Category Archives: Family

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 25

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List the ways that you enjoy investing in your mind, body and soul:

[I read that direction last night, so I could think, before falling asleep, about today’s essay. I thought, “Ugh! I’ll be writing about meditation,  prayer and spirituality and other things that I think I should care more about, but don’t, trying to make it sound like I enjoy it, when I don’t…and I hate this assignment!” Maybe it was the word “soul” that threw me into such a fit of discouragement. I am still and always the product of my Catholic upbringing, after all. Anyway, this morning I read the same direction with an entirely different response!]

  • I like mild forms of exercise, in modest doses. I have the tiniest little yoga routine that I try do each morning…but if my back is aching or other activities are pulling me away, I do an abbreviated version of the tiny routine, and have no regrets. I like a bit of Pilates: some stretching, and simple balance and flexibility exercises. I enjoy lifting weights for strength and definition, though the heaviest weights I use are only five pounds. I like walking, swimming and bicycling, but not for speed or distance. I like to avail myself of the fresh air, open spaces and scenery while doing something that is good for me, but I’m not out there to break any records.
  • I enjoy walking. Not for exercise (though that is a bonus, no matter), but with my dogs, a camera, and a couple mesh bags in case I find treasures along the way. For the familiar walkways, the sound of chipmunks and birdsong, and the joy of two dogs sniffing along, walking feeds my soul.
  • I take pleasure in cooking a good meal. It’s better – though rare – when there is someone to share it with and to appreciate it, but still.
  • I make things. Calling myself an artist, it might seem that creating a drawing or painting would give me greater pleasure than, say, crocheting a pair of slippers or making an ornament out of baker’s clay…but it all seems to come from the same place, and the emotional reward is similar.
  • I write. Every morning, or just about, longhand, in a black and white covered theme book. Morning Pages lets me spill out whatever is on my mind, for no one else to see. Sometimes, I surprise myself with a bit of exceptional writing. Mostly, I whine or rant, or write down crazy dreams.
  • I read. I have, at this moment, two self-help books (Sorted by Gillian Perkins and How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White), a creative expression book (The Creative Formula by Holly Shaw), one book of short stories (Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson) and one historical novel (We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter) underway, so there is always something to read that will suit my mood, and the time that I have.
  • I garden. I grumble about the work involved. Work that is never done, it seems. My aching back and my throbbing knees grumble separately. Still, gardening enriches me. It feeds me. And it provides a steady link to childhood, and to my father. Dad was the gardener in our big family. I say that, knowing that most of the weeding,  watering and harvesting duties fell to his children, and that it was Mom that had to – with bribes and threats, begging and coercion – see that it was done. It was Mom that, with rolled eyes and big sighs, greeted bushel basket after bushel basket of beans or cucumbers or tomatoes or corn into her kitchen. Mom coordinated the work crew – again chosen from her children – and orchestrated the tasks that would get the vegetables cleaned, steamed and canned for the winter. Still, Dad was the gardener. He negotiated with Magabelle, who owned the half-acre lot beside ours, to use the land for his garden. He traded electrical work for truckloads of manure. He rose early after his late shift at the factory to plow up the space. He plotted out the garden each year with stakes and garden twine. When company came, Dad, grinning and with long strides, walked them out through the garden to proudly show it off. When I’m in the garden, I know my father is nearby, and I know that he is pleased.

Happy Father’s Day!

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What Happened to Me?

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“What happened to you?”

The question was voiced by my sister, Cheryl, just a few weeks ago. Two of my sisters, Brenda and Cheryl, were visiting here. We were at the family farmhouse, where my Aunt Katie lived until her death last August. I was not involved in whatever activity – meal preparation, or cleaning, or sorting – my two sisters were busy with at the kitchen table, so when the dryer stopped, I stepped into the shed to fold the laundry.

Cheryl followed a few minutes later. That’s when she said it:

“Cindy, what happened to you?”

Her tone was kind and curious, yet clearly she was disappointed in me.

