Category Archives: Self-Improvment

Destiny

Standard

Fate seemed to play a part, when I met my big dog, Darla. She is a boxer, pit-bull mix, which is the same mixture that my sweet, recently-deceased Clover was. I was told that she was good with people, including small children, cats and other dogs. That was important because of potential visits from grandchildren and others, and because of my little dog at home. She was six years old, which was the same age as Rosa Parks, my lonely chihuahua who I felt would benefit from a companion. Her name was Darla, which is also the name of one of my sisters, beloved and remembered though she died in infancy.

Along with my friend, Linda, who I was visiting, I stopped to see Darla several times at the no-kill shelter where she’d spent most of her life. Finally, I signed the papers to make her a part of my family. With the big dog beside me in the passenger seat, we drove across the state toward home. With several stops along the way for short walks and nature calls, and one shared fast-food meal, we got to know each other. Through the long drive and the short, noisy plane ride, I assured Darla that she was coming home. By the time we got to my house on Beaver Island, she almost seemed to be wearing a smile.

There were a few complications when Darla and Rosa Parks met. It turns out, each of them would have preferred being an “only dog.” Still, they both loved walks down the country roads, rides in the car, and trips to the water at nearby Fox Lake. They both loved me, tolerated each other, and learned to be friends. Later, when Blackie Chan, a long-separated litter-mate of Rosa Parks, was added to our family, there were a few more challenges. Again, we worked through them.

As I’ve worked to negotiate a “pecking order” to keep the peace in this multi-dog household, Darla’s good nature has been a blessing. Because she is the fastest eater, I always put her food dish down last. Because she’s too large to share my twin-sized bed with me, Darla has to be removed to her own nearby bed when I’m ready for sleep. The two small dogs sleep with me. Though Darla has her own large comfortable bed between the heater and my desk, the small dogs often take that space to be near me when I’m working at the computer. Darla doesn’t argue, but moves to the armchair, or a rug, or the now-vacant bed.

Both little dogs have rugs that mark their eating spot; Darla has a raised stool that I put her food dish on, to make her meal time more comfortable. Still, she seems to notice the discrepancy, and I’ll often find her big body curled up on a tiny rug, beside a small dog’s food dish. I see her looking enviously at a little dog taking up space in my bed, or in her bed, or in my lap. I imagine her thinking about what it would be like to be the only dog. Still, she kindly puts up with the little ones, watches out for them, and indulges them with the utmost patience and good humor.

Last week, without a single thought to Darla, I brought home a new rug for the kitchen. I got it to replace the tiny, unraveling and threadbare one that had been in front of the sink. The new one is beautiful, thick and cushion-y, and large. It stretches across the length of the floor in front of the entire double sink, right beside the stool where Darla eats her dinner. I love it!

Someone else does, too! Darla believes I brought it home just for her. It’s right next to her food dish, after all, and exactly where she loves to lay – underfoot – while I am preparing dinner. It is perfectly sized for her. She claimed it immediately, with a big smile. “Finally,” I imagine her thinking, “I am the favored one. THIS is my DESTINY!!!”

Timeout for Art: Sketching

Standard

Sketching has become a regular and significant part of my life. I draw every morning, at my dining room table. I draw when I’m sitting in a waiting room. I draw when I’m on the telephone, or watching a movie, or sitting on the bank at Fox Lake while the dogs have a swim, or when I’m trying to work through an idea. No drawing takes more than a few minutes of my time, but the benefits stretch on.

The sketchbook I use is fairly mundane. The paper is of reasonable quality, but not overly precious. It has a hard cover, which is helpful if I’m away from a desk or table, and is bound together with a thick wire spiral, making it easy to open flat. I keep a dark sepia-toned extra fine point artist pen in the sketchbook’s spiral binding. Always ready. The pen limits my methods of shading, and eliminates the possibility of erasing. My sketchbook is marked off into variously-sized small squares, rectangles and – occasionally – a triangle. So, I don’t even have to commit to a full-page drawing. This is the least intimidating method I could think of to start and maintain a drawing habit, and it worked. I draw every day.

