a little off to the side on her head, and had a little bit of matching red netting that could be pulled down in front. Mom had a pair of red high heeled shoes, though I don’t remember her wearing them. Before I grew up, Mom had eschewed most of her heels for more practical, comfortable shoes.

Red roses were Mom’s favorite. The smell of rose still makes me think of her! As children, we’d often call Perkin’s Flower Shop in time for Mom’s birthday, and have a dozen red roses delivered for her. “Would you like that put on the account?” they’d ask, and we’d happily answer, “Yes!” I wonder how many bouquets Mom had to factor into her budget over the years. She never let on, and never complained.

As a young woman, my mother liked lipstick. Not every day, but for church, or any occasion that warranted “dressing up.” She favored bright, intense hues like the movie stars wore. Mom’s smile was one of her best features, and she played it to its best advantage. With her large blue eyes and her wavy, black hair, she could pull it off, too. Those crimson shades looked good on her!

As she got older and her hair went to white, Mom toned down her color choices. Pinks replaced the deeper tones in clothing, accessories and lipstick. It was a good choice; red might have been too strong for her softer features. Still, red is the color I most often associate with her.

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Beginning the Year with A, B, and C

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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!

What’s Remembered; What’s Forgotten

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Starting off with what’s forgotten:

  • I did not pack my 52 Lists For Happiness book. The one that I have been basing these Sunday lists on for all of this year. Today should be the last list of the year. Maybe even the last list forever…or at least until the author comes up with another book that piques my interest. Though I glanced at the last page, I can’t remember what the directive was. So, since I’m four hundred miles away from my book, cozy right now in my sister Brenda’s house in Lapeer, Michigan, the blog based on that list will have to wait until I get home.
  • I forgot an envelope of photographs that I’d had copied for my daughters, sisters and brother.
  • I forgot my medicine. One pill for thyroid function; another to control my cholesterol. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve done this before. I may be tired or a little out of sorts, but will be able to get back on track as soon as I get home. It’s just frustrating. Medicine is always on the top of my “What to Pack” list.
  • I forgot the way to my daughter’s house. Though I’ve been there several times, I felt like I wasn’t sure of the way, so I pulled up directions on the computer. They gave me a different route than I’ve taken before, which threw me off a little, and I ended up having to circle back ten miles to get better information.
  • I’m forgetting a lot of semi-useless information lately. Last night, my daughter, my granddaughter and I were discussing Gone with the Wind. I was trying to tell them about a chapter in Pat Conroy’s autobiography that spoke eloquently about his mother and the influence Gone with the Wind, the book and later the movie, had on her life. I couldn’t remember Pat Conroy’s name, but I knew they’d be familiar with the movie based on another of his books. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie. Barbra Streisand starred in it, though, as well as a good-looking blonde actor who’s name I also couldn’t remember. Also, Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother, whose name escaped me. And, it turns out, I couldn’t really relate with much accuracy exactly what he had said about Gone with the Wind! It was like jibberish, coming out of my mouth! Well, today I have managed to come up with Pat Conroy’s name, as well as The Prince of Tides, Nick Nolte and Blythe Danner…but would still stumble when trying to relate Conroy’s mother’s take on the book and movie up for discussion!

But on to what is remembered:

  • I remembered to pack everything my dogs will need at the kennel while I’m away. I have, in the past, forgotten Rosa Parks’s special dish. The last time I left, I forgot to pack their treats. This time, all of their medicines, with instructions, were in the bag as well as food, treats, the special dish for Rosa Parks, and a toy for Darla. Plus a Christmas morning goody for each of them.
  • I remembered all the packages and gifts, plus the Christmas game.
  • I remembered to bring comfortable shoes.
  • I remembered how much I hate driving on the freeway, especially in the winter. And driving at night, with wet roads, and reflections from street lights and car lights adding to the confusion.
  • Beyond that, I have never forgotten how nice it is to be down here, in the area where I grew up. The area feels familiar, even through all the changes that have happened. The people I’m spending time with are those that I love and feel comfortable with. And that love and appreciate me. It’s the best way to spend the holiday!

Wishing all the best to all of you this holiday season!