The question was driven by the towels I had just folded. Though they were folded – because I’d asked – the way that Mom had taught us (in half twice the long way, then in thirds from the other direction for bath towels; in half twice the long way, then in half from the other direction for kitchen towels and hand towels; in half, then in half from the other direction to make squares of washcloths and dishcloths), my corners did not perfectly line up. As she neatened and refolded the ones I had done, she asked again, incredulous, “What happened to you?”

She added, “You are the one that taught me this,” as she helped me fold the rest of the load, with all of her corners and edges lining up perfectly. I blinked. I shrugged. I gave a little smile. I didn’t know what to say. I was kind of embarrassed. I felt a little bit ashamed. I knew what she was talking about, sure.

Growing up in our large household, I was in charge of laundry. And I took it very seriously. I arranged the piles of clothes around the perimeter of the round, heavy wood table in age order for each family member. Socks and underwear were stacked separately, in an inner circle, so that they wouldn’t topple the tall piles. All had to be put away, to make room for folding diapers and towels.

Though I never used cloth diapers with my own children, I can still remember the way to fold them. I have altered the way I fold towels (once in half long-wise, then in thirds from the other direction, then in half again for bath towels; in thirds from the short ends, then in half long-wise for kitchen towels, hand towels, washcloths and dishcloths) to better fit the space in my cupboards and drawers, but I still know the way Mom had us fold them. Muscle memory, from so much practice.

And I was precise. There was one right way, and things had to be done to those exact standards. I insisted that each of my younger siblings were just as careful as I was. Later, my own daughters struggled under my clothes-folding rules. They despised the job, as they seemed never able to meet my standards. They rebelled by folding their own clothes however they wanted, or not at all. To this day, I doubt they ever fold two towels exactly the same way, just to spite me!

So, what happened to me? When did I lose the precision in clothes-folding that made such an impression on Cheryl? I didn’t know how to answer, when asked, and I’ve been wondering about it ever since.

There were times that my reasoning got defensive.

“I’m too busy,” I tell myself, “no time to worry about precisely lined-up corners!” I am not as busy as Cheryl. She works two jobs as an administrator for two separate school systems. She is divorced, like me, so is solely responsible for the maintenance of her home and yard, as I am. I have to admit, she does a better job of it than I do. She also spends more quality time with her children and grandchildren every single month than I do with mine in a full year. In addition, she dates, goes to social events, and plays Words with Friends. “Too busy” does not work in comparison to Cheryl.

“Life is too short,” I say, “to worry about perfectly folded towels!” Yet all the things that have caused me to realize that life is short – the deaths of both parents and several siblings – happened to Cheryl, too. Plus, she had cancer. If I were the cancer survivor, you can bet that I’d be throwing that in her face! With a superior tone, I’d say, “Once you live through cancer, my dear, you realize that life is too short to worry about petty things like towel edges.” But, no. She’s got that one cornered, too.

So, without defensiveness, what has happened to me? When, exactly, did I quit caring, and why?  It has been on my mind quite a bit since the question was posed. I don’t like to think that my standards have gone out the window. Could it be something else?

I do not have, in my adult life, a “clothes-folding table” like I used when I was growing up. Actually, I have that exact table now, but it sits in the dining room, far from the laundry area, and is generally loaded with a vase of flowers, a couple candles, and whatever paperwork I am currently working on. I fold clothes using the surface of the top of the washing machine. A much smaller space. That could be a reason.

Yesterday, a beautiful, breezy warm day for putting laundry on the clothesline, I thought of another. Though I tighten my clotheslines regularly, the lines still sag with the weight of the wet laundry. It causes things to dry slightly misshapen. Because I dry my towels outside, they do not have corners that will line up. So there! Unless or until I learn that Cheryl also has a clothesline, and dries her towels outside, and still manages perfectly aligned corners…that is my answer to what happened to me!

 

Yard and Garden

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Today, before another rain foils my plans, my intent is to finish mowing the lawn. Once the space has been returned from “overgrown field” status to back yard, I have planting to do.

My son-in-law got the mower started, and mowed the front yard a week ago. Since then, I mowed the side yard on the south side of the house, where the kitchen door is. I trimmed around the flower beds there, and worked on weeding. Then, busy days at work left me too tired at the end of the day to do more. Saturday, exhausted, I once again put off the job. Sunday is a short day at work; I’d finish the mowing on Sunday.