This is not fine art. Some sketches work much better than others; the images on some pages relate with each other better than on others. This work is not meant to be framed, or even shown. Though I sometimes work on shading techniques, composition, or, for instance, how best to illustrate glass in black and white, it’s not about art.

Making these little observational sketches feels more like meditation than art work. It is simply looking closely, and recording what I see. It has caused me to be a better observer; it constantly reminds me to be honest to my vision. At the same time, the practice of doing it, of taking time to observe and render what I see, reinforces the idea that I am an artist. Sketching is a small and simple practice, but it has become an important part of my life.

Despair

Standard

Last week, I looked at the next topic to write about, from the list I compiled from the table of contents of David Whyte’s book, Consolations: Despair. Oh, dear. What to say about despair? How could I relate to that?

Of course, I know what the word means. I have probably experienced it at one time or another, in my long life. I recall times of great upheaval, others of tremendous sadness and loss. Despair, though, was different somehow. Though it seemed like something I had a personal understanding of, I didn’t quite recall the feeling. I couldn’t get a handle on how to write about it.

Instead, I added another topic. “Deliriously Happy” was still roughly following the alphabetical order of the list, and was easier to expound on. It wasn’t the first time I’ve altered the format, and I’m still very close to the beginning of the alphabet! I wrote two essays on the topic of “Besieged.” I added “Christmas Past” and “Cancer” that were not a part of the subjects Whyte listed, and then I wrote two essays on “Crisis.” So, not feeling in the mood to write about despair, I did it again. It’s my blog and my list (complements of David Whyte), so I guess I can adjust it when the mood strikes.

It is easy to write about being happy, when happiness is all around, and I’m feeling it in my bones. I didn’t know exactly where it had come from; I noted several small and unrelated events that led up to it. I compared it to a great astronomical event, caused by all the stars and planets quietly and slowly converging into just the right formation. Well.

A few days later, I woke up at two o’clock in the morning. I noted the little dogs, snuggled in on either side of me, as usual. I looked out over the room, dimly illuminated by the moon. Nothing was out of the ordinary; nothing was wrong. And yet, like a damp and musty, heavy woolen blanket, a great feeling of sadness and isolation washed over me. Ah, yes. Despair.

I was smart enough to analyze, right then, how the feeling differed from sadness. In my life, even extraordinary sadness brought on by immeasurable loss was tempered by the knowledge that I was not alone in my misery. When my sister died unexpectedly just a week before my mother died of cancer, and less than two years after my little brother died, I had other siblings around me, sharing my grief. We shored each other up, and helped each other through. In despair, I think, you are all alone. Or, at least, you feel all alone.

Sometimes, circumstances or feelings of depression conspire to make you believe you’re isolated, whether that is actually true or not. I often feel like my frustrations are my own fault. Sharing them seems like a sign of weakness, and/or a cry for help. I’m rarely looking for help. It is keeping things to myself, though, that leads to feelings of despair.

So, what went wrong? How did I fall from “deliriously happy” to “despair?” I don’t know, really. Nothing big, certainly. Minor annoyances, small disappointments, little vexations. Much can likely be attributed to normal fluctuations in mood. When I’m laughing hysterically one day, I kind of know I’ll be crying uncontrollably before long.

How to fix it? First, I got out of bed and wrote a long rant. We won’t have a dentist here until spring. At least until spring. My tooth, that I’ve been trying to get repaired for almost two years, continues to crumble, leaving sharp edges that scratch the inside of my cheek. Getting it fixed before spring means an airplane trip to the mainland and the use of a car there, all adding to the cost of the necessary crown.

The new manager at the hardware store is young enough to be my granddaughter. She doesn’t have any idea how much I know, and she’s a little bossy. Beyond that, there’s the owner, who I’ve worked for for over 18 years, who should know my capabilities, who put her in the position of being my boss without a word to me beforehand.

The window estimate from the contractor came back high. Or, much higher than expected, anyway. Do I want new windows…or tooth repair? And on and on, in that fashion, about every little rotten thing.

