Category Archives: Family

Honesty

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Honesty is one of those concepts that hides a dark side. Of course, honesty is a virtue. It’s a valued characteristic in friends and associates. We all like to be considered honest; we strive for honesty in most areas of our lives. We begin sentences with, “Honestly….” to add a bit more credibility to whatever comes after.

A lack of honesty is an often-named character flaw that carries a great deal of weight. If someone is not trustworthy, they are not a good candidate for friend, spouse or employee. When you hear, “I don’t think they can be trusted,” even if it’s just a feeling or an intuition not based on actual behavior, all kinds warning bells go off. We never want to get too close to a dishonest person.

Still, we all know someone who is “a little too honest.” Usually that refers to someone who will not pretend to like your new haircut, or your fashion choices. Sometimes, it refers to an unwillingness or inability to soften the edges of their viewpoints for the sake of amiable conversation. Sometimes it is simply a comment on their bluntness. That’s because, though we revere honesty, most of us partake in a good dose of dishonesty as well.

I know that I do. “My pleasure,” I’ll say in response to a thank you for any number of difficult and unpleasant tasks I perform at the hardware store. “No problem,” is my answer to most apologies, though sometimes the inconvenience was great. “Beautiful,” I have offered, to color choices or design solutions that would certainly not be my own.

These are small indiscretions, and I excuse myself for them. Cutting and threading pipe, for instance, is not a pleasure, in any sense, but I do enjoy some aspects. There is reward in doing my job, satisfaction in being able to accomplish a specific task, and true pleasure in being able to help a customer. Being kept waiting, or being pushed or bumped or stepped on is not nothing, but when it’s not purposeful, and followed by “so sorry,” it really does seem inconsequential. And, is it really dishonest to appreciate someone else’s choices, simply because they would not be my own? I don’t think so.

My greatest dishonesty comes in a different form. I am notorious for “selective sharing.” Though I write about myself and my life on a regular basis, and often post photos on social media, you shouldn’t get the feeling that you know me too well. I’m pretty good at showing the good parts, and hiding the things that I don’t like. I can zoom in on a photograph, to show off an area of garden, without a single weed in sight. I can post a picture of a prepared meal, without showing the stack of mail that is sharing the table with it. While allowing viewers to assume that I will sit at the table to eat, rather than at the desk, in front of the computer, watching gossipy videos.

My daughter is coming for a visit tomorrow, with her son, and a couple friends that I haven’t met before. Today, I’m cleaning house. I’m washing sheets, sweeping floors, and polishing sinks. I’m clearing small collections of dead bugs out of the light fixtures. I’m doing tasks that have been neglected for so long, they aren’t even a part of my weekly cleaning routine. Honestly, I don’t even have a weekly cleaning routine. My goal is to welcome them into a sparkling clean house, and to greet them with, “please excuse the mess…” That’s just how dishonest I am!

Timeout for Art: Not Making Art

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There’s been lots of activity in my world here on Beaver Island. Last week, my family was here; four sisters with three of their partners; four nieces with their families; and a few cousins just to round out the numbers. There were days at the beach for swimming and playing, trips to explore the island, and evenings at the beach for sunset. There were puzzles and games keeping us up until all hours of the night, and shared meals gathered around big tables. It was wonderful!

It didn’t, however, leave much time for other things. I neglected my home, garden and yard. My dogs became accustomed to – though not happy with – my erratic coming and goings. I struggled through shifts at work, with little sleep and no energy. I didn’t write. I never stepped foot in the studio.

Then, there’s the “catching up.” Mowing lawn and weeding garden and flower beds compete for my time. Showering my dogs with love and attention is also at the top of my list. Then there’s laundry. Housework. And, I admit, nap-time. Then back to my outside-of-the-home jobs. Which, especially at this time of year, can be exhausting, leaving little energy for anything else.

Though I’ve had no time or energy for making art, I’ve been busy at tasks related to studio work. There’s always something to do! Last week, I switched out the mats and frames of collages for a couple who have been good customers and loyal supporters of my work. I framed new work for an upcoming show, and put wire hangers on the backs of some others.

While working outside, I deadheaded my daylilies and bagged the spent blooms. Added to my collection of leaves and petals in the freezer, they’ll be there when I need them for papermaking. Yesterday, I delivered my work to the building where the Museum Week Art Show will take place, then filled out the paperwork and paid my fees. Last night, I cut to size, dampened and wrapped printmaking papers, so that they will be ready to print on this evening. That will be the first actual art work I’ve done in weeks! Often, though art-related activities take up much of my time, there is no art-making going on!

