Category Archives: Self-Improvment

This Summer

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I’m sure that every single childhood summer day was not as perfect as those that live on in my memory. I know there must have been times when the heat seemed too much, or the days seemed too long. I have vague memories of begging to come inside out of the heat, of complaining that there was nothing to do, and of anxiously wishing for school to start back up. Mostly, though, the impressions that I hold are of long, lazy, sunshiny days, with fields to explore and the ever-present shade of the big willow tree.

Summer was playing in the sprinkler and wandering barefoot around the yard. It was reading for hours with my feet in the sand. Walks to the store for ice cream, and to the beach for the cool water. It was green fruit from the orchard, fresh peas from the garden, and bunches of grapes plucked from the vines. It was vacations on Beaver Island and all the perfect white-sand-blue-sky-warm-days-cool-nights magic it offered. In my memory, summer lives on as a perfect time.

Those memories – faulty though they may be – are what fuel all of my present-day hopes for summer, in the same way that anticipation for Christmas is fed by an impression of that perfect holiday, that may not have ever truly existed. Because of my high hopes, summers are often a bit of a disappointment.

I take care of my own yard and garden. That has managed, most years, to take up much of my spare time while still constantly frustrating me. The garden was always lacking something; I was constantly behind schedule, whether for planting or harvesting; the grass was always overgrown; the weeds continually got the better of me. Housework, studio time, and other projects had to be squeezed in around other obligations.

This is the busiest time of year here on Beaver Island; it’s when I work the hardest, and the longest hours at my job, whatever that job is. It’s also the time when  family and friends come here. Of course, I want to find time to see them! Many summers, the only time I get to the beach, to the shore to watch a sunset, or visit any of the wonderful sites that Beaver Island has to offer, is when I go with visitors.

Not this year! Because I was stuck (most pleasantly, but still…) on vacation due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, then had two weeks of mandatory self-quarantine before I could go back to work…I was replaced in my job. I should be concerned, but I’m not. I’m too busy, frankly, enjoying myself. For the first time since I moved to Beaver Island (in 1978!), I am not working this summer!

I wake up every morning to the rooster crowing with a smile on my face, knowing I have this time. I’m doing a little volunteer work. I’m making art. I have a whole routine of meditation, gratitude, reading, drawing, writing and yoga that I enjoy immensely. I’m growing my garden. I’m mowing my lawn before the grass is knee high. I take the dogs for walks morning and evening. Today, I’m contemplating a drive with them down to Fox Lake. I’ll bring my book. I had an ice cream cone for lunch. This is the summer I’ve been dreaming of!

Finally, the Garden

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the west (back) edge of the garden, with freshly planted tomatoes inside, and a healthy border of rhubarb outside the fence

Yes, it’s that time of year again: garden time! Actually, I’m late. I could have planted peas a month ago, and most of the greens would have appreciated a cooler start. Here it is, June already. And a very warm June, too. Even here in northern Michigan, where nighttime frosts are a danger well into the late spring, I should have had my seeds in the ground before this.

Spring – once again – got away from me. First it was cold. Cold enough for the furnace and, when I stubbornly decided I would not continue to use propane well into May and turned off the gas, cold enough that I had to bring the portable heater downstairs. Sixty degrees should not be too much to ask for! A month ago, I still had snow along the fringes of my yard.

Next came the rain, which washed out the last of the snow, freshened everything up, and caused the grass to grow. Oh, yes, and the mosquitoes hatched. So, first, in order to be able to work outside without being carried away by blood-thirsty insects, I had to mow the lawn. So the garden waited.

In hindsight, I always think I could have sped up the process, stuck to it longer each day, pushed myself harder, but at the time, it feels like I’m doing all that I can. With my little 18″ push mower, and whole swaths of long, tough quack grass, it took me four days to complete the job.

Finally, the garden. Which has taken a week. Though each evening I told myself I’d be able to finish up the next day, it hasn’t worked out that way. Mornings have been damp and chilly. Mosquitoes are voracious. By mid-day, the sun is beating down mercilessly. The dogs peek out with pathetic expressions from their bits of shade, pleading for a walk or a ride to the lake.

So, every day, I carry outside:

  • a tote of garden tools
  • my garden plan, sketched in pencil on graph paper
  • the book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, on companion planting, which I use to plot out my planting arrangement, but also refer to when I’m squeezing something in
  • sun screen
  • mosquito repellent
  • my full-body, hooded, polyester net, hotter-than-hell-but-effective anti-insect suit, for when mosquito repellent is not enough

And I give it my best. And every evening, I carry it all back inside.