Dogs (Especially Darla)

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Rosa Parks gets a lot of attention. She demands it. She has no qualms about scratching on the door twelve times in an hour, if she feels neglected, just for the little rub behind the ears she’ll get, whether or not she actually steps outside. She’ll disturb whatever activities I am involved in – doing dishes, writing, sleeping – to request a lift onto a piece of furniture, a bit of attention, or a treat. Right now, she is sitting at my feet, whining, because she knows I am enjoying a piece of buttered toast…and she has none.

I talk and write about Rosa Parks frequently, because there always seems to be something to say. She is so darn cute! Her name makes me smile. She has a strong personality, in good ways and bad. She will crawl right up to nuzzle my neck when she senses that I’ve had a bad day. She has no qualms about growling, snarling, or even snapping at the groomer, the veterinarian, or even me. She has to be put into “time-out” when company comes. I’ve had Rosa Parks the longest of my two dogs. If I were forced to choose a favorite, I’m afraid Rosa Parks would be it.

But I do have two dogs, and I love both of them. Darla gets side-lined sometimes, because she’s quieter in her requests. When she wants to be let outside or inside, she stands calmly at the door, no scratching or commotion. If I don’t notice, or can’t make it to the door right away, she will eventually furrow her brow and give out a slight whine.

Darla is too big to sit on my lap, so she settles for staying as close to me as possible. When I come out of the bathroom, she is always right there, waiting at the door. If I’m upstairs, she’s pacing below. If I stay up there too long, she will nervously climb the stairs. When I’m sitting at the desk, she is on her dog bed, right behind me. Sometimes Darla examines the tiny space under the desk, where Rosa Parks often sleeps on a rug at my feet, wishing that she could fit under there, too.

Darla is the best dog for a walking companion. When Rosa Parks joins us, I shorten the distance, because her little legs will only carry her so far. She doesn’t like crossing the road, and often has to be carried. She doesn’t like walking through mud. When she goes exploring through the brush on the sides of the path, I get nervous about predators, and have to call her back to me. She doesn’t always come.

Now and then, though, Darla and I sneak out for a walk, just the two of us. She’ll stick right with me, happily, no matter which direction I head or how far I go. She explores, but doesn’t wander too far from me. She comes when she’s called. She is friendly with anyone we encounter along the way. And for the entire distance, her ears bounce up and down – like the wings of a bird – in time with the wagging of her tail.

Recently, both of my dogs received Christmas presents through the mail. Two chew toys, and two stuffed animals. Rosa Parks feigned interest, but she doesn’t really enjoy toys. Darla was ecstatic! And, claimed every toy as her own. At one point, she was sitting on one stuffed animal, had the second one right beside her, and had both chew toys in her mouth. When I put one near Rosa, Darla whimpered and paced, and employed every distraction she could think of until she was able to reclaim it.

Darla’s favorite, now that she’s had time to get used to them, is the little, hot pink, stuffed dog with a crazy, tooth-full grin. She just loves it! It stays with her, wherever she goes inside the house. She tries to take it outside with her, but I won’t let her. She drops her toys when she gets outside, and forgets where she left them, so I make her leave that precious pink dog in the house.

When Darla’s ready to come back in, she sees the toy sitting there, on the floor, waiting for her. No more the calm, patient, uncomplaining dog that I’m used to, Darla stands right up on her hind legs and paws madly at the glass door. She barks until I get there to open it. She charges in, full steam, and pounces protectively onto the stuffed animal. Whew! She has once again saved it from Rosa Parks! The pink dog grins.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #51

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List the ways you have invested in your happiness this year: 