Happy Day!

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Today, I’m good.

I slept well, and woke up feeling rested, strong, and ready for the day.

I’ve lost about ten pounds so far this year. I notice it a little bit in my face, and I have a few pair of pants that now need a belt, but mostly I look about the same. Still, it feels like a good accomplishment.

The dogs seem content. Though they each have health issues, this has been a good week for them.

I’ve got several good books going. I’m reading That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs, Everything is Figure-outable by Marie Forleo and Indelible by Laurie Buchanan. For my morning study time, I’m reading The Power of Daily Practice by Eric Maisel, PhD. For my evening walks, I’m listening to Eternal by Lisa Scottoline.

I’ve just completed filling every page in my sketchbook with drawings, and I’m ready to start another.

My bush beans have finally poked through the ground in the garden. The peas are up, too. The pumpkin is looking quite impressive. After a traumatic start, I think my tomatoes are all going to make it. The pole beans have just started to climb their tepees.

I had a couple really productive days outside last week. I moved a rhododendron plant to make room for several daylilies that I had to thin and move from another bed, to make room for two Gold Drop Potentilla that I bought on sale. I think the bushes will stand up better to my big dog’s thrashing through the flower beds looking for snakes. The daylilies seem to have handled the mid-season transplant just fine. In fact, I swear they seem a little relieved to be out of the big dog’s path of destruction! My hollyhocks are up, taller than me, and loaded with buds, just outside the kitchen door.

I crawled around on hands and knees pulling weeds. Nothing new, except that I can actually see the progress I’ve made. I moved the last of my straw to the garden, to mulch the tomatoes and squash. I picked up a bunch of windfall and a dozen dog toys. I mowed the back yard and, oh, it looks nice!

I met a few friends and cousins after work for a drink on Friday. On Saturday, I ran into a couple other cousins, and had a good chat over coffee. Then I ran to the gallery for a wonderful conversation with another cousin, who shared the news that my work is selling well this year. And even better, reported that she’s getting good feedback about it, too.

Today, before work, I’m going to stop in at the farmhouse to say good-bye to my cousin, Keith, as I won’t be able to be in town to see him off. I’ll be working at the golf course, then, for the rest of the day. After today, though, I have three days off. Oh yeah, plus…the boat that will be coming in to the harbor and carrying Keith away…will be delivering my sisters to the island!!! Oh, Happy Day!!

A Few Things About Peonies

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My Grandma Thelma used to grow peonies. She was my mother’s mother, and we lived next door. She had a large rectangular flower bed halfway between the road and our houses, in the front yard that we shared. In one far corner was a birdhouse, high up on top of a trellis that my Grandpa Ted had built. It looked kind of like four ladders leaning in toward each other. In the center of that trellis, a climbing rose grew. My mother told us that the rose’s thorns would keep snakes from stealing the bird’s eggs.

In the front corner of the flower bed, nearest to our house, peonies bloomed in the springtime. I’m sure I didn’t know what they were, as a small child, and the flower bed had been dismantled and mowed over long before I was old enough to ask. Rather, I recognize them from the peonies that bloom in my garden now. When my plants finally flowered, I remembered my grandmother’s peonies.

I’d actually had peonies for over ten years, and in two different locations, before I ever saw a blossom. I started with two plants, in another location on Beaver Island. They had been in the ground there for five years without ever so much as a bud, so I moved them down to this house with me, even though I know they prefer to not be moved. Here, they had a plenty of time to get used to their new location, and still they refused to flower.

When the hardware store started carrying plants in the spring, I bought two more peonies. These had buds already formed on the ends of branches, so I figured that at least I’d have a few flowers. I expanded the bed to accommodate two more peony plants. That year, and for every year since, all four plants have bloomed! And what flowers! The big, exuberant blooms are almost too much. They seem like caricatures of flowers, too big and heavily scented and full, extreme in every way, to be real. After a rain, the blossoms become so heavy, they bend to the ground.

Ants seem to love the peonies. Some years they are just covered with them. Folklore suggests that they are necessary to open the buds, but I don’t believe it. I think the ants are there for the sweetness. This year, ants are scarce, but beetles have moved in. After a little research, I determined that they are likely rose chafers. Because I rarely use poisons on any plants, and never on flowers, I’ve been reduced to picking them off. I drop them, then, into a container of water mixed with dish soap. Morning and evening, a hundred or more each time. I started with a small sauce dish, but have graduated to a gallon-sized bucket. It’s practically a full-time job!