It’s coming along. I have planted thirteen tomato plants, all generous gifts from family and friends, and sixteen basil plants started by my cousin Bob. I have double-dug, spaded and raked nine garden beds, each roughly 36″ wide and twelve feet long. I’ve planted peas, bush beans, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers.

Yesterday, on my afternoon walk with the dogs, I gathered long branches that had fallen over the winter, and carried them home. Today, I’ll use them to make my pole bean tepees, and plant those seeds around the perimeter. Because I have run out of space, I’ll plant Swiss chard around and inside of those tepees, and hope for the best. The kale seeds are going in the asparagus bed, along the north wall of the garden, and the salad greens will be planted in my last canvas tub. That’s it! Finally, the garden will be done!

 

 

Bumping Along

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“Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word. I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. The world goes on as it must, the bees in the garden rumbling a little, the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. And so forth. But I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance. Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.”

~Mary Oliver

I was doing fine, really. Covid-19 entered our world, our consciousness, our news cycles, and we were all affected. Sadness, loss and fear became a daily, always escalating theme. Through all this craziness, that seems to have thrown the whole world into a tailspin, I was okay.

In February, when the virus was just beginning to make the news, my sisters and I took a planned trip to Florida. In March, when it was making bigger news, my daughter Jen and I, after thoughtful discussion and much weighing of options, decided to push forward with our plans to visit my daughter Kate in Hawaii. We listened to warnings and advice, took added precautions, and warily made the trip.

By the end of our first week there, the virus had taken off, closing down travel and businesses throughout the state, and the country. We kept a close watch on the numbers in all of the states. Just like everyone else, we were horrified at the mounting death toll, and fearful of the future. As one scheduled flight after another was delayed, then cancelled, we kept in touch with family members, work associates, and the lovely people who were taking care of my dogs.

Still, I more than once said, “If we have to be stuck, what a wonderful situation to be stranded in: surrounded by family…in Hawaii!” With my normal routine disrupted by the enforced, extended vacation, I expanded the time I spent writing and drawing. I continued my little exercise routines. I read a lot.

Time spent at the house was lovely. Mornings, Jen and I sat on the porch, drinking coffee, chatting and reading books. Chickens were always close by, and three little Kona pigs often stopped in. One of my daughters or grandchildren would sometimes accompany me on my walks.

Excursions were extra special for their scarcity. One morning Kate, Jen and I walked on the lava cliffs at the shoreline. One night, my son-in-law, Jeremy, took me up into the foothills to look at the stars. On our last day there, we gathered lava rocks and bits of coral from a beautiful, deserted beach while watching the waves crash against the shore.

Getting home was scary, with stops in Los Angeles and Detroit. Again, we were thoughtful and careful, taking every precaution throughout the trip. The trip from Lansing to my home on Beaver Island was a new adventure, too. I have become hyper-aware of every encounter, whether with humans or door handles. A simple pause at a rest stop was a mask-wearing, disinfecting-wipe-wielding, hand-sanitizer-using challenge!

Finally home, I had two weeks of self-isolation that I spent loving on my dogs and re-acclimating myself to the not-so-perfect weather. I think leaving Hawaii’s near perfect climate would always require adjustment…but snow?! Really! Still, I kept my good habits, and enjoyed my time alone.

After that time, I did not go back to work. Though my position in the hardware store is considered “essential,” I am of an age that falls into a high-risk group. In addition, my boss had to keep the store staffed while I was stuck on vacation, so hired new employees. Business has been slow. While I was away, several things broke down, and it sounds like for some reason I am considered at fault for not letting the boss know (I know, right?).

In any case, at least for the time being, I don’t appear to have a job. Worrisome, yes, but unemployment benefits will keep me going for a while. I have on-going projects in the studio, and many others in the planning stages. It’s spring, so there is plenty to keep me busy in the yard and garden. I called to offer my volunteer services at local non-profit. I still have my daily “meditate-write-study-draw-yoga-walk-read” routine to give substance to my days.

So, I was doing fine. Until, with no warning at all, I wasn’t. I lost a filling, and getting in to see a dentist has proved challenging. My ex-husband’s aunt died. I broke the handle that turns on the water to my shower. The replacement I bought for it was missing a set screw. I learned that an old friend, my age, has been put into hospice care. My tomato plants didn’t come. Big things and small, they all played on my emotions.