Next, I went for a long walk. The dogs don’t care if it’s a good mood or a bad mood to credit for my desire to get out in the fresh air, they always enjoy a good energetic walk. Later, I made a couple phone calls. I spoke to my friend, Linda, and my sister, Brenda. They are both good and sympathetic listeners. Slowly, the feelings of despair faded. Luckily, not before I’d gleaned enough information to write this post!

Deliriously Happy

Standard

I’m a pretty cheerful person. I work at it. Each morning, I write a page of things – small, ordinary things – that I am grateful for. I have a list of “the happiest words in the English language” and I make an effort to use them in conversation, and when writing letters. I have read Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, and try to incorporate her “10 daily practices for a happier life” into my days. I’m in the process of reading Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, which is providing insight about ordinary things – polka-dots, for instance – that tend to increase feelings of happiness.

I am known for my smile. I joke that it is an unavoidable side effect of working for forty years in customer service. I note that it helps to hide my sagging jowls. It also helps to smooth the rough edges of a conversation. The fact is, though, that I appreciate the friendly openness of a smiling face. It makes me feel good when someone smiles at me, so I make a point of smiling at others. It’s not hard, because it’s genuine. I like people, and I’m usually pretty happy.

There are times, though, when a smile doesn’t seem like enough. Now and then, I find myself to be outrageously happy. A broad grin stretches across my face, The dogs look at me strangely as I joyously laugh out loud in our normally quiet household. I can’t explain it. The events that might lead up to it are often scattered, minor, and unrelated. Not really anything that would be associated with wild joy. Still. Just like when the stars or planets quietly converge to create a major astrological event, small things work together to alter my mood.

Last week, it started with an appointment. One of the contractors and I had arranged to meet at a set day and time at my house. He was going to measure my kitchen and dining room windows, to give me a price on replacing them. That, alone, was reason to celebrate. The windows were already old, being taken out of someone else’s house for more up-to-date versions, when I bought them for my house. They’ve been in service here for more than twenty years.

The wood frames are rickety; the windows have always been difficult to open and close. Two (or maybe three) summers ago, I accidentally broke one of the panes out of the east-facing kitchen window. For every winter since then. a sheet of plexiglas (triple wrapped in bubble wrap and with the edges sealed with duct tape) has been the only thing keeping the cold outside. Doing a fair job, at best.

The north-facing dining room windows, that face a shady area under large maple trees, used to offer a lovely cool breeze in the summertime. It was well-worth the effort it took to wrestle them open, and prop them up. Unfortunately, when a crew came in to weatherize my house several years ago, the only way they saw to prevent the inevitable winter drafts, was to permanently seal them closed. So, they can no longer be opened in the warm weather. Spiders, however, have managed to get in to the space where I cannot, and have built elaborate webs between the panes of glass, spoiling my view.

I was thrilled to be, finally, moving toward a solution to the window problem. A visitor to my home, though, is a rare thing, and even more unusual during these Covid-conscious times. The last “company” I had was when my heat stove malfunctioned and needed repair. Without anyone to complain or judge, my home often reflects my lackadaisical attitude toward housework. With a contractor scheduled, things needed to improve!

The south-facing counter in the kitchen had a generous collection of junk mail, stuffed into empty cereal and pasta boxes, waiting to be burned. Beside it was a large bag filled with plastic, and another holding tin, aluminum, glass and other items for recycling. In front of all that was a single narrow strip of formica that had – weeks ago – come off the face of the counter, waiting to be fixed back in place. The stainless steel compost bin was nearly full, and had not been polished since I last had a visitor, I’m sure.

In the short hall that houses my laundry, along with the big trash can and one small laundry basket, there was a cardboard box filled with corrugated cardboard, also waiting to be recycled at our Transfer Station. The dryer had a collection of miscellaneous socks, scarves and rags on it, mixed with coins, pens and paper clips rescued from pockets, and all coated with a heavy layer of dust. The coat hooks were over-loaded with several fall sweaters and light jackets bulging out from underneath the winter coat I wear every day.

Suddenly, I was seeing everything – usually so easy to overlook – through someone else’s eyes. So, I whipped through the house, taking care of things I’d neglected for too long along with the regular weekly cleaning and tidying. Then, in the following days, I put a little polish on things: added a candle, cleaned out a drawer, shined a surface, until I felt like I was living in a brand new space.