I love having bouquets in the house. Usually, they are made up of wildflowers. Though I grow lots of flowers, I don’t have a “cutting garden,” so stealing blooms from my flower beds has to be very selective, or the beds end up looking derelict. That’s not the case with my peonies, though. First of all, they produce a lot of blooms. I can easily make several bouquets, and still have many blossoms on the plants. Secondly, when the branches are so heavy with blooms that they are being weighted down, it seems almost necessary to snip off a few of the heavy flowers. And finally, when the beetles seem so intent on destroying every flower, I’ll happily rescue them!

Haunted

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It’s true what they say, that the older you get, the more familiar you become with loss.

I’ve grown accustomed to death.

First, there are the somewhat expected ones: grandparents and elderly family friends. Next, parents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. Then contemporaries, siblings and friends. Interspersed throughout are the tragic, unexpected and “too soon” deaths of the very young. As a child, dumbfounded by loss, I thought I’d never get used to it. Now, with age, it has become all too familiar.

If I were to place all the people I have known in my life in two columns, one for the living, and one for the dead, I’m sure that second list would outstrip the first one by a mile. Fortunately, my memory is not nearly good enough these days to even attempt it. It might make a slightly morbid but entertaining group exercise, sometime.

But I am not haunted by the dead.

My Dad, long removed from this earth, often accompanies me as I work in the garden. We keep a running dialogue going, in my head, as I make the furrows and plant the seeds. He offers bits of advise that I’ve heard many times before, and sometimes I get a brand new kernel of wisdom from him. He hasn’t softened much, in his opinions. Flowers are still “Nonsense! A waste of time and garden space!” And “that damned quack grass” is still a mortal enemy. Still, it’s always a pleasure to have a chat with him.

Others visit me when I’m asleep. When my dreams are peopled with friends and dear ones who are no longer here, I wake up smiling. How nice to have had such a good conversation with my Mom! Or, there was Vince, such a comforting presence, talking fervently about local politics, and offering me tea. Grandpa Ted. Ernie Martin. Muggs Bass. My brother David. Being just as predictably maddening as he always was in life.

The difference is that, having experienced the loss of my brother David, having realized what a treasure he was, having spent much time missing him, and mourning him, in my dreams I now know better. No matter how annoying his behavior, I look at him with love. My precious little brother. I wish I’d seen it when he was alive: how special his own crazy personality was; how fleeting his life. It’s things like that that haunt me.

When I was much younger, I used to be haunted by moments when I looked foolish, or did something that embarrassed me. Now, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a single example; they all seem so trivial. But I remember times when I could have easily been kind, but I was curt or short-tempered instead. As a parent, a sister, a daughter, a friend, I have fallen short. Why did I not listen better, show more appreciation, hug longer? It makes me cringe to think of so many incidents that I should have handled differently. Better. In some cases, the people are still here, so I can hope to turn it around, make up for it in some way. Too many are gone. When they visit my dreams, I try to do better.

Gratitude

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Ah, gratitude. I’ve written about this before. Often, and – I think – recently. So recently, that I’ve wondered if I should bypass this word, this time. But, I just recently finished my A to Z blog-writing challenge, and returned to my long list based on the Table of Contents in David Whyte’s book, Consolations. It’s too early to start changing the plan. So, gratitude.

I have, finally, thoroughly embraced a daily gratitude practice. I write, every single day, a list of things that I am thankful for. The habit alone makes me happy. I have, for most of my life, traveled through my days by the seat of my pants, ad-libbing everything from waking and sleeping times to whether the dishes would get done, or pile up in the sink. I’ve lately embraced habit as a way to make life easier.

I used to smoke. When I decided to quit that habit, about twenty or so years ago, it was really hard. In addition to the addiction, which is real, I had the habit of smoking, Now that I am a non-smoker, I don’t wonder, after a big meal or when I pick up the telephone, whether I should light a cigarette or not. It doesn’t even cross my mind. My life is easier as a non-smoker for many reasons, but one important one is that I don’t have those decisions to make all through the day.

Because I was giving up rather than adding a habit, it didn’t occur to me right away just how much habits make life easier. We all have daily habits that are such a natural part of our lives that we don’t even think about them. Forming a habit takes time. Some studies say two weeks; others suggest thirty days or even longer. Once it’s there, though, it comes easily. With this awareness, I’ve incorporated quite a few new and helpful habits into my life in recent years. I’m proud of every one of them.

