Category Archives: Family

What I’m Reading

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This morning, neither my brain or my body seems to want to work correctly. My back is “out” today. During several days of discomfort leading up to this, I told myself, “moving will ease the pain” or “gentle exercise will help” or “walking will make it feel better.” Today I moved unabashedly from bed to chair, crooked and moaning, and made a good dose of ibuprofen my first menu choice.

My mind is foggy, too, though I’m sipping my way through my second cup of coffee. I just looked over the notes for the writing I had planned to do today, and thought, “I have absolutely no idea where I was going with this!” A glance through a few drafts of blogs I started, and saved for later, gave me nothing better to work with. The only one near completion was titled “Ice Cream” and we’re right in the thick of winter here!

Not writing today is not an option, for many reasons. One of them is that tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. Though I’m not an actively practicing Catholic, I’ve been looking at using Lent as an impetus to get back on track, in all the little ways I’ve been back-sliding since January 1st. Blogging on a regular basis is one of my few successes in habit forming and maintenance, so.

I love to read, and usually have several books going at once, so that I can choose based on my mood, my attention span, and the amount of time I have. Winter is the time, for me, to think about self-improvement, to explore new ideas, and to delve into books that grab and hold my attention. I enjoy reading reviews of books, but am not much for writing them. This is simply a list of the books I’m reading now, with notes:

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  • A Morning Cup of Yoga by Jane Goad Trechsel. This 15-minute yoga routine (designed to be completed in the time it takes for a pot of coffee to brew) has some of the best (that is, clear and easy-to-follow) directions I’ve ever encountered. The illustrations add clarity, and the program is a great introduction (or, as in my case, a re-introduction) to the daily practice of yoga.
  • Sorted: freedom through structure by Gillian Perkins. Yet another self-help book to help me get organized and stay that way. The back cover suggests it will “enable you to finally achieve order for your schedule, home and future plans.” I hope so!

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  • Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott. Though her Bird by Bird is hands-down my favorite guide book on writing, I have found less to identify with in other books by this author. They are always well-written, easily injecting humor and spirit into hard times, they simply have not resonated with me. Hallelujah Anyway is an exception, and I’m enjoying it immensely. Her writing is such that I go back over sentences, paragraphs, and whole sections, just for the joy of seeing how masterfully she puts words together.
  • The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. Beck does a regular column in O magazine that I have read and enjoyed. I like this book, but am only very slowly working through it.
  • Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. I enjoy Larson’s work (Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts) for the good writing and accurate historical periods he depicts. He tends to toggle back and forth between events and people which demands a bit more attention than I sometimes have to offer.
  • Redemption Road by John Hart. My daughter recommended this author to me, when I was looking for a “can’t-put-it-down” read. This one fit the bill, and I’ll watch for more of his work.
  • Simply Clean by Betty Rapinchuk. I learned of this book from the author’s “Clean Mama” blog. It’s concise, well-written and helpful.
  • Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi. Hegi is of of my favorite authors, along with Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Alice McDermott, Amy Tan and Laurie R. King; their writing never disappoints. I’m always happy for a new offering, and am looking forward to starting this one.

That’s some of what I’m reading, in my cozy home, in the middle of this winter.

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The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #7

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List the greatest compliments and encouragement you have ever been given:

(There may have been bigger compliments, or better encouragement, but these are what have stuck in my memory. That counts for something!)

