Category Archives: writing

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 25



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!


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #24



List every color you can think of and what mood you associate with each color:

  • Blue, in almost every shade, evokes a feeling of calm.
  • Red is energy, and passion, and intensity. Almost always. There is no “light red.” It was my mother’s favorite color; it is mine, too. In recent collages, I’ve been using large expanses of a velvet-rich, deep “catsup” shade of red, juxtaposed with thin lines of  baby blue and bright lime green. Used in this way, red offers a quiet strength.
  • Yellow is happy, in bright shades, but a sad, weak color in paler versions. Bitter, when it leans toward green.
  • Purple, in it’s truest balance, shows power. If it leans toward red, it becomes loud and cloying; too much blue and it is weakened. Pastel versions lack strength.
  • Orange can be rich, joyous and friendly. It needs to be strong in red, and have brown undertones to pull it off, though.
  • Green can be beautiful. Deep forest green is welcoming. Many blue-green hues suggest the tranquility of water. There is often an association with money, or riches, and the variety of greens in a spring landscape are always a joy to see. Some  shades, though, are almost repulsive to me. My least favorite colors are all shades of green, evoking thoughts of illness, spoilage, meanness and death.
  • Brown offers solidity and quiet. There are no neon shades of brown. There are, sadly, some ugly shades of brown out there, though.
  • Black is rich, deep and mysterious.
  • White is elegant, though vacuous.
  • Pink, along with most pastel colors, can evoke a wide spectrum of moods, depending on value, intensity and tone. From deep coral tones to hot pink to palest blush, pink can be joyful or sappy, fun, light-hearted or sad.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #23



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!



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



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!

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project # 21



List the best opportunities that others have given you throughout your life:

  • When I was in the first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Daly, walked me down the hall to the fourth grade room. There, I was made to stand in the front of the classroom, filled with all of those big kids, and read to them. The fourth grade teacher, a Dominican nun, introduced me. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something like, “This is what a good reader sounds like. This is what you should be aiming for. Pay attention!” I was a shy child, and it was a terrifying experience. Still, I was given, that day, an identity that I would treasure:  “I am a reader.” Not only that, “I am a very good reader.” That self-knowledge, instilled in me at six-years-old, has been a strong foundation through my whole life.
  • My parents gave each of their children the opportunity to become an integral part of the family. We were not “accessories” or “bonuses,” but absolutely necessary to the smooth running of the whole operation. From basic housekeeping, helping with the babies, taking care of the lawn, planting and harvesting, to caring for the livestock, there was work for everyone. It wasn’t always fair (there is a story I tell about walking through the living room with a giant pile of clothes to be put away. My brother, lounging on the couch watching The Three Stooges, threw out a leg to try to trip me. When I yelled, he said, “Oh, come on, Cindy…make me a grilled cheese sandwich.” All of which was perfectly acceptable behavior in our house…for a boy), and it didn’t always work as well as it should have. We had arguments constantly about who was working harder, or who’s turn it was to dry dishes. There were charts and lists and allowances to try to smooth out the rough edges. It seemed like some kids managed to avoid all the worst jobs anyway.  But it was still a good opportunity. Though I was a lazy child, and one of the biggest “shirkers,” by the time I left home, I knew these things: I could take care of mountains of laundry from start to finish; I was great at folding clothes; the babies loved me, and I could get them to settle down and go to sleep when no one else could; I was a master at picking peas and beans; I was good at cleaning out and organizing drawers; I could  plan meals, shop for groceries and put a dinner together, plus dessert. Beyond that, there were many jobs I hated, but still knew how to do. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the chance to be a part of a large working family was one of the best opportunities I’ve had!
  • When I was thirteen, I was given a full-time babysitting job for the Leschuk family that lived across the road from us. I worked five days a week, from 7:45 AM until 5:30 PM, taking care of two young school-age children. I fed them breakfast and lunch, entertained them with books and games, and kept them safe. I was expected to do a little light housekeeping, too. The job paid fifteen dollars a week, which seems, today, like a shockingly small amount, but was a good wage for a thirteen-year-old in 1966. I raided their cupboards and refrigerator for tasty treats and unusual foods never found at home. I scoured their bookshelves for literature that wouldn’t make it through the censors in the Catholic bulletin. Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls were each bonuses of that summer job. I bought all of my own school clothes that year, and gained pride in my own self-sufficiency.

There have been a thousand other opportunities in my long life that I am thankful for, and far too many people to credit for them in this one list. They range from the good fortune of having my own family to the ability to go to college (thanks to my sister, Brenda, for encouraging me, and the Pell Grant and various student loans for helping to finance it!) to the chance to work as a waitress though I had no experience and was known as a klutz (thank you, Barb Beckers!) Most of the benefits, though, are variations on the knowledge and experience I gained from just these three first, early opportunities.





The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #20



List the Happiest People you know:

  • My friend, Mary. She owns a “Toy Museum,” for heaven’s sake! A narrow, winding path through wildflowers leads to the door. Above the door, old wooden children’s blocks spell out, “A little nonsense  works.” Inside, she displays antique and collectible toys, cards and campaign buttons amidst her “for sale” items that include her own creations along with toys and novelties. “Her own creations” consist of art (watercolor paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, and on and on; there is nothing she won’t try and everything she tries turns into something magical), photographs, jewelry, note cards, perfumes and crocheted bags. Other items are stored in old-fashioned drawers and bins, and priced so that you could give a child a quarter, and they’d have dozens of things to choose from. It’s easy to spend hours there, investigating all the nooks and crannies of wonderful treasures. Mary is generally humming a tune from her spot behind the counter. Out the back door, a little playhouse waits to entertain visiting children. Paths, lined with Mary’s ceramic sculptures and old shoes and dishes filled with the succulent “hens and chicks” plants, lead to a small gallery in one direction, and up the slope to her home in the other. The path to Mary’s house is a tunnel of vines and hanging flowers. The house, that she converted from an old horse barn, includes wonders like an indoor koi pond and a tiny studio at the top-most level. Mary has not had an easier life than anyone else, but she has found the magic and joy in every day.
  • My sister, Brenda, who insists on seeing the good in every single thing. Brenda always looks on “the bright side.” Which is, no doubt, a wonderful way to be. It is a great contrast to my “dark side” tendencies. Sometimes, though, when I just want to wallow in self-pity or grief, and choose Brenda to commiserate with, I have to admit, I have been aggravated by her cheery attitude. When I am wasting too much time on self-pity and need a good pep talk, Brenda is the one I call. When I’m afraid of a challenge and want to hear words of encouragement, I always know Brenda has them. I have to be selective, though. I once phoned her, heart-broken and sobbing over a break-up. “Aren’t you glad that happened?”, she asked, “Better now than after you invested any more time…” “I’ve gotta go,” I whimpered, thinking, “I’ve gotta call someone without such a good attitude!”
  • My old neighbor, Tom. Though he lived next door to me for more than ten years, I don’t really know Tom very well. What I do know is that he greets everyone with a smile, and often a hug, too, just for good measure. I know he greets every setback, no matter how great (a fire that destroyed his home, a fall, when scaffolding failed, that could have crippled him), with grace and good humor.
  • My new neighbor, Erin. Though she has lived next door to me for several months now, I don’t really know Erin that well. What I see, though, is an optimistic, enthusiastic young person who takes great joy in her family, her new home, and her life on Beaver Island, and who always greets me with a cheery smile.