Category Archives: Life

Good Things




Sometimes it’s easiest to see what’s wrong: with a particular situation, or a day, or with the whole world. It takes more energy to find the good things. Not always, though. There are times when my natural propensity for looking at the negative flies right out the window. I am left, then, with a humble appreciation of my rich life, and all the blessings in it.

I’ve had a lovely weekend. Well-balanced. It was productive, but not in a crazy-making way, where I plan more projects than I could possibly ever finish. Busy, but not too busy. I put laundry on the line…but also sat on the shore, reading, for one entire afternoon. I tended the garden, but also wandered the fields to collect wildflowers. I went over my notes for a class I am planning, and put hanging wires on a dozen framed collages. Then, I spent the rest of the day in my studio in frivolous and playful pursuits. I cooked and cleaned, but also took time to relax.

I could list the things I didn’t accomplish; there are quite a few. But why? They’ll be there, waiting for me. Right now, I’d rather just relish the good things.


dried Rhododendron flowers make a nice bouquet


wildflowers make another


one almost-ripe tomato, two days before I harvested it for a wonderful BLT


a row of collages, ready for the Museum Week Art Show


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 29



List the happiest and funniest stories and news you’ve heard lately:

  • I cheered, just like everyone else, for the successful rescue of the young boys trapped in a cave. With water rising, monsoon season coming, and the whole world watching, it was high drama with a happy ending.
  • Rain, this week, was a relief for many of us around the state of Michigan. It has been a hot, dry season. Our “extreme fire danger” status has been lifted, which is excellent news in this season that brings so many campers to our woods.
  • My best friend, Linda, turned sixty-six years old yesterday. That’s almost unbelievable…and funny (though not unbelievably funny)…because my birthday is not that far away, and then I’ll be 66, too. How has it happened that we, who met in the sixth grade and bonded over a mutual love of mischief-making, have grown so old?  When we were both eleven-years-old, Linda’s perfect Yogi Bear imitation made me laugh. Over the years, my best – rolling on the floor, laughing ’til my belly hurt, almost peed my pants – laughs have been with Linda. Our lives have carried us from marbles, pull-over sweaters and the Beatles; to husbands, housework and babies; to single-life adventures with teen-aged children; to all the things that make life enjoyable today. One of the best things is having Linda, who maybe knows me better than anyone (possible exception: my sister, Brenda), still in my life. We share interests in feminism, activism, art, cooking, gardening and books. And, after all these years, we still share some of the best laughs.
  • I have this Sunday off, for the first time since April. I’m almost giddy with all the possibilities! What I am not going to do is spend it sitting in this computer chair. So, as my mother used to say, “up and at ’em!”


Summer Lows



“Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.”  ~Richard Bach

“Nobody likes me; everybody hates me/ I’m gonna eat some worms!”   ~nursery rhyme

“Keep it up, and I’ll give you something to cry about!”   ~my Dad

I have nothing to be unhappy about. I live in reasonable comfort on a beautiful island. My health is good. People like me. I have nice neighbors, good friends, and a wonderful family. I have a decent job that supports me. I have two sweet dogs that adore me. And yet, difficult as it may seem, at times I can manage to be downright miserable. It happened this last weekend.

I’d had a particularly busy week at work. My already long days were made longer because I was staying after-hours to cut plexiglas to fit frames for a series of collages. I was tired, and looking forward to my days off. I was scheduled to have a three day weekend, my first Sunday off since April. It would do me good, and allow me to catch up on yard work and finish getting my artwork ready to show.

Saturday, I ran down to meet the ferry boat when it came in to our harbor. I expected my niece to be on it. It turned out I was mistaken about the date, and she was not there. I didn’t realize, until then, how much I’d been looking forward to seeing her. What a disappointment!

Later that day, I overheard my co-worker making plans for Sunday. “You know, you’re scheduled to work on Sunday,” I reminded him. Clearly he had not remembered; obviously, he was unhappy about it. I offered to work in his place. It wasn’t a big deal; I work almost every single Sunday all year ’round. I’m used to it. Still, something like that is perfect fodder when my mood wants to dip into the self-pity realm.