After having just explained to a friend how I had conquered my insomnia by getting up at a set – early – time each day, I spent an entire night tossing and turning. That was the final straw. Yesterday, I woke up discouraged and depressed.

I was fearful of the future, worried about finances, and troubled about my work situation. I was distressed by the bitterness and animosity that is running rampant on social media, disheartened by a thoughtless comment made by a political candidate (does he not realize how important this is??), and sad for the state of the whole world.

I let myself be miserable. I not only allowed it, I wallowed in it. I skipped over or abbreviated every element of my morning routine. I ignored my to-do list. I took a long afternoon nap. I watched mindless shows on Netflix. I went to bed early.

Today, I’m better. It turns out it wasn’t the early signs of a big down-turn It’s not a path I’m staying on. It was just a few bumps in the road.

Dogs Can’t Tell Time

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Dogs can’t tell time, and that’s often a comfort to me. .

When I dropped my dogs off at the kennel in March, I intended to be back in ten days. I gave each of them loving pats and hugs, and assured them that I’d be home soon. My planned one-week-in Hawaii vacation became complicated, however, by lock-downs and restrictions due to Covid-19. It was a full month before I made it home. I had missed the dogs terribly, and knew they’d be happy to see me, too. My mind was eased, though, knowing that they didn’t really register how long I’d been away.

Sometimes it seems like dogs can tell time. One of my sisters keeps an eye on her dogs remotely with a “nanny-cam.” Sure enough, when it’s just about time for her husband to pull into the driveway, they rouse themselves and move toward the door. My dogs know when they should get their dinner, and if anything keeps me from noticing the time, they are quick to remind me. Likewise, when it gets close to ten o’clock at night, they know it’s bedtime.

Work used to keep me away from home for long stretches each day. I’d remind myself that my house-bound companions couldn’t really tell if I was away for four hours, or six, or eight. They would generally just sleep until they heard my car. Rosa Parks, who is getting hard of hearing, would often still be sleeping when I walked in the door.

Now, in these crazy, scary circumstances, I’m home almost all the time. The dogs come with me when I walk. They crowd into the bathroom with me when I get into the shower. They follow me upstairs if I go to work in the studio. When I do leave home, to pick up groceries or the mail, it’s just a quick trip. Sometimes, I just sneak out to put compost in the bin while the dogs are napping.

When I come back through the door, though, whether I’ve been gone ten minutes or two hours, I’m greeted with enthusiasm. They come to meet me with kisses and wagging tails, as if I’d been away a month. Fortunately, dogs can’t tell time!

Put On Pants!

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Hasn’t life changed?! Pretty amazing, really. Tragic, yes. Scary, of course. This is new…different…unknowable. We have no idea what will happen next. Though there is lots of speculation, none of us can really see how this is going to pan out. Which is what makes it all so frightening…and amazing.

There have been few occurrences in my long life that I knew – as they happened – how important they were in the large scheme of things. Things that would change everything. There was the first man in space; the moon landing; the dismantling of the Berlin Wall; and the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Most, though, have been associated with tragedy: assassinations; shootings; wars; terrorist attacks. And now this. Covid-19.

In the big world, people seem to be taking sides, and forming camps, as if we were fighting Nazis rather than a virus. I don’t think anyone is actually taking the side of the illness, but there are certainly those that think it is blown out of proportion, or an all-out hoax.

Life versus the economy seems to be one thread. Each political party seems able to find members of the opposing party that they can accuse of making money from the situation. People who protect themselves with masks and gloves are mad at those who don’t. The ones that don’t seem to think it’s an unreasonable imposition. Who has the right, after all, to try to control the spread of disease?

It’s all too much. I watch the news; I keep an eye on the reports. I suit up responsibly whenever I have to go to town, and I don’t go to town more than is absolutely necessary. Mostly, I stay home.

From the safety of my little house off the Fox Lake Road, I notice, with fascination, how my own life has changed. I still get up early, even when there’s no place I have to be. I don’t set an alarm, though I may start. On days when I sleep later, I feel behind all day. I’m happy to have a routine, and I stick with it.

In my life at home, casual comfort is key. If I switch from slippers to shoes, the dogs know it’s time for a walk. I never wore much make-up, but it’s completely out now. Who would know? Even on trips to town, my face is covered. Moving through the day, I go from pajamas to sweats and back to pajamas. Yesterday, running out to pick up a prescription, I had to remind myself to put on real pants.