Early afternoon, on a sunny winter day, the young man came, as planned. He measured windows, talked a little about timing, pricing and methods, and was gone. I still had the much-improved space, though. And the sunshine. And hope for new windows in the spring. Just like that, I was deliriously happy!

Denial

Standard

Denial takes many forms; I think I’m pretty good at most of them.

When I’m feeling sick, I tell myself and others, “I’m fine.” At other times, when there is nothing wrong with me, I am just as likely to deny my good health. I focus on and magnify any little ache or irregularity, until I’ve convinced myself that I’m mortally ill. Until someone asks; then I’ll say, “No, I’m fine.”

I almost always deny being “mad” when asked. “I’m not mad, I’m hurt,” was my usual response to my husband’s question. To that, he’d often wink at our young daughters and say, “Ooooh, Mommy’s really mad!” I will admit to being hurt, confused, upset, frustrated, embarrassed or discouraged, but deny being mad. Even though all of those other feelings generally manifest in feeling…exactly…MAD.

Sometimes…no, often…denial is just contrariness. When someone complains about the weather, I find it impossible to not present an opposing point of view. “Oh, but we really needed this rain,” I’ll say. Or, “But isn’t the snow so beautiful?” On the other side of this issue, when I am talking to my sister Brenda, who always looks for the blessings in any event, no matter how devastating or disastrous, I fight the urge to expound on just exactly how horrible it really is. When my friend Chris assures me, as she always does, that “it’s all going to work out just fine,” I always want to deny it. I imagine taking her by the shoulders, shaking her slightly, looking into her eyes and asking, “When, WHEN have things EVER worked out just fine??”

Today, though, I’m thinking more of self-denial. I’m not very good at it. As I set up my calendar for this year, and reviewed past years, it was clear that I’ve been a big failure at losing the twenty pounds that has been on my list of goals for at least the last five years. That’s because I am not very good at denying myself.

Low-carb? I can think of a hundred reasons why I can’t do a low-carb diet. It’s expensive! It takes too much planning! It eliminates all comfort and joy from every meal! And, no matter how weak my logic, clearly I have never succeeded in following through with a low-carb diet plan.

Smaller portions? I hate limiting portions. It reminds me of being poor. It puts me in a constant state of depravation and dissatisfaction. As a skinny kid growing up in a big family on a farm, there was plenty of food, but also lots of hungry people around the table. I never had a problem with weight, and could eat whatever I wanted, as long as no one else got to it first. Now, without competition, and having lost the ability to eat whatever I want without gaining weight, portion size is a problem. Still, I hate the idea.

No sugar? I thought cutting out sugar would be an easy form of self-denial. I prefer savory to sweet. I don’t sweeten my coffee or drink soda. I could pass on desserts. Possible. Until I started implementing that diet plan into my life…and started reading labels. If you’re avoiding sugar, labels are a big, shocking eye-opener. And, a piece of chocolate takes on the status of air…or water. I don’t remember how or why this particular plan failed, but I’m sure self-denial was at the root of it.

This year, I’m trying something new. Intermittent Fasting promises to regulate insulin, which offers many other benefits, including weight loss. On the program I’m on, I can eat every day, but only for an eight-hour window out of every 24-hour period. I fast, except for noon to eight PM. Knowing my spoiled self as I do, this one ticks a lot of boxes. During the “eating window,” I can eat what I want. No need to cut out potatoes or pasta, count calories, or eliminate dessert. Within reason, the quantity of food is not restricted. I was never a big “breakfast person” anyway.

The problem, and I knew I’d find a problem, is that during the fasting period I can only have black coffee, plain tea, or water. Which made me realize how very much I love love LOVE cream in my coffee. Which underlined the fact that morning coffee is a big, important and cherished part of my life. The other problem is this: intermittent fasting is not a “diet,” but rather a lifestyle change, So, that means this is long term. Forever. That took a little getting-used-to. I had to work up to it.