Sunday morning, up early, I sat down at the computer to write my blog. Turning to week #28 in my 52 Lists for Happiness book, I found, “List the projects you have been meaning to work on and finish.” What?!? I, the queen of good intentions and unfinished projects, could write an encyclopedia on the subject, not simply a list! What kind of exercise in humiliation is this? By that time, it seemed that even “the 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project” had turned on me! I spewed out one good example before heading out the door for work.

Sunday was busy, with lots of customers and in-coming freight. I mixed fourteen gallons of paint, cut several keys, and put together an extensive special order for eavestrough. I had a dozen customers come in after closing time. Then, when I was finally able to lock the door and turn out the lights, I clocked out, then went to the basement to finish my plexiglas.

By the time I got home, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I took the dogs to Fox Lake, made a simple supper, and was in bed before 9 PM. Wide awake at 2 AM, I read, paced the floor, worried about a hundred nonsensical things, and did some journal writing. I was finally able to sleep for a couple hours at dawn. By Monday morning, I was a mess: sad, sorry, depressed, full of self-pity and certain that everybody was picking on me.

It happens just that quickly. Life is normal, even happy, going along on an even keel. Then, a series of small occurrences cause imbalance. Lack of sleep. Disappointment. Physical tiredness. Stress. I know the contributing factors. It used to be, those low moods would last for weeks, or even months. Not anymore.

I know how to take care off myself, when I feel depression coming. I know how to get through it, too. Self-care is important. A soothing cup of tea, a hot bath, an afternoon nap, a good “comfort food” meal: what seems like indulgence is simply taking care of myself. Physical exertion, whether through exercise or, for instance, scrubbing a floor can go a long way to alleviate  feeling low.

It’s helpful to remember to NOT  take this time to vent to others. It’s okay to say “I’m depressed (or frustrated, disappointed or sad),” and to ask for understanding or help. It’s not a good idea to try to place blame on others for my own feelings. Any attempts to do that will only necessitate apologies later.

Beyond that, I reassure myself that the mood won’t last…and it won’t. Even at the worst of times, my life is pretty darn good…and I know it.


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #28



List the projects you have been meaning to work on and finish:

[One thing this “list project” does is make me aware of the passage of time. List #28 means that we are already more than halfway through this year. That information, combined with this particular list, makes me feel far behind in everything, and more than a little bit discouraged. To spare myself utter despondency, I am going to list only one project. I assure you, I have many more!]

The FLOOR. It is a lifetime project, I guess.

My floor started as a cement slab, that was poured too thin, and developed several large cracks almost immediately. That was my floor, though, for about twelve years. It was just plain cement for a few years, until I got tired of the gray color, and the cement dust that was constant as the Beaver Island sands wore away the surface. Then I painted it.

Painted or not, the cement was always exactly as cold as the ground outside. It held the winter’s cold, and radiated it, no matter how many rugs and carpet scraps were added to ward off the chill. Double layers of socks followed with heavy slippers were mandatory.

Finally, I had the floor covered with foam board insulation followed with sheets of particle board. Though it didn’t lay completely flat because of the uneven cement beneath it, and there were large cracks where the boards didn’t quite meet, it was a huge improvement. That is my floor, to this day.

Over the last twenty years, I have filled the cracks and painted the wood. I’ve watched as, over time, the filler crumbled out and the paint wore off (not evenly, of course). Since 1984, I’ve had a dozen different plans for a finished floor. I have considered everything from hardwood to laminate to sheet vinyl flooring.

I’ve been foiled by technical difficulties. Laminate flooring is too rigid for a floor that curves over its surface. That also eliminates hardwood flooring and any kind of tile.

