A New Month



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

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

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

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

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




Today is Tuesday



Today is Tuesday…you know what that means?

Well, for one thing, when those words come into my head…just as an ominous thought or spoken aloud…it means that I will burst into song:

“Today is Tuesday…you know what that means…it’s gonna be a speeeeciaaal daaay…”

Remember? From the old “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show?

I have few rules in this house, but the “song rules” are strictly abided by. If I mention my little dog, Rosa Parks, in a song (which always makes her dark eyes twinkle), I have to find a way to incorporate my big dog’s name in a song, too. Just to be fair.. There’s a little, lilting, spoken-word jingle that is often heard around here:

Rosa Parks and Darla Jean…best two dogs I’ve ever seen!

Darla Jean and Rosa Parks…always ready to bark and bark!”

It names both dogs, gives them each a turn at being called out first in a sentence, and let’s them know I’m thinking of them, even when I’m unwilling to stop what I’m doing to rub their bellies.

Whenever – perhaps because I have tripped over a dog, hit my thumb with a hammer, or let a pot boil dry on the stove – I find reason to cry out, “Oh, Lord,” of course I have to belt out the song that I’ve started, as performed by Janis Joplin:

“Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all have Porsches; I must make amends. I worked hard all my life, Lord, no help from my friends…oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV? Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me…”

You get the idea.

If only other routines were as easy to uphold as the “Song Rules,” I wouldn’t always approach Tuesdays with such anxiety.

Today is Tuesday. This is the end of my “weekend.” Tomorrow it’s back to work, with little time for big projects at home. Tuesday is the day that I look over what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve started, what I haven’t found time for, what needs to be finished (today!), and what will have to be – once again – delayed.

The run-down this week is not so different from other weeks. I managed one good walk with Darla before the roads turned to glare ice. I made up a tentative meal plan for the week, and bought groceries. I made a big pot of goulash and distributed the leftovers into serving containers to pack for my lunches. I finished one painting (almost, at least) and started another. I did a load of laundry. I cleaned the bathroom; I cleaned the kitchen.

Then I decided to switch out the dowel rods (that were mounted over the kitchen windows, that two dozen baskets hung from) for a couple rustic curtain rods that I picked up a while ago. While I was at it, may as well put plastic over those drafty windows for the season. That should have been done weeks ago, really.

So, I piled the baskets onto the dining room table and removed the dowels. I decided to use one of them to hold the curtain that blocks the heat from going upstairs (instead of the crooked row of nails that was doing that job). That meant I had to dig out the hand saw, measure and cut it down (twice, before I got it right), hang the mounting brackets, hang the dowel, and hang the curtain…all before getting to the job at hand. Several little succulents had to be moved from the window sill onto the counter, as well as a little solar-activated penguin, a small watering can and the vase my daughter, Kate, gave me for Christmas. Then, the window had to be washed, the window sill cleaned, and the channel that the window slides open and closed on had to be vacuumed to remove the cobwebs and the last of the summer’s flies that had chosen that place to die.

I managed to destroy the clean kitchen – and even filled the dining room table with the overflow. I have not yet put up the plastic. I haven’t hung the rustic curtain rods. Today is Tuesday. Oh, Lord!


The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #5



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

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

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

No, I Don’t Have a Cold



No, I don’t have a cold. Nor am I throwing dialect from other countries into my paragraphs. I’m not that smart. I took one Spanish class in college. I started to learn Russian through an on-line learning program. Neither went much beyond the basics.

The trouble is that my “N” key only works when seriously plunked on. If I am just typing away, without giving the “N” the attention it needs, my works fall apart. When “and” becomes “ad,” the sentence is still readable, but it sounds like I am suffering from a stuffy nose. Longer words take on a decidedly foreign appearance. “Enough” comes out “eough,” “anniversary” turns into “aiversary,” (“turns” becomes “turs” even as I write this!) and all “ing”s take on a decidedly east-European sounding “ig.”

On top of that, the “K” key goes on strike, too…but only occasionally, to surprise me. Then “like” becomes “lie” and “know” becomes “now” – or even “ow” if I forget to hit the “N” hard enough. These are not things that the spell checker picks up on! That means it’s up to me.