I toyed with giving up coffee altogether. No! I didn’t want to do that! I told myself I could never get used to black coffee. I experimented with it one day, then went back to morning coffee with cream. I chastised myself for being so self indulgent that I couldn’t make any sacrifices at all. Finally, I just dove in.

Today, day four of my new lifestyle, I can report that, for the most part, I don’t feel deprived. On the first day, I felt hungry at noon, so I made lunch. On the following days, a piece of fruit mid-afternoon was all I wanted until suppertime. I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m starving myself; I don’t feel that I’m over-eating at dinner to make up for meals lost. I have plenty of energy. I don’t wake up hungry. I’m hoping to, as time goes by, be able to report on more good outcomes of this lifestyle.

Meanwhile, I am sipping on a cup of black coffee. No delicious creamy flavor; a little bitter. Don’t worry. I’m FINE!

Days to Remember

Standard

I took my dogs for a walk down the Fox Lake Road the other day. Just as I do every single day. It was different, though; I’ve been puzzling over the reasons why.

First, the sun was shining. That in itself is a reason to celebrate. On this small island, when the temperature drops and the big lake still holds open water, we have many gray days. I know it has something to do with the variance between water temperature and air temperature, but I couldn’t begin to explain the science. It doesn’t take an expert to notice, though, how rare a day of sunshine is. Not that it isn’t beautiful here anyway; it is. Not that there isn’t plenty to appreciate, whether the sun is out or not; of course there is. But, when the sun is shining in the middle of the winter on Beaver Island, we do take notice, and appreciate it, and get outside to enjoy it whenever we can.

Second, in a winter that has so far been wavering in its production of either lasting cold or snow pack, we got a few inches of fresh snow. Thus, all of my driveway and most of the Fox Lake Road, that had been a slippery, frozen mess of ruts and ridges, was now easy to walk on. I could stride along without worrying that my next step would send me off sideways, or down. Beyond that, snow converts the regular scenery into a magical place. No matter what winter means, with its offerings of cold and mess and discomfort, it’s hard to deny that there’s a great deal of beauty in a snow-covered landscape.

Third, we were all feeling pretty spry that day. I’d had a not-too-tiring day at work that had been just stressful enough that I was looking especially forward to getting outside in the fresh air. Though I have the normal aches, pains and complaining joints that seem to come with age, I was feeling strong and capable. My three dogs, too, were up for the exercise. They are each nine years old, and have their own health issues, but they all still relish their walk.

On that day, Rosa Parks ran ahead, full speed, just like she used to when she was a puppy. Then she’d make a wide loop, and run just as quickly back to me, with bright eyes and a wide grin, to get a treat before she charged off again. Blackie Chan picked up on the excitement, and charged off, too. If Rosa Parks slowed down or stopped, which happened a couple times, Blackie Chan, nearly blind, ran right in to her. It didn’t faze either of them for long, and they continued on with their game. Darla was, meanwhile, loping steadily beside me, except when she was following scents along the sides of the road.

I smiled the whole distance down the road and back. Except when I was singing, to help Blackie Chan find his way. Or when I was laughing out loud at the antics of my three companions. It was one of those rare days that I recognized, in the moment, how unique and precious and special it was. I told myself, “Remember this, when the days are gray or the road becomes a muddy path. Remember this…when the dogs are older, or more infirm, or gone. Remember this…when I am not so strong, or so capable as I feel right now. Remember this, remember this…one more perfect day.” And the fact is, there was nothing so much more special about any of it; it was just a slightly-above-average, ordinary day. Except that I took notice of it!

Crisis II

Standard

I have three good dogs. They are wonderful companions, a good source of comfort and laughter. They each believe they are my favorite, best dog. They are each correct.

Rosa Parks knows that she has seniority over the other two dogs. She expects first place, and usually gets it. I put her food dish down first, only seconds before Blackie Chan’s and then Darla’s. She usually holds the prime position, closest to my pillow, next to my heart, in bed at night. Usually, though, she doesn’t take advantage of her exalted position. She lets Darla take the lead, and most of the credit, in their bird-chasing, barking-at-the-road-truck home-protection antics. When Blackie Chan decides he wants to sleep exactly where Rosa Parks is sleeping, he climbs right on top of her. Magnanimously, with a look on her face that says “Oh, brother…” Rosa Parks just rolls her eyes.