I’m happy to report that I am finding time to do many of the things that I always said I would “if I only had the time.” I write every day; I draw every day. I get two good walks in, and other exercise besides. I spend time in the studio almost every day. I’ve taken two on-line courses. Always a fan of self-help books, I now give them, one by one, my full attention. I take notes, highlight passages, mark pages for review, and actually put what I learn into practice!

In other areas, more time does not seem to make a difference. My housekeeping leaves a lot of room for improvement. I still have a long list of projects to tackle. I’ve managed to avoid yard work, even on the warm days.

And, when the world is smaller, little things take on greater importance. I almost cried when I over-cooked a meat loaf last week. When my little tablet quit working, I thought I’d have a nervous breakdown! It has both Kindle and Audible on it, with several books I’m loving right now. My daughters both tried to help, and Kate managed to figure out the problem, long distance. Before I fell apart.

Telephone calls make me unreasonably happy, now in my isolation, and I’ve become more chatty than ever before. I think my cousin, Bob, and I, in two long, recent phone conversations, have spoken more words to each other than we have in the last year!

So, some improvements, some stagnation, some sadness and some joy in my life, in the middle of this world-wide crisis. Like everyone, I’m concerned. For the most part, though, I’m okay. Just as long as I remember to put on the pants!

Zoom!

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Today is the last day of April. Outside, it’s still overcast, rainy and cold.

Today is the last day of the April A~Z challenge. Though I started late, I made it through the alphabet, twenty-six blog posts in a row. In my gratitude journal this morning, I wrote that I’m grateful to be at the end of this daily writing commitment. After a few weeks without a break, I feel like I’ve run out of interesting things to write about, and those last few letters, V, W, X, Y and Z, are always difficult.

I have meandered through these last few weeks, but it’s time to get serious. This is spring! It’s time to get busy! There are a dozen tasks right here in this room that could use my attention. Outside, there are a hundred more. The studio waits for me, with works in progress, and ideas to explore. It’s time – way past time, in fact – to get cracking on that diet and exercise program I laid out in January. Spring! Zoom, zoom, zoom!

Not today, though. Today, I’m going easy on myself. I’m midway through a good book; I may curl up in my comfortable chair and finish it, my “To-Do” list be damned!

Yeast

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Yesterday was cool and drizzly. Today, it rained. All day. It was a day for fleecy, warm pajamas, a comfortable chair and a good book. Not for me, though.

Yesterday, for my first trip to town in fourteen days, I dressed up: nice jeans, a clean shirt, leather shoes, and a knit blazer. Nothing too fancy, except in comparison to my in-house wardrobe. Today, I pulled warm sweats on over my pajamas, slid into canvas shoes, and threw on my parka to pull it all together.

After walking the dogs through the pouring rain, I made several trips to the car. I loaded one large bag of trash, and several smaller bags of recyclables, into the back seat. It had been collected over the last two weeks, and was more than due to be taken to the transfer station.

Besides the transfer station, I had to make stops at the Post Office and the hardware store. By the time I got home, I was damp, tired, and cranky. I had letters to write, and phone calls to make. The dogs needed another walk before I could stay in. At some point, I decided that the comfort I was craving would take some effort.

I decided that stew would be a good meal for a wet day. And, to go with it, yeast bread! I chose the recipe for french loaves from my Mediterranean Heart Diet cookbook. Three risings give this bread a wonderful texture. The ball of dough expanding in its bowl, and scent of yeast filled my afternoon with promise.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is tend to something else. It takes my mind away from my own worries or discomfort. When homemade bread is what I choose to tend to, there is a big reward at the end!

Walks

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left to right: Rosa Parks, Blackie Chan

I don’t know how old I was when I took my first steps, but I’ve been a walker ever since. As children, we walked around the big yard and through the field behind the house. We walked so frequently to the house next door where my grandparents lived, that we wore a path into the grass. We walked to the little store down the road for candy and other treats. In the summer, we walked to the Hilltop Beach.

For grades one through eight, the children in my family went to parochial school, but we rode the public school bus. It dropped us off in the morning behind the big brick building that was at that time serving as one of the town’s public junior high schools. From there, we walked to Bishop Kelley School.

We had to walk around the public school building, for we were forbidden to go inside. We went through the parking lot, past the loading dock, up the hill, and across a road. We walked down one long block on a cracked and uneven sidewalk beside a stone wall that enclosed a high yard. Then we crossed M-24 to get to our school. Looking at the route as an adult, it was only the distance of two or three city blocks. As a child, especially when it was cold out, it seemed much farther. When school got out, we reversed the trip, and waited for our bus-ride home.