I’ve been stymied by cost. If it’s not something I can do myself (and my capabilities have diminished over the last thirty years!), installation can more than double the price. Even the cheapest sheet vinyl would require at least two trips from the mainland for installers. I’d have to hire someone else to cover the entire space with luan plywood first. Before that could happen, all my furniture would have to be moved out…it’s daunting.

So, thirty-five years after moving into this little house, I am still waiting for a floor. Last winter, in a fit of optimism, I purchased two gallons of floor paint, from the hardware store where I work. I put “Paint the floor” at the top of my master “to-do” list. And here I am, 28 weeks into this year, and the floor is still waiting.

July 3rd, Fox Lake Road



Tuesday, again. The last day of my “week-end.” It’s my last chance to catch up on my rest and get ready for the busy week ahead. The day to finish up all the home and yard projects I planned to get done on my days off. It’s blogging day. It’s the day I try to get to town for post office, transfer station and grocery store. As usual, one day doesn’t seem like enough time.

We’ve had a week of extreme heat, unusual for Beaver Island, resulting in a string of uncomfortably warm nights. There wasn’t a breeze to be found, here on the Fox Lake Road. My little fan barely made a difference in the oppressive heat in my house. I spent several nights tossing and turning, too hot to sleep. A storm came through on Sunday night, bringing welcome rain and cooler temperatures. I’ve been sleeping long and well the last couple nights.

This time of year, one of the busiest weeks of the whole year on Beaver Island, it is important to be rested. Businesses are stretched to their limits with thousands of visitors in addition to regular customers. The hardware store is hectic all day long. By the end of the long work day, I am exhausted. A walk or a drive to Fox Lake with the dogs, a bit of time to pull weeds from the flower beds and water the garden, then supper, a half-hour of cleaning time, and I’m done. I have no energy beyond that. All projects have to wait for my days off.

So, Monday and Tuesday are always busy days, and this week more than most. I finished setting up my bullet journal for July, with the month already underway. I finished a load of towels and another of rugs yesterday. I have dark clothes on the line now. I filled a wheelbarrow with weeds trimmed from around the stone-bordered flower beds, and started digging a new fire pit.

I have a large fire pit in the front yard, four feet in diameter, that I planned to use for pit-firing ceramics, and large bonfires with friends. I have never used it for either of those purposes. It is too big and deep to be useful for roasting marshmallows. I use it, mainly, for burning windfall branches and my household paper trash. A smaller fire pit will be more serviceable. The large circle in the front yard could be filled in and used as a flower bed, or simply returned to lawn.

So, I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon digging a hole, and removing the sod from the surrounding area. I used the soil I dug out to fill in low areas of the back yard; I filled the wheelbarrow with roots to be hauled away. Today, I plan to empty the wheelbarrow, then fill it with large rocks to border the new fire pit.

Inside, I have two unopened boxes to deal with. They are filled with metal frames and pre-cut mats: almost all the materials I need to get two large paintings and a dozen small collages framed and ready to show. To finish, I’ll have to make time to stop at the hardware store, and cut a dozen pieces of glass for the collage frames. With the tourist season underway and a couple special art shows coming up, that has to be done right away.

Beyond all that, there are bills to pay and letters to write before I go to the Post Office. I need to gather up the recyclable trash to take to the transfer station. I should go through the magazine rack and get rid of those publications that have been hanging out since Christmas.  I have a short list of necessities to pick up from the grocery store, and should go through the cupboards to see what I’ve missed. I know I’m (dread!) out of ice cream! It would be smart to plot out a week’s meals so I can put lunches and dinners together with what I have on hand.

That’s what’s happening, or should be happening, on this third day in July, here on the Fox Lake Road. From the looks of this list, I’d better get busy!