Darla is the biggest dog in my house, and she has the biggest heart. She watches over and worries over the other dogs. If Blackie Chan wanders down the neighbor’s driveway, Darla paces with furrowed brow at the road, waiting. If Rosa Parks falls behind on our walk, Darla circles back to see what the hold-up is. She waits patiently while the little dogs dance in place, excited to get their dinner, until I put her own dish down. Usually, the biggest danger Darla presents happens when I’m on the floor giving pats and scratches. For a good belly rub, the big dog would, without a second thought, crush any chihuahua that stood in her way!

Blackie Chan makes my heart ache with the earnest, intentional way he approaches life. A walk is serious business. I can almost hear his mind working, as he runs through the checklist: “I must walk straight and tall; keep a little smile on my face; keep my tail in the air, gently wagging; I must pee on every single clump of grass and pile of leaves.” Blackie Chan has a mild, imploring little whine that he directs at me when he wants his dinner, or some attention. His voice changes in an instant – like a scene from The Exorcist – from the humble mewling tone to a tooth-baring snarl if Rosa Parks gets involved.

Still, most of the time, my dogs get along. Until the rare instance when they don’t. Then, it’s a crisis! It all started when I gave Darla a beef bone. It had quite a bit of meat and gristle still on it. The small dogs were outside. I was right there to watch that she didn’t chomp down and splinter the bone. I took it away from her as soon as she’d cleaned the meat from it.

I thought nothing of it. Darla will, if I forget to put it up out of her reach, go through the garbage. She’ll gnaw on old dog food cans that were rinsed and flattened, for any slight flavor she night be able to still get out of them. She will lap up old hamburger grease and chew up the tin foil it was wrapped in. She has chewed into bits the styrofoam containers that once held sausage or chicken. Amazingly, it doesn’t make her sick.

That beef bone, though, did not sit well with Darla. For an entire day, she ate grass whenever she was outside. She declined treats when I offered them. When I got home from work, she had vomited a big mound of grass onto the entry rug. She rushed out the door, and dug right in to eating more grass. Clearly, Darla had an upset stomach!

By the time we got back from our walk, though, Darla seemed better. I fed the dogs on time, as usual. Darla was still working slowly through her meal when the other dogs finished. I gave each of them a “Greenie” that is their after dinner treat. I dropped Darla’s into her food dish. I turned back to the stove to finish preparing my own meal.

Suddenly, the room erupted in chaos! All three dogs were barking; Darla and Rosa Parks were tangled up in battle. Both were yelping and snarling, Darla on top of Rosa Parks, who was on her back on the floor. “No,” I shouted, as I slapped Darla (not hard!) on the flank. Immediately, the fight broke up.

Rosa Parks righted herself, and scurried to her “safe spot” under my desk. Blackie Chan, still anxiously trying to figure out what was going on, poked his head under the desk. Rosa Parks snapped at him, and he backed away, as if beaten, to cower on his corner pillow. Darla had gone, right away, to the rug in front of the kitchen door, where she huddled, ears down, tail between her legs, so miserable.

In a flash, my happy household was in crisis! It seems Darla had abandoned her food dish, with a few bits of kibble and one whole Greenie still in it. Rosa Parks had decided to take advantage of the situation. Darla wasn’t having it. Blackie Chan was just trying to understand. By the time it was over, my heart was pounding, and I had three sad dogs.

I gave them each some individual love and attention, in their own areas. I made sure Rosa Parks wasn’t hurt, let Darla know she wasn’t bad (and that I was sorry I’d smacked her), and explained the situation – as well as I could – to Blackie Chan, while rubbing his ears. By the time I sat down to my own dinner, the crisis was forgotten and all were forgiven.

Crisis

Standard

“Crisis” is acute, rather than chronic. It demands swift action, and, though it’s extreme, it normally passes pretty quickly. I don’t know what to call it, when it goes on for a long time. Depression, maybe? That doesn’t sound drastic enough. I’m sure there are some people who live with constant crisis: those who are living in war zones; those who have serious disease in their family; the homeless; the desperate. It’s hard to think about.