  • I took more time, this year, to spend with family and friends. That included taking a spring vacation with my sisters, making time for friends when they visited Beaver Island, allowing for a couple extra days off when my sisters and their families were here on the island, going on a trip with my daughter, Kate, and her family, and meeting my friend, Linda, on the mainland this fall for shopping and catching up. I’m preparing to go down-state for Christmas, too, to spend the holiday with my family. I’m hoping to squeeze in a visit with another friend, too.
  • I made a point of prioritizing my art career this year. I finished several pieces that have been “in progress” for too long, and discarded a few others that no longer stirred my interest. I invested in materials for encaustic painting, and researched a couple workshops to delve further into that process. I planned and taught a drawing class. Recently, I’ve been putting out feelers about getting my work in a new gallery.
  • I’ve tried, this year, to cut myself a little slack. I don’t have to be so hard on myself. I’m barely concerned, for instance, that this blog is a whole day late. Who cares?!
  • I bought a new pillow. It’s a huge improvement over the small sofa cushion I had been using as a pillow for the last several years. It makes me happy every time I lay my head down on it.
  • Along those same lines, I bought a new bed. My last bed came from the re-sale shop: $5.00 for the headboard and footboard; $15.00 for the flat springs; and $20.00 to pay the young man that delivered it to my house. I spent another three dollars on a can of spray paint to dress it up, and put it all together with a mattress I already owned. That was two years ago. I didn’t realize that all flat springs are not the same, and that they are not all suitable for adults. The bed drooped instantly, just from the weight of the mattress. It sagged worse when I got into bed. Every movement caused discomfort. Rolling from one side to the other was painful. Getting in or out of bed was a chore. I spent an hour every morning just trying to un-kink my body from the torture I’d put it through. Buying a bed through the mail is a scary proposition. It’s hard, also, to compete with the great deal I got on that miserable bed. Facing the end of the year, knowing that one of my New Year’s resolutions will drastically curb my spending habits, I finally made the leap. The bed arrived last week. I assembled it in an evening. I put a new mattress pad on top of the old mattress, and arranged it on the wood slats that replace springs on this new bed. I was correct that the mattress was not the problem. This new bed is heavenly! Supportive, comfortable, and good-looking, too!
  • I reclaimed Christmas as my favorite holiday. In most areas of my life, as chance or circumstance alters my course, I don’t let my situation dictate my level of participation in life. I never planned on living alone, especially not here on Beaver Island, far from siblings, children and grandchildren. Over the years, I’ve lost family, friends and acquaintances here: some moved away; some died. My jobs have changed, due to businesses failing or opportunities falling through. I continue on. But not concerning this holiday. Regarding Christmas, when I no longer had friends or family to share it with, I let it go by the wayside. Maybe a few contemplative moments in the morning; perhaps a shot of Irish Creme in my coffee, in honor of the special day; probably a nice dinner with kind folks who invited me to share. No decorations, though. Not for just me. Too depressing. Too stark of a contrast from holiday memories of big family gathering, with lots of noise and laughter and children. Well, this year I said to hell with that attitude. This year, I took back the joy to be found in putting up a tree, pulling out decorations, and sifting through memories. This year, there are Christmas lights in the evenings, and carols playing on the stereo. On the side table, there is a basket full of Christmas cards from years past, each holding the place of another time, stirring fresh reminiscences. Often, there are cookies near the big basket of oranges in the kitchen, and a long row of “Santa”s peer down from the shelf. All just for me! And I’m happy!

I Hold Back

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Social media has changed the way we interact with one another. We go there, to Facebook or Twitter, or other sites, to be more social. We want to meet new people. We want an easy way to keep up with the day-to-day events in the lives of family and friends. We want to catch up with  others that we’ve lost contact with.

Social media helps. A few minutes on Facebook each day, and I feel like I’ve got a good idea of what is going with my family. It has enabled me to broaden my awareness beyond my closest relatives. I can keep in touch with cousins, ex in-laws, and distant relatives. I am reminded of birthdays and anniversaries. I see how the children are growing, along with their Halloween costumes, report cards, and visits with Santa. I get an overview of who is doing what, from getting a driver’s license, to starting a new job, to retiring.

As for friends, Facebook has opened the floodgates! Without a shadow of doubt, I have way more friends on social media than I have ever had in real life! And they are all there together: the ones I went to grade school or high school with; those that I know through my job, or some other previous job; others that I met through another friend, or member of my family; and the few who were my friends before social media made it so easy.

I’m not complaining. It has been wonderful to re-connect with people who I knew fifty years ago, and to realize that our lives have often run along parallel lines, and to see that we – after all these years – can relate. Social media is a convenient way to stay in touch. I am aware of vacation trips and diets, illnesses and deaths that  otherwise I might not know about.

Still, there are drawbacks. You can speak out when writing, without seeing the reaction of those people you are speaking to. I know that lack of immediate, visual response has changed us. As I write this, I can only assume that readers are intent on every single word I type. If I were speaking to you in person, I might notice your attention wavering, and have the good sense to quit yammering on.