So, writing down things that I’m thankful for is a good thing, all on its own. I know it would please my mother, and it adds another bit of discipline into my disorganized life. Beyond that, the gratitude habit has opened my eyes. It would be easy to write a simple, rote list of blessings in my life: my family, a roof over my head, and food to eat are always things I’m grateful for. Repetitive, but true. Since I try to write sincerely about things that please me, I am more observant, and more aware.

When I’m forced out of bed at two in the morning to let a dog outside, and the moon is bright, or the sky is full of stars, I think, “thank you,” and the next day, “last night’s bright moon,” or “that beautiful sky full of stars” will show up in my gratitude-writing. If it rains when we need rain, or the sunshine raises my spirits, I take note. A phone call or a message from a loved one will surely make the list. I’ve become more appreciative of the small pleasures in my life, as I pay more attention to them. Gratitude is a habit. A simple, eye-opening, life-enhancing, happiness-inducing habit. I highly recommend it!

Giving

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I enjoy giving much more than receiving.

I think that’s how most people are. Giving opens my heart; receiving intimidates me.

I can hand out compliments all day. I try, in every single interaction, to find something honestly positive to say. I’m good at it. When I’m given a compliment, however, I freeze. My first instinct is to deny it. No, I don’t look nice, I’m not that talented, and I’m not so smart. I worry that the compliment-giver is just being patronizing, that their words aren’t sincere, or that they are speaking out of pity. I have to force myself to accept their words, and to voice a simple “Thank you.” The same dichotomy is present in gift-giving and gift receiving

In The Mirror Has Two Faces, Barbra Streisand says, “I want someone to know me…to really know me!” Choosing thoughtful gifts for others based on their interests is a way to show them that they are known, and understood. It can be as simple as remembering a favorite color or a hobby.

Shared interests make giving even more fun. My daughter Kate and I are both avid readers, and we often share similar taste in reading material. Lately, we’ve both been working to expand our knowledge and awareness about race relations in this country. We have lively discussions about books we’ve found, and give each other suggestions about what to read next. She told me about The New Jim Crow; I sent her a copy of Caste.

Even when I limit myself to buying books as gifts (because shopping for and shipping out other things can be hard to do from this location, and because I love getting books as gifts, so I assume everyone else feels that way, too!), I work hard to match the book to the recipient. I know that both of my daughters share an appreciation for the works of Stephen King, and that my grandson Michael always appreciates a book about Beaver Island. It’s more of a struggle to find the “perfect” book for my other grandchildren, but I’m always up for the challenge.

Gifts that are given to me are, first of all, just too much. Too generous. Either too big and too expensive, or too many small, thoughtful things. They are so thoughtful! So timely! Immediately, I feel shame that I have not met the gift-giving standard. Did I even send a card? What measly or cheap gift did I give, to now be receiving this wondrous thing? What did I ever do to deserve such kindness?

Of course, if I voice these doubts and concerns out loud, I am generally reassured with compliments…which are equally difficult to accept. Receiving is just plain hard. Giving, on the other hand, is easy!

Vaccine

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“I got my first one!”

“Have you gotten your vaccination?”

“You’re going to get vaccinated, aren’t you?”

“Which vaccine did you get?”

“We’re all vaccinated up.”

Never in my lifetime, until now, has there been such a preponderance of talk about vaccines, and vaccination status.

As a young child, I knew what vaccinations were. I grew up in a time when death or disfigurement from childhood diseases was a real fear. Though I hated getting shots, and would run to close myself in the bathroom to hide when Doctor McBride came to the house, I knew they were for my own good. I watched the progress of the blister caused by the Small Pox vaccine, and was proud of the scar it left behind.

When the polio vaccine came out, the doctor handed the paper cups, each holding a sugar cube that held the vaccine dose, to my mother, so that she could do the honors. “This won’t hurt,” she told her three or four children gathered around, “It tastes sweet!” And each of us put the cube on our tongue, and let it dissolve there, as my mother nodded approval, and the doctor and my father grinned.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t realize how important that moment was. I didn’t think of it much at all. Even later when I went to school, always with one or two children who, it was pointed out, “had polio when they were little.” It was just normal life, that there were children who limped and wore braces on their legs, or who had a withered arm, or who were wheelchair bound, because they’d had polio. Even in high school, when we learned about the polio wards, and iron lungs, and the devastation the disease had wrought, I didn’t think much about it.

It was only much later, when I had my own children, that I realized the importance of that event. When I knew, first-hand, the overpowering urge to keep my children safe, and the constant, underlying fear that something beyond my control could happen to them, I understood the smiles and nods that accompanied the dispensing of those sugar cubes. During that time in my life, vaccination talk was a thing: appointments had to be scheduled, paperwork filled out, and boosters given on time. Still, they were small asides, not major conversations.