  • “Oh, I know all of that; Cindy keeps us up to date on all the family news, with her letters!” spoken by my Grandma Florence on a visit to our home in Lapeer. My chest swelled almost to bursting with pride and, at that young age – of possibly eleven or twelve – I realized that the best way to give a compliment is to speak it to someone else, within hearing of the intended recipient.
  • On the day before I got married, my Dad drove me down the drive near our home to visit a dear, old family friend, Magabelle. She would be unable to attend the ceremony, but wanted to see my dress. I went into the bathroom, changed, and came out to model it for her. While I was changing back into my jeans, Magabelle stumbled and fell to the carpet. By the time I came out of the bathroom, Dad and our friend Jerry had spotted blood, and were near panicked. “Let’s get her to the hospital,” Dad was saying. Magabelle was shaking her head, no. “Let’s take a look,” I said and, resting her hand in my lap, carefully rolled up the sleeve of her nightgown to expose the source of the blood. It was a minor scrape, made by the carpet or upholstery to her fragile skin. I cleaned it up, and covered it with a gauze bandage. All was fine. That night, upstairs in my bedroom, excited and nervous about the next day, and waiting for my maid of honor to arrive, I listened to my Dad. He was downstairs at the kitchen table, more than a little tipsy, telling Mom about the day’s events. “I’m telling you, Janice, I was just so goddamned proud of her today,” he told her, over and over. “I know, Bob, I know,” Mom responded with a touch of impatience at the repeated retelling. Her tone didn’t slow him down a bit. “I was ready to head for the hospital,” he said again, “she took care of everything! She just made me so goddamned proud!”
  • Throughout my life, I have been extremely aware of every flaw in my face or figure, and pretty vocal about it. My husband was neither sympathetic, nor quick to reassure. There were times when he laughed out loud at an expression or a particular look. Once, though, when I was whining about my “fat thighs,” he thoughtfully looked up from the newspaper and said, “No, you have strong thighs.”
  • Once, while a beginning student, I was showing some experimental paintings to Tom Nuzum, an instructor at Mott Community College, he called another instructor, Doug Hoppa, in from the hall. “I want you to see this,” he said, “Can you believe it? What are we doing, that compares?”
  • Many years later when I was preparing for my M.F.A. show, I met with a group of professors to show my work and give a short talk about it. Included were two ceramics teachers and a printmaking instructor, all of whom were very familiar with my work. I had also invited the sculpture professor, as my ceramics were large, sculptural forms. He had not seen them prior to this gathering. After I gave my talk and answered a few questions, the meeting was breaking up. The sculpture professor enclosed my hand between both of his, and said, “Thank you, whole-heartedly, for sharing this wonderful work with me!”
  • My printmaking instructor – when I stopped in for a visit a few years after graduation – introduced me to his class as “one of the best students I ever had.” Similarly, when friends from Beaver Island met my ceramics professor in Florida, he spoke in glowing terms about me and my work.
  • When I took a fit and quit my job at the hardware store a few years ago – while I was still thinking “what have I done?” and “what am I going to do?” – a former employer called me up at home, to offer me a job. It was not only extremely flattering, but one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever encountered.
  • When my granddaughter, Madeline, was twelve, and visiting me here on Beaver Island, she started a conversation with, “Grandma Cindy, we’ve got to get you a man!” I laughed, and explained that not everyone considered me to be such a prize. “What?!?” she asked, incredulous, “Grandma Cindy, you are the nicest woman in North America!” That stands, to this day, as my very favorite compliment ever!

 

A New Month

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Here is February. On Beaver Island, it comes with colder temperatures than we’ve seen in a couple weeks, and lots of fresh snow. In my house, the new month causes an assessment of progress “so far,” and a renewed commitment for the future.

Looking over the “Task and Activity Tracker” for the month of January in my Bullet Journal, I can see – first of all – that my fancy method for marking completed tasks was a bust. It was hard to fill in, and got pretty sloppy-looking early on. It is very hard to see where I succeeded and where I failed. Perhaps that’s not all bad, because I had plenty of areas where my performance was less than stellar. My daily yoga fell off by the last week of the month. My “no sugar” and “no spending” goals never took off at all. In fact, reading – which I have always done every day for the last sixty years – is the only thing that was marked off on each day of January.

That’s okay. This is a new month. I have a renewed commitment and a brand new tracker. This month, I have an easy-to-read grid, and completed activities are marked with a simple “X.” In February, I will be serious about exercise and all the other areas of self-improvement that are important to me. I will continue making time for studio work and home-improvement projects. I will write letters!

January is usually a month for correspondence: thank you notes for gifts and cards, responses to holiday mail, general greetings and “I’m still here” messages. Not this year. I’m still far behind in that respect. It just so happens, the month of February is International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo). Perfect! So, along with many other participants, I committed to writing a letter each day, for the 28 days in this month. Today is February 3rd; I’m writing two letters today, because I (already!) missed yesterday. It seems like that’s the norm when it comes to me and commitment.

Still, it’s way too close to the beginning of the month to start getting discouraged. Every new page of the calendar is a chance for starting over. And if you know me, you know how much I love a fresh start!

 

 

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #5

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List the best choices you have made in your life so far:

Let’s keep in mind that I am 65 years old…probably at least two-thirds of the way through my life. Many things that were wonderful choices at the time…and for a very long time…have come to be less sensible in the long run. I am going to try to answer this from the perspective of the person I was – full of wide-eyed innocence and intense hopefulness – when I made those choices…annotated.