Saturday night, a rainstorm came through, leaving the tall grass far too wet for my mower to push through. Yesterday, it was better. I cut the grass on the north side of the house, where shade from the ancient maples keeps the grass manageable. I started the back yard. There, the lawn – which is a combination of quack grass, crab grass and other sturdy stalks – has grown to more than knee-high in places.

It was a challenge for the mower. Several times, the tall, damp grass choked the blades, and caused it to stall. Other times, I had to shut it down to clear the discharge chute.

It was a challenge to me. Before I could get into the serious back-and-forth of mowing, I had to fill several holes I’d made, when transplanting rhubarb and other plants. That meant hauling 50 pound bags of topsoil from the driveway where I’d unloaded them, to the very back of the rear yard. I trimmed along the back wall of the house, and moved the grill back into place. Windfall branches had to be picked up and delivered to the fire pit. The big dog’s toys, which she carries outside and abandons, had to be gathered up. Then, on to mowing.

The first part is the hardest. There is so much to work around, along the periphery of the yard: flower beds; raised strawberry bed; well pipe and outdoor spigot; compost bins; trees and shrubs; clothesline poles; rhubarb bed. After all of that is worked around, there is still the large, soft, bumpy area that used to be my large raised bed vegetable garden. The wheels of the mower tend to sink in to the soft earth; the lumps of old planting surfaces mean I’m always pushing uphill or down. Yesterday, I made a good start. Today, I’d like to finish.

In the garden, there is still planting to do. The weather is still so cool, it’s definitely not too late yet…but the time is right. I have bean seeds, cucumber and summer squash seeds yet to plant. There are pepper, cantaloupe and Chinese cabbage plants to get settled in. Finally, eighteen little marigold plants to add color throughout the garden space.

My day started with ibuprofen for my aching back. This day is still cool enough to make outside work pleasant. I have a pre-organized intermission in place, with a planned visit to see my neighbor’s gardens. Time to get busy here. So, on to the yard and garden!

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The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #23

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List the simple ways you enjoy being kind to others:

  • I enjoy giving honest compliments. I try to do it every day. To friends, to acquaintances, to strangers…the reward for me is the same. I say something true: “You are such a hard worker;” “That’s a very nice shirt;” “That color looks stunning on you;” “What a good Mom you are!” The response may be a flicker of surprise, a slight smile, or a brightening of the eyes…it’s always worth it.
  • I like to greet people by name. That is a simple way of showing respect, and I wish I were better at it. With so many seasonal visitors to Beaver Island, and long months of winter to aid in my forgetting, I struggle with this one.
  • I like to let people know I appreciate them. When I end my work day, I tell each of my co-workers, “Thanks for all your hard work today.” When I encounter service people, I make eye contact and simple conversation, including thanks for their help. I try to convey my love and/or appreciation in words. It may not otherwise be obvious.
  • When I am in a position of service, I enjoy making the customer’s experience a good one. I accomplish that by being good at my job, and generous with my assistance. Help should not be given grudgingly. Even if I’m sending a perfectly good grilled cheese back to the kitchen because the customer would like it “a little less brown,” or tweaking a can of paint – for the fourth time – to achieve the perfect shade of gray, my line is, “We want you to be happy.”
  • I enjoy giving massage and healing touch. When my daughter, Jen, and I were both working in restaurants, we’d sit in the evening with our feet in each other’s laps, working out the kinks in our hard-working feet. A head massage was often calming and soothing to each of my children. I give a good back rub.
  • I enjoy rocking and singing with babies and small children. I sang many of my younger brothers and sisters to sleep. Then my own daughters, then my grandchildren. The young ones rarely critique my lack of ability or song choices!
  • I enjoy giving my dogs a nice scratch behind the ears or a belly rub. I like to match the enthusiasm they show when I come through the door. What a blessing it is to have living beings so overjoyed to see me!

Quick, Write Something!