Social media, where we never see the reaction our words evoke, has made people, in general, more confrontational, argumentative, and disrespectful. Meaner. It has also led to an awful lot of over-sharing. It’s not our fault. We cannot see the eye-roll brought on by the one-hundredth picture of our child, pet, or restaurant meal. We can’t observe the averted glance that would let us know, in face-to-face conversation, that our political rant was falling on deaf ears. We can’t immediately see that we have shamed, embarrassed, or hurt someone’s feelings. With that in mind, I hold back.

I have strong political opinions, and work toward specific ends. I vote; I write my representatives; I make phone calls. Sometimes, I protest.  But on social media, I refrain. I argue for a point now and then; I sometimes post an opinion piece written by someone who can speak to my beliefs much better than I can; I do a lot of fact-checking. That’s all.

I am often tempted to show off a particularly good-looking meal, or speak about the foul mood I woke up in. Usually, I hold back. Or, if it’s really something good enough – or awful enough – to warrant an image or a rant, I write a blog rather than just a Facebook post. That way, I can yammer on incessantly.

Today is my youngest daughter’s birthday. I thought about posting a photo of Kate and me together, on Facebook, in honor of her special day. I held back. Kate is beautiful now, as she always has been. But the true purpose of my actions would be to show myself when I was younger and prettier. The fact is, though there are photos of the two of us that show me with long hair, or dark hair, or fewer wrinkles, I was unfortunately never any better looking than I am now.

The only photo of myself – recent or not – that is actually worth posting is the one my sisters and I call “the bathing suit picture.” It was taken a few years ago, on a “sister’s vacation” in Florida. I had convinced a one-armed man (another story, for another time) to snap a photo of us – six sisters – in our bathing suits, sitting around the edge of the pool.

It was just a stroke of luck that, in lining ourselves up in age order, I ended up in the perfect position for a good picture. All of my body fat was hidden by the arms of the  sisters on either side! I look absolutely svelte! Not so, my other sisters, in less fortunate positions. Brenda and Amy, at either end, look absolutely huge!

Because it is such a flattering photo of me, I have posted it often. First, to chronicle my vacation for all of my Facebook “family.” Then, on the first, second and third anniversary of that vacation. Or whenever Florida comes up in conversation. Or bathing suits. My sisters don’t like it, and question my motives each time. I can’t think of how I could possibly tie in that Florida vacation photo to my daughter’s birthday. So, once again, I hold back.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #50

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List some images that make you happy:

[Funny, isn’t it, how memories attach themselves to photographic images? The image stimulates the memory much like a particular scent will bring back a person, a time or a place. Even when the photograph is no longer around, the mind holds the memory of the image, and the image releases the memory of the actual event. I keep a “collection” of photographic images in my mind, each capable of opening up to another time, and revisiting people who are changed, or gone.]

  • I took a photo of my brother David, when I was sixteen and trying out my brand new Kodak Instamatic camera. David was five years old. We were here on Beaver Island, on vacation, on the beach at Iron Ore Bay. David had stripped down to his underwear, and was headed for the water: hands in the air, arms every which way and legs at a dead run. I caught the moment when both of his feet were in mid-air. David’s been gone from this earth for more than eight years. He was jaundiced and bloated, barely able to walk the last time I saw him. But that spitfire, energy-filled little boy, running through the sand toward the water…that’s the image of David that I hold in my mind.
  • In the mid-seventies, I photographed my two young daughters, sitting together in our living room, in the avocado green beanbag chair. Jen was playing on her little guitar; Kate’s head was tilted onto Jen’s shoulder. Both were singing. Everything in the picture, from their clothes to the beanbag chair, speaks of that time period. And that was a very good time in my life.
  • I took a picture last week of my Christmas tree. Crooked, scrawny and spare as it was, the image makes me happy. The tree did, too, but it turns out my little dog is allergic to it, so it had to go. I picked up a replacement at the re-sale shop (for only three dollars!), and spent an enjoyable evening undressing one tree, and dressing another. The artificial tree doesn’t make Rosa Parks itch, and – truth be told – it has a fuller, more symmetrical appearance than the other. This one makes me happy, too!

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