In my life, crisis is a short-term thing. Life bumps along, with minor ups and downs, and a few unexpected curves. Then something happens, and suddenly I’m in crisis!

It happened to me recently. On the day after Thanksgiving. I was working at the hardware store. Freight had come early, because of the holiday, so most of it was already put away. Olya, the young woman I often work with, helped me to finish that job early. Then, we looked around for our next project.

We had already taken a few days in the previous week to unpack and set up all of the Christmas items, and decorate the store inside and out. We are working on an on-going basis at fixing locations, straightening shelves, and updating prices. Bringing over-stock up from the basement or down from the high shelves is also something that we work at daily. Along with customer service, these things aren’t a “project” so much as just a regular part of the job.

The nail section definitely needs attention. Because of current manufacturing issues, some regular inventory is unavailable, and we’ve had to substitute others. The fill-ins come in various-sized boxes that don’t fit into our display. In addition, a group of inexperienced summer help resulted in many things being put away in the wrong location. So, that section is a huge job that would involve moving shelves and rearranging thousands of boxes of nails and screws. Too big a job for the day after Thanksgiving.

In this way, we looked around, noted things that needed to be done, and assessed our time and ability. Winter hats, gloves and scarves had to be brought upstairs. The big order for the last ferry boat has to be considered. Ice melt has to be brought up from the basement. The chain saws have to be displayed.

We started with the chain saws. There was room on the high shelves over the paint-mixing area. They’d be visible from the entry door, and from the front of the store. A ladder would be needed to get them down, but that was okay. The slow selling items that were on display there would have to be moved up to the even higher shelves. All of the shelves would need to be cleaned; the merchandise would all have to be tagged.

I started on the eight-foot ladder, then quickly realized I’d need the bigger one. Olya carried the short ladder to the back; I carried the twelve-foot ladder to the front. It was then, or in the next few minutes when I was on the high reaches of the ladder, leaning out to rearrange the inventory and wipe down the shelves, and hefting heavy chain saws up and over to arrange them on shelves, that I noticed my back was going out.

I know the early signs, and have learned to pay attention to the warnings. Once, I was so crippled with a bad back that I had to spend an extra week downstate, unable to move without assistance, let alone drive! I was seeing a chiropractor several times a day, and laying around my sister’s house the rest of the time, leaning heavily on muscle relaxers and pain pills. I’m sure I was the poorest company she’d ever had!

So, when I feel that twinge, that tells me I have pushed too far, I know to listen. Ibuprofen immediately! That allowed me to finish my day at work. We finished the chain saw display. I brought up two side shelves, one spinning display, and three totes full of hats and scarves, and got most everything out and displayed.

At the end of my work day, I went home and started my regimen of heating pad, gentle exercise, ice packs and ibuprofen. I know what works, and I know it’s important. When my back goes out, it is always a crisis, but if I take care of it, it’s just a short term inconvenience.

Besieged

Standard

Besieged. It sounds like a word I know, but I looked it up anyway. Yes, it was the word I thought it was, and I had the correct meaning in mind, too:

besiege v.t. lay siege to; crowd around; assail with requests

That’s exactly how I feel: besieged. Not always, but often.

The dogs want my attention. Constantly, it seems. I want to write, or draw, or even, for heaven’s sake, do the dishes. They want me on the floor with them, scratching ears and rubbing bellies. I have two hands; I have three dogs. A few minutes on the floor with them, and the discrepancy becomes evident. They scramble for the best spot. They push and nudge and slide in close. The big dog, Darla, will drop onto her back for a belly rubat any time, without a thought to the small chihuahuas that have to move quickly away to avoid being crushed!

When they can’t get attention that way, they want out. Then in. Then a treat, as reward for going out and coming back in. Over the years, due to extreme demand from my too-plump dogs, the size of their reward has shrunk. Currently, the treat they get is the same kibble they get for their dinner. Each piece is only slightly larger than a BB.