As older children, on our lunch hour, we’d sometimes walked to the library, the park, or downtown. Being able to walk to town for shopping after school was a rare treat; we never noticed the distance then! Once, my friend, Linda, and I walked the length of her road, collecting donations of soap and personal care items to send to our soldiers in Vietnam. It was a warm day; on the way home, we had taken up a giggly chant for water, food, and a bathroom.

As an adult, I worked as a waitress for many years; I know servers get their steps in! That’s when I started wearing a pedometer, to keep track of the miles I walked each shift. Then, my friend, Judi, and I started walking “to the lighthouse and back” right after our shift. That was when I started thinking of myself as a walker, because it became a regular practice in my life.

When Judi took a different job, I switched to walking two miles on my own road. On days off, though, I sometimes took a longer path: south on Fox Lake Road to West Side Drive, north to the airport where West Side meets Fox Lake Road, then south back to my home. The distance was not quite seven miles, and the walk took about two hours. Soon, my friend, Donna, joined me. Having company made it more enjoyable, and we fit that walk in several times a week. I kept up with it for a while, even after Donna moved away.

Over the years, though, I’ve let other things get in the way. With other jobs, time was a constraint. Sometimes other conditions interfered: rain, cold, mosquitoes, and the short days of winter. When something is not a solid daily practice, it’s easier every day to find an excuse not to do it. I still thought of myself as a walker, but the reality wasn’t there.

Last spring, I introduced a new little dog into my household. I used that as impetus to get back to walking every single day. Most days, we walk morning and evening. The dogs are good company, and we all feel better for it. Though it’s harder when I’m away from home, I try to keep up with this daily habit. After all, I am a walker!

Untitled

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I have no particular topic today. Edging toward the end of the alphabet, I’m running out of steam. Uninspired, that’s me.

I had another topic in mind. “Unforgettable” was the title I had planned. I’d been going over it in my mind for a few days. I’d write about my memory: how it used to be really good, and dependable, and how lately I can’t always trust it. I’d write about those moments in life that even a failing memory can’t erase: unforgettable.

I had a few good examples, and could come up with several more, I’m sure. It’s not a bad idea; I may revisit it another day. Not on this day. Today, I’m not feeling like elaborating on any ideas. In writing, at least.

Yesterday, finally, I got some work done in the studio. Not a lot: some sorting, a bit of organizing, a few finishing touches on some works in progress. It was enough, though, to get my mind going in a whole other direction. So, today, I’m putting the bare minimum into writing, so that I can put more time into art-making. So, that’s that (with a few examples of what I’ve been working on).

Today

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White Coral on Black Lava

Today, after several days of sleeping in, I woke up early. I brewed coffee in the dark, and sat thinking of the whole day ahead. No feeling of urgency; no worry about fitting everything in. It felt like a bonus, those few minutes before the sun came up. It made the whole day seem longer, and more full of possibilities.

Today, I thought, I’ll go up the stairs. I’ll check out the exercise room, see if I feel inspired to lift some weights, pull out the Ab Roller, or get on the Pilates chair. I’ll at least water the plants, and dust off the surfaces, so that the room will be ready when I am.

Then I’ll go into the studio. I’ll start by sorting the works-in-progress that are stacked against the walls and piled on the drafting table. Sometimes that gets me going on one project or another. Even if art-making doesn’t make it onto the agenda today, any cleaning in that room will be appreciated later.

Today, I’ll reset all the clocks, upstairs and down, that have been blinking ever since the electricity went out two days ago. I’ll find the batteries for my special “wave” clock, and see if I can finally make it work. I’ll take the cover off the entry light, and see if the bulb is burned out, or just needs to be adjusted.

Today, if it warms up, I’ll get my [brand new, never-been-used] blower vac out of the shed, and out of the box it came in. I’ll read the instructions and make sure it is charged up. Then, I’ll try it out on the flower beds beside my kitchen door. While I’m out there, I’ll take the time, I guess, to put away the snow shovel, which is waiting beside the back door for the next blizzard.

Today, I’ll fill out the census forms that have been displayed on the dining room table all these many days, lest I forget them. I’ll add them to the stack of mail that is ready to go to the Post Office, as soon as this period of self-isolation is over. Maybe, I pull out the income tax file; maybe it won’t seem as intimidating as I imagine it to be.

Today, I made elaborate plans as I watched the rising sun brighten the landscape and finally emerge above the tree tops. I haven’t actually accomplished anything yet. There’s still time. This day is just beginning. And…there’s always tomorrow!