The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #27



List your values and beliefs:

  • I believe in the Golden Rule. I am sure that if each person would look honestly into their heart and always treat others as they would like to be treated, the world would be a much kinder place.
  • I believe in kindness. My daughter has a quote from the Dalai Lama on her home page: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
  • I believe people will do their darnedest to live up to expectations others have for them. Because of that, I try to begin with, “You are so good at…” rather than, “You need to do better at….” When talking about my children with other mothers, I’d make a point of talking as if they already possessed the behavior I wanted them to cultivate. Even if they were in a far distant room, deeply involved in play, I’d say, “Oh, Jenny plays very well with other children” or “Katey is really good at  sharing,” and I’d notice their little shoulders squaring up, their eyes brightening, and maybe a little smile playing ’round their lips. Imagine how differently their reaction, if I’d said something negative!
  • I believe in paying attention. Life is short. Moments are fleeting. Days fly past. Even golden moments, and important days. Take note. Pay attention. Appreciate all that is here. In the blink of an eye, it could be gone.
  • I believe in doing no harm. This one is hard. I swat mosquitoes and kill flies. I set traps for mice. I recently found a hornet’s nest-in-progress, just inside the entrance to my garden shed. I hit it with a thick spray of foaming wasp and hornet killer. I am pretty merciless when it comes to non-flowering or invasive weeds.  I eat meat. I have spread gossip, and talked unkindly about others behind their back. So, clearly, for me, it is not always possible. I still think it is a good intention, and that I am a better person for holding this up as an objective, even though I will never be completely successful.
  • I believe we have a duty to help and protect those weaker or needier than ourselves. We’re all here together on this planet, all simply striving for a little bit of happiness.
  • I believe there are benefits in hard work.
  • I believe in laughter.
  • I believe in love.

Summer Reading



One long ago summer, when circumstances of home and kids and job allowed me to spend afternoons at the beach, I ordered three books from the brand new Quality Paperback Book Club. The selections were deemed “perfect for summer reading,” and, in fact, they were.

The first book was The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes, edited  by Donald Hall. Well over one hundred authors, poets and essayists are illuminated through snippets and stories. Easy reading, when the time available might be interrupted by a need to reapply sunscreen, or cool off in the waves. I came away with greater familiarity with the writers I knew, and a desire to acquaint myself with the others.

Ironweed, by William Kennedy, was the second. The writing was magical; the imagery was complex. The book grabbed me from the very first line:

“Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods. The truck was suddenly surrounded by fields of monuments and cenotaphs of kindred design and striking size, all guarding the privileged dead.”

I loved each plain-spoken character. My heart broke with their travails, and soared with their small victories. Though I went on to read all of Kennedy’s intertwined books set in Albany, New York, this one is still my favorite.

The last book was Growing Up by Russell Baker. Though I’ve read many good ones over the years, including wonders by Mary Karr and Alexandra Fuller, this stands as the best autobiography I have ever read. Each paragraph introduces a new character, and through them, Baker’s young life unfolds.

I still have these books on my shelves. I have re-read each of them at least twice. No matter what time of year it is, opening the covers of any of them transports me to lazy, hot summer days on Beaver Island beaches, thirty-five years ago.

In other years, accompanied by my sisters, or with grandchildren along, I’ve made different choices for reading material. Magazines are entertaining, and can be picked up and put down easily. Pulp mystery novels hold my interest well enough. They don’t demand much attention; likewise, they offer little beyond the mystery at hand. Short stories, when I find a good collection, are good for fitting in when there is time to read.

Many books will do just fine to go along with summer activities. In the backyard at the picnic table, in the metal lawn chair near the garden, on the sofa with the afternoon sun streaming in, leaning against a tree at Fox Lake while the dogs explore, or on a blanket on a long stretch of sandy beach, almost any book will do.

This year, though, I am determined to have a summer rich in good books. Books that grab and hold my attention, yes, but also stretch my mind. Books that stir genuine emotion. Books that I will remember long after I’ve turned the last page.

I spent weeks reading reviews before placing the order. Waited excitedly for the delivery. I now have a stack of five books that I have deemed perfect for summer reading:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer
  • Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King

So far, I have only finished the first one. If that book is any indicator, though, I’m in for a summer of good reading!