I dole the tiny pieces out one by one. First, one goes to the dog that actually made the trip (“Good girl, Rosa Parks, outside and in!”). Next, one each to her two companions (“Look, Darla, what Rosa Parks got for you! Here you go, Blackie Chan, Rosa Parks wanted you to have this. She loves you guys…just as I do.”). Finally, one last little bit of kibble for the dog that went out and in. We call that “the bonus.”

I barely get back to what I was doing, and another dog has decided to make the trek. They tag-team me that way, until we are all exhausted. I’ve tried saying, “Enough! No! You just came in! You don’t need to go out again!” To that, Blackie Chan will crumple pathetically against the door, as if it will magically open on its own. Darla will lay down in front of it where, even through a sound sleep, she will methodically scratch on the window until I relent. Rosa Parks, without hesitation, will march straight for the bathroom, to pee on the rug without an ounce of shame or regret. It’s not worth it! I continue to go along with their relentless game.

I come home from work after a long and trying day. I have a handful of bills from the post office, a bag of necessities from the grocery store, my lunch bag, purse, thermos and coffee cup to carry inside. I balance everything in my arms and hands and, bone tired and with aching feet, make my way from the car to the kitchen door.

Before I get even halfway up the walkway, I can hear Blackie Chan. He’s the big “talker” of my three dogs. “She’s here! She’s home,” he seems to be announcing. And when I open the door, there he is to greet me, with Darla right beside him. Seconds later, Rosa Parks, who is slower in noticing my arrival because she’s nearly deaf, rounds the corner with her own big grin. I put everything I’m holding down onto the counter, and drop to the floor. Darla wriggles from nose to wagging tail with enthusiasm as she gives me a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. The little dogs both clamber into my lap, thrilled to have me home.

Soon, I’ll get up. I’ll put away the groceries and move the mail to the table. I’ll grab my camera, fill a pocket with kibble, and set out for a walk with the dogs. For a few moments, though, I just enjoy the greeting. I wallow in the pleasure of being happily besieged!

Beginning

Standard

I adore beginnings. Beginnings are charged with energy, filled with possibility. They haven’t been tested yet. Devoid of failure and disappointment, beginnings allow me to believe that anything is possible.

This is true of almost every fresh start: the first day of a new diet or exercise plan, or the beginning of a new routine. The first year in a new location, the first week in a new job, the first day of vacation. A movie I haven’t seen before. A new restaurant. A new friend.

Life becomes smaller in these lock-down days, but there are still plenty of opportunities for beginnings. I pull out a stack of blank notecards. I page through my address book, and fill out envelopes. Who to write to? What to talk about? I could share my frustrations, tell funny stories, or just let someone know that I’m thinking of them.

I start a new book. Sometimes it announces itself right away, with a first line that draws me in to the center of the story, and holds my interest. Other times, I am teased along. “You might like this,” the book whispers to me, “keep reading.” Then, it’s like a birthday surprise when the effort pays off, with characters and plot that were worth the wait.

I turn to a new page in my sketchbook. Oh happy day! In my gratitude journal, I write, “I am so grateful to be starting a new page in my sketchbook today!” I muse to myself, and may even write down, “What was I thinking anyway, to decide to fill an entire page – six little drawings – with leaves that blew in from outside?!” And I smile as I settle on filling the next page with sketches of shells or stones.

The beginning of a new week is always filled with hope. I flip the page in my bullet journal. This week, the quote is from Sister Mary Corita Kent: “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.” Along the bottom left margin I’ve written, “You can do this!” On the facing page, it says, “It’s going to be a great day!”

Beyond that, the week is blank, ready for me to fill it. First, with places I need to be, and things I have to do. Second, I block off time for special projects, either outside or inside. Beyond that, I wait. I prefer to write things down after they’re done. That way, the entries mainly reflect what I have accomplished, rather than what I’ve failed to get to.

The first of the week is the beginning of my “weekend.” Three days off, to fill any way that I choose. The time stretches before me so vastly at the start, I often while away hours or even entire days on frivolous nonsense, before I realize time is limited. Often, I’ve been preoccupied, just enjoying the renewal of a fresh beginning!