  • Going to college. I was not the best student in high school. I was married, with children, before I decided to go to college. It opened my eyes, expanded my mind, showed me whole worlds I never knew existed, and gave me the chance to prove to myself that I was, in fact, both smart and capable. *In hindsight, and purely from an economic and security standpoint, there are many courses of study I could have pursued that would have probably served me better than the fine arts.
  • Studying art. Having said that, let me be clear: art has enriched my life in a thousand ways. *Still, it was not – for me – a good fiscal decision.
  • Moving to Beaver Island. Away from Lapeer, where I’d spent my whole life so far; away from family and friends who loved and supported me. I moved to an only vaguely familiar, remote place, where I had to make friends, find work, get my daughters into school and other activities, and create a brand new way of living. *My idea of what life would be like on Beaver Island was based on things like the essays of E.B.White from his farm in Maine, the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and ten years of family vacations there. In many ways, it has been wonderful. Still, it’s much lonelier than I ever imagined it would be.
  • Becoming a waitress. Who would have thought that taking a menial labor job in a small bar and restaurant on Beaver Island would count as a good choice? Not me! It turns out, though, that it was one of my best. I learned that I was really good at waiting tables: I was more coordinated than I ever imagined, able to make any “special” sound delicious, balance trays, juggle many tasks at once, add long columns of numbers quickly and correctly, manage large groups of not-always-agreeable people and – most importantly – do it all with a smile, and without panicking. I made some of the best friends of my life. I collected many of my favorite stories. *The sad truth is, no matter how willing, waiting table is a job that one does, eventually, age out of.
  • Having children. I wonder, if we could see ahead to the pain of childbirth…the sleepless nights…the worry, if any of us would ever have children. Then, terrible twos, sibling rivalry, the angst of the teen-years. The inevitable sadness, disappointment and pain that comes from loving someone – with a mind of their own – with all your heart. If I had known…I might have missed out on one of my life’s biggest joys: having children. Despite the wisdom hindsight has to offer, having my daughters was one of the happiest choices of my life.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness)Project #3

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List the things that you are really good at:

  • Cooking. Nothing very fancy, but always good.
  • Baking. Sweets, mostly, but I also have several good bread recipes that I use regularly.
  • Writing.
  • Letter-writing. People say a letter from me makes them feel like I am sitting right there talking to them. My mother encouraged her children to write letters to our grandparents in Chicago. I really took to it. I enjoyed telling the news, and was always happy to be rewarded with a letter in response. My best friend and I always wrote to each other through summer vacation. We were quite dramatic in our recitations, and went through thousands of exclamation points in each letter. I had pen pals throughout my life. When I first moved to Beaver Island, Mom reminded me that I wrote a good letter, and told me to be sure to keep in touch. I did, updating family and friends of our adventures here, and of how my daughters were growing. I wrote my daughters whenever they were away from me, through their childhood. I’ve gotten lax in recent years, with letters giving way to phone calls, Email and instant messaging. I still have a list of letters to write, in answer to cards and gifts I received at Christmas. I always appreciate receiving letters, so should be better about sending them.
  • Growing things. Again, nothing fancy. My house plants are not exotic, but simple green plants that usually make the lists of “easiest houseplants.” Still, other than sometimes having to droop a little to remind me to water them, they thrive. Outside, again I choose hardy specimens that suit my sandy soil, and – with very little special attention – they make me proud.
  • Drawing. Though it is one of the skills that needs to be practiced, to prevent getting rusty…and I’m pretty lax about that, too.
  • Color theory. I have studied it, of course, but it is one of those things that I’ve always had a knack for. I remember Doug Warner, an instructor in one of my earliest college drawing classes, on the first day that we worked with pastels, saying with surprise, “Oh, my, I can see that color is your forte!”
  • Organizing. Though the level of dis-order that I live with would seem to make a lie of that statement, I am very good at making sense of big mounds of disparate items.
  • Arranging. Whether pictures on a wall, items on a shelf, or furniture in a room, I’m very good at arranging things. With my combined abilities in color theory, organizing and arranging, I might have done well in a career as a interior decorator.
  • Reading. It’s easy to be good at things you love, and I have always loved to read. I’m also good at reading out loud, which is related, but different.
  • Customer service. I was an excellent waitress for more than twenty years, because I truly enjoyed the job. I was happy to do my best to make each customer’s experience outstanding. For the same reasons, I am good at my current job at the hardware store.
  • Entertaining myself. Though I sometimes get lonely, I don’t pine away for companionship. I can enjoy games of solitaire for hours on end. Add a few books, writing materials and a few art supplies, and I’d be just fine on a deserted island.

It is a good question to ask yourself: what things are you really good at?

Resolute

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What’s going on here?

I haven’t posted anything here in almost a week; that’s obvious. There has been little else of consequence going on behind the scenes here on the Fox Lake Road, either. I’ve spent precious little time in the studio, and managed only a bit of tidying while I was there. I didn’t tackle any of the big home-improvement projects I have planned for this winter, either. In fact, I have done little more than the bare minimum to keep this house running along.