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Some days, I have all the time I want to figure out what I want to write about, and how I want to say it. This week, numerous events from frustrating to joyous have conspired to take my time and my ability to post a blog.

Today, on Wednesday, with my sweet daughter and her husband asleep upstairs, if I forego yoga and “morning pages,” and if I can keep the dogs from waking my guests (“SHHH…no barking!” are the whispered words of the day!), I may have time to get a few words down. No time to think about it; no planning. This is “just write something” mode.

The internet has been sketchy for the last several days, here on the west side of Beaver Island. There has been lots of discussion about it. It could be a problem with our band width, and the large influx of visitors to the island for the long Memorial Day weekend. It could be a problem with the telephone service or phone lines. I have determined that it is not a problem with my own computer or wireless modem. Still, Each time I’ve turned on the computer, I have been frustrated with the internet connection going out. With this computer, and the programs that I use, I can’t do much of anything without that connection.

Monday, my daughter, Kate called. “What’s your schedule like?” she asked. I told her, and asked why. “Jeremy and I were thinking about driving up to bring you your composter.” We had discussed the composter, and I’d warned them they’d better let me know when they were bringing it to Charlevoix, so that I could at least fly over to have lunch with them, and give them hugs. Kate surprised me by saying that no, they would bring it all the way across to Beaver Island, if that was okay with me.

Okay? I was thrilled! A surprise visit from some of my favorite people! I was ecstatic! However, If I was going to have time to visit, I had to adjust my work schedule. And if this house was going to accommodate company, there was work to be done!

First, I contacted a co-worker, to see if she could work for me Wednesday. We tossed around a couple ideas, and determined that she could at least work the morning. Then, I tackled the house.

A general spiffing up was fine for the downstairs, but the upstairs bedroom was a different story. Sheets had to be washed and dried, and the bed made up. The stacks of clothes being sorted for summer storage, donation or disposal, that covered the bed and the dresser, had to be dealt with right away. The books, in stacks on the trunk and on the floor ever since I moved them out of the bookcase on the landing to make space for my art books, had to be placed on the bookshelves in the corner of the bedroom. That involved more thought and rearranging of CDs, photos and knick-knacks than I care to elaborate on. It’s always a shock to see the clutter and disarray that I live with, when I imagine seeing it through the eyes of visitors!

Of course, once they arrived on the morning ferry boat, there was no time to write. We had much to catch up on, things to do, and people to see. Having quality time to spend with my daughters is such a rarity, I wouldn’t consider taking any time away from a good visit! And it has been a wonderful visit!

So…Tuesday’s blog comes out on Wednesday, written in a rush, and I don’t care!

 

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #22

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List the things you prioritize before doing what really makes you happy:

I imagine a life of rising to coffee, then yoga, then writing, that would then give way to a long walk with my dogs and a spin around the yard and garden before going to the studio. There, I would have time to fully develop concepts, try out guesses and whims and ideas that come to me in dreams, read, explore and grow. Another run through the garden, to gather vegetables for an evening meal, then a shower to signal the end of my work day. Dinner, then, mindfully prepared and enjoyed. Cleaning time next, then the rest of the evening for relaxing activity. I think a life like that would make me happy. But…