When my children were getting their vaccines, for Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and other childhood diseases, Small Pox vaccines were no longer given. The danger – which was miniscule – of dying from side effects of the vaccine was greater than the danger of contracting the disease! That’s how successful it was! So, when the controversial possibility that vaccines contributed to autism started making the news, I was unwavering in my position.

I felt then, as I do now, that the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks. So, now that Covid-19 has made vaccination a major talking point, I’m happy to join the crowds in announcing: I got my first vaccination; mine was the Pfizer vaccine; I’m scheduled for my second; side effects were minor; and it’s a big relief!

Trouble

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Twenty letters into the alphabet in this A to Z writing challenge, and I find myself…challenged. Even after paging through the T section of the dictionary while drinking coffee this morning, I cannot seem to find a single topic! Coming up with a subject that I can write more than a sentence or two about about is proving difficult. T is not even a difficult letter. Those hard, end of the alphabet letters are still coming up!

Yes, I’m in trouble. “In the weeds,” we called it, in the restaurant business, when we found ourselves overwhelmed by circumstances beyond out control. “Buried,” I’ve called it, when I find myself in a situation I cannot find a way out of. “You’ve bitten off more than you could chew,” is how my mother would discuss the how and why of my predicament. It’s clear, I’ve run out of inspiration.

When that happens, the only way forward is step-by-step.

  • Choose a word, any word. I toyed with using “the” as my T word, opening up a word of possibilities for what followed. It seemed like a cheat, so I set it aside. I have a grandson named Tommy, my ex-husband is Terry, and my maternal grandmother was Thelma. Still nothing. Deciding to talk about my running-on-empty problem opened up several possibilities. My topic could be Talk, or Topic, or Trouble. I settled on Trouble.
  • Next, remember the basic rules of essay writing: use the first paragraph to introduce the subject; expound on it a little in the second paragraph; add a list, for filler; use the last paragraph to sum up.
  • Don’t neglect the format. When you’re in trouble, rules are your friends. Every sentence, of course, needs a noun and a verb. Throw in a few adjectives, if possible, but don’t go overboard with them. Every paragraph should have an introductory sentence, two or three sentences to go into more detail, then a sentence to sum up.
  • If you find the essay pathetically short on word count, go back step-by-step through each aspect. Could you add an amusing anecdote? Can you find another comparison to make? Is there another, better example to toss in?

Those are the rules I’ve learned to depend on. They have proved immensely helpful to me, when I’ve been trying to hammer out a term paper at the last minute, or flesh out an essay question on a test. So, now that I’ve divulged all of my secrets for putting a blog out when I actually have nothing to say, you’ll be able to see right through me. Now, I’m really in trouble!

Rest

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When my “To-Do” list is long and overwhelming, I have to remind myself to rest.

When deadlines loom, and time seems short, it’s not easy to take time out, but that’s when it is most necessary.

Sometimes a few minutes is enough. I step out the door, breathe in fresh air, and take a moment to admire what’s budding or sprouting or blossoming. Or, I sit down in the comfortable armchair, where I almost never sit, beside whichever small dog has settled there, and open a book. I might make a cup of tea and page through a magazine. Sometimes, I just allow myself a few moments of stillness.

Other days, a longer break is in order. The dogs are always up for a walk, no matter the weather, and it is a welcome break for me, too. Or, I might call a daughter, a sister or a friend for a few minutes of conversation. Or, I gather a book, a beer, my camera and my sketchbook. I load everything – plus three dogs – into the car for a run to Fox Lake. There, I’ll sit at the picnic table while the dogs enjoy the brand new smells, and change of scenery.

Sometimes, simply changing from one activity to another is enough. When I’m struggling with tax documents, writing a blog can seem restful. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by a blogging challenge, shaking out the rugs gives me a break. As a master procrastinator, I recognize these things for the diversionary tactics that they are. Still, if something productive is getting done, seriously, what the hell.

Then there are times when the only thing to do is come to a full stop, I can feel the agitation of too much to do and not enough time. Nerves are getting in the way of any progress. I know that panic, or tears, are close. No break, whether long or short, and no alternate activity will cut it. Then, I just have to respect my need for rest. I have to be bravely careless enough to let all forward motion stop. Make soup. Watch a movie. Read something mindless. Take a nap. Save shame and judgment for another day. Just rest.