Some good news: I have been able to – every single day – check off “yoga,” “walk” and “strength” on my habit tracker, thanks to a book on “mini-habits” by Stephen Guise. He advises forming  habits based on the very smallest increments. In his own experience, he set his sights on completing one push-up a day, adding one fruit to his diet, meditating for one minute, and writing fifty words a day. With those minimal goals, he has managed – in a very short time – to form exercise and meditation habits, become physically fit, and write three books.

Of course, this involves going beyond the minimum requirement on many days, but even on the absolute worst days, he can meet his goal. Success brings good feelings which leads to more motivation to continue. It certainly  sounds more inviting than my usual New Year set-up, where failure is inevitable.

So, this year, my concentration is on forming the habits, rather than any end-goal. My minimum requirements are, well…minimal. The first three  [warm-up] poses in my yoga book; a walk to the end of the driveway and back; a dozen repetitions of an upper-body exercise or half that many squats: each counts as completion of that task. With that in mind, I am happy to report that – almost two weeks in to this new year – I haven’t missed a day yet!

It’s also true that engaging in the activity is the most difficult part. Once I get through the warm-up poses in my yoga book, I often continue on to Side Stretch, Tree Pose, Arm Stretches and Cactus Pose. I’ve only stopped at the end of the driveway on a couple of the iciest, coldest days. We usually meander down the road for a stretch, and on a couple exceptional days, Darla and I got more than a mile in, while Rosa Parks waited in the yard. Once the weights are in hand, I generally add a few repetitions of other exercises before I put them back on the shelf.

Taking the author’s advice, I am not starting with a hundred mini-habits (though I could easily think of that many areas that need improvement in my life!). He suggests no more than five, and allowing enough time – say, three months – to absolutely form the habit before adding something else to work on. So far, with not quite two week’s success under my belt, I am encouraged, and already looking toward tiny increments of progress in other areas: “Just walk into the studio,” for one. That’s what I plan to do right now!

 

52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #2

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List #2: List the routines in your personal life and work:

  • First upon getting up in the morning, I put on my glasses, give each dog some “good morning” attention, turn on the bathroom heater, make the bed, then make coffee.
  • While the coffee is brewing, I work my way through a series of easy, gentle yoga postures from the book, A Morning Cup of Yoga, by Jane Goad Trechsel. The routine is designed to take no more than fifteen or twenty minutes. This is fairly new to me, after starting and abandoning the practice several years ago. Because of that, I have not yet made it through the whole program. I am working on forming the habit, and I take more time with each posture, in order to get it right. It makes me feel good, so I don’t dwell on where I fall short.
  • Next, I sit down at the computer. I check my mail, social media and the news.
  • I pack my lunch and fill my thermos with coffee. I set two small heart-shaped dishes out on the counter, and put a small scoop of soft dog food in each. I crush the pill Rosa Parks takes each day, and mix it into the food in her dish
  • By that time, the bathroom is warm enough for me to get in the shower, get dressed and ready for work.
  • When I come out of the bathroom, Darla is waiting to give me the “sad eyes” as I put on boots and coat. She perks up when she remembers there’s a treat in it for her. I gather up my purse and lunch bag. I put the dog dishes down, admonishing each of them to “take good care of things,” pick up my coffee cup and head out the door.
  • At work, there is no set routine. It varies depending on the season and the business. Some days are filled with mixing paint, cutting pipe and making keys. Other days, ordering or putting away freight occupies long hours. This time of year, many days are spent with off-season tasks of re-organizing and deep cleaning.
  • Home in the evening, I greet the dogs, drop my things inside the door, and take a walk. Length is dependent on the weather, and my level of exhaustion.
  • Next, I set a timer for 30 minutes, and spend that time cleaning. Usually there is laundry to be put through the paces, rugs to shake, and floors to sweep. Almost always, there are dishes in the drainer to be put away, so that a fresh batch can be washed and left there to drain-dry.
  • I feed the dogs, and then prepare my own dinner. Sometimes, I pour a glass of wine at this time. I usually watch a program, or read a magazine, while eating.
  • Next, I wash the dishes.
  • Then, there is a little free time. I may talk on the telephone, read or crochet. Sometimes, I put in an hour or two in the studio.
  • These winter days, when darkness comes early, it doesn’t take long before I’m ready for bed.

[There is an “action” section at the end of each page’s list. This one suggests taking note of the routines that you dislike, and paying attention to the ones that bring you joy; it then asks what is it about those routines that bring you joy.]