  • I prioritize things I have to do. Because my life falls apart if I don’t. Things like laundry, and dishes, and sweeping the floor. My life is so much better – and happier – when these things are done, I even incorporated “cleaning time” in my imagined ideal life. Then there are the seasonal “have-to”s. Like planting the garden or mowing the lawn. When it’s time, other things have to be put aside to make time.
  • I prioritize things I ought to do. I go to funerals. I make an appearance at benefits, showers and retirement parties. I attend the annual meetings of the Beaver Island Boat Company. I am a sitting member of the Amik Circle Society, and serve as secretary at their meetings. I occasionally attend township meetings. I vote. These are obligations. Still, there is satisfaction in fulfilling them.
  • I prioritize the things I need to do. I need to have a job with a paycheck I can count on. Though art sales and art classes have supplemented my income for the past thirty-five years, and I have imagined a hundred different scenarios (and tried out more than a couple) where art-related activities could support me, realistically, I need a job. I will probably have to hold a job for the rest of my life. I call it the “work until death” track. For more than twenty years, I worked as the morning waitress at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant; I have been working at Powers Hardware for the last sixteen. Though I work because I need to work, I am fortunate that it makes me happy, too. I saved a few lines – I can’t remember the author, but have that written down somewhere, too – that would be perfect for my eulogy: “I slept, and dreamt that life was joy. I woke, and found that life was service. I acted, and found that service was joy.”
  • I prioritize joyous things that come along. Sometimes, it’s a grandchild or two, coming for a visit. Sometimes, it’s a day when I’m simply too exhausted after work to walk the dogs, so I load them into the car – along with a camera, a beer and a book – and we go to Fox Lake. We have the place all to ourselves, the dogs are happy and the water is beautiful, so I stay, ignoring all the things I should be doing. Most recently, it was last week, when two of my sisters and one cousin arrived, to open the farmhouse for the season. I didn’t get into the studio, even for a minute. I didn’t get my lawn mowed. I didn’t get my windows washed. I didn’t continue any of my organizing or deep cleaning. The trade-off was an entire week of family time: dinners around Aunt Katie’s farmhouse table with people that I love; good conversations; evenings of euchre, Bingo and Scrabble; laughter; good hugs; wonderful companionship. Worth every bit of time I could give!

Though my imagined “happy life” is a far cry from my life as it is, I am happy, and my priorities contribute to my contentedness. So!

What’s Happening

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After a lot of wavering on the issue, it seems spring has finally arrived here on Beaver Island. Though frost was threatened for last night, I don’t think the temperature dipped that low. Even if it had – a frost in May is not unheard of here – I stand by my assertion: spring is here. The proof is everywhere.

Our Beaver Island ferry boats are making daily trips, now, back and forth to Charlevoix. It has been a month since they’ve needed the assistance of the Coast Guard’s ice breaker. The shops and stores in town have restocked their shelves. There are cars – more than winter’s one or two – parked along the street; there are people – more than one or two – going in and out of the businesses.

Lately, I’ve encountered other vehicles on the roads, on my way to and from town. Sometimes, there’s a car ahead of me, kicking up a cloud of dust. Now and then, I’ve had to wait for a couple vehicles before pulling out onto the King’s Highway. In the winter, I am usually alone on the road for my seven-mile trek into town. Now, we have traffic!

In the woods, every view offers a hundred shades of green and yellow. Some trees are in bud; others are in various stages of unfurling their leaves. The forest floor is blanketed with wildflowers, mosses, grasses, piney ground-covers and wild leeks. I’m sure there are edible mushrooms there, too, though they escape my vision.

In my yard, the forsythia and service berry bushes are in full flower. Lilacs, hummingbird vine and snowball bush are just showing buds. The rhododendron by the back door is covered with magenta-colored blooms. I’ve been daily breaking off the drooping blooms of daffodils while welcoming other varieties as they open. Tulips are still blooming.

The peonies are pushing up their red leaves; poppies are showing their fuzzy, fern-like foliage. Day lilies and iris are displaying their sharp green leaves, to make their presence known, and remind me of what’s yet to come. The lawn, after a recent rain, is suddenly desperately in need of mowing. In the garden, one pea plant has just barely pushed a leaf out of the ground and, if I were to bring a magnifying glass, I think I could honestly report that the spinach is up.

After two weeks of spring-like weather without bugs to contend with, now the mosquitoes have hatched. I noticed them yesterday morning, while working out in the yard, but they were not a distraction. By the time I walked the dogs in the evening, they were impossible to ignore. I pin-wheeled my arms all the way down the road. This morning, every time the big dog comes in, she brings a swarm of them with her, all hungry for blood. This is the down-side of spring, here in the woods off the Fox Lake Road.

As one final testament that spring has arrived, I have family here! Yesterday, my cousin Keith and my sisters, Cheryl and Brenda, came to open up the family farmhouse for the season. They dug right in to projects, clearing and sweeping and freshening. I pitched in a little, while relishing their company. Last night it was red wine, pretzels and euchre around Aunt Katie’s kitchen table. The season is upon us!