I’m a pretty good writer. I tell myself that I write like I talk, but it’s more true that I write like I would like to talk. When I’m in an actual speaking situation, I stammer and fumble for words. Things don’t always come out the way I’d like them to. I sound sarcastic or angry when I am neither; I sometimes sound much more agreeable than I feel. When I’m writing, though, I can fine tune all of those issues, so that – mostly – humor, sarcasm, anger and sadness come through only as I intend them to. I rearrange words and sentences as I plunk away, to get the best effect.

“Plunk away” is an apt description, because I am not a good typist. I managed, in 10th grade Typing 101 with Mr Perkins, to work up to fifty words per minute with no errors and no peeking at the keys. Back in 1967, working on manual (non-electric!) typewriters, that was quite an accomplishment, and earned me an “A” in the class. Today, with word processors, that would be considered dreadfully slow typing. Even so, I’ve since lost the ability to type without looking at the keys, and I usually use no more than two or three fingers to press the keys.

If I try to type “properly,” my errors skyrocket. When trying to copy a paragraph from a book (thus looking at the book, not the keys), I often look up to see that the screen is filled with gibberish, with almost every word (or non-word) underlined in red by my spell-check program. Errors frustrate me, because I am not a good editor, either. If it is underlined in red (as “jibberish” was just a moment ago) I will – most often, but not always – investigate (ah, it’s “gibberish”) and make corrections. Words that slide through the system, however, often get by me, too.

So, if you see a sentence that reads, “My freids ad I really lied the etertaimet ad I ow the others did too,” don’t worry. I don’t have a cold. Eventually, I’ll notice, and make the corrections.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #4



List the things that get you out of your head:

Let me just say, first of all, that I am rarely “out of my head.” I tend to over-analyze, worry, dwell on the past, and fuss over the future. I’m working on it. There are a few things, though, that I can get lost in.

  • A good book. Not “good” meaning classic, or “good for me.” I’m talking about a page-turner. Whether mystery, thriller, or just a well-written novel, good writing gets me out of my own head and into the territory the words are introducing to me.
  • A long walk. When the weather is mild and the dogs are cooperative, when I have set aside the time so that I don’t feel pressure to get back to something else…I can sometimes be just fully immersed in the experience.
  • A hot bath is like spa-time. I add scented salts to the water, light candles, push any concerns away and relax into the steamy water.
  • Sometimes, a movie. Unfortunately, movies have lost a lot of their magic, and with it their ability to hold my complete attention. I still enjoy them, while working in the studio, or on another project, but it takes a special movie to get me out of my head.
  • Working in the studio, when everything is going well. When one idea leads to another, or the way forward seems clear, and the work is exciting to me. Then, everything else falls away, and I am just completely in-the-moment.

Not Today, But…



I’ve been struggling lately with this writing commitment. I missed several days last week, with hardly a reason. Some days, I feel pulled in other directions, away from this chair. There are times when I feel like whatever I have to say is small and unimportant, when doubts and insecurities silence me. Sometimes, it’s the topic that eludes me.

I like it when the direction of my writing comes to me as I type the words, stream-of-conscious style. It’s fun when revelations, memories and insights appear to me at almost the same instant that they appear on the page. “Where did that come from,” I wonder, with amazement, and say “thank you” to the air, where the words seem to have come from.

To write from an outline seems too much like an assignment. I’ve had enough of that! And yet, I want to write. This morning, I re-read a few of my older posts. Sometimes that helps to get the creative juices flowing. Then, I read several blogs by others, who’s writing I admire. That often gives me food for thought, and sometimes spurs a post in response.

In fact, today my friend Kathy, who writes her Lake Superior Spirit blog from the woods of Michigan’s upper peninsula, wrote about missed perceptions, inspired by a post titled “Missed Perception,” by Pam whose blog is roughwighting. Both women are wonderful writers in general, and these pieces – about chance encounters on a plane – are both excellent. I was tempted to write my own story about a long-ago plane ride. Not today, though.

I’ve had a couple writing ideas working around in my mind for a few weeks, now. One is about the rules of my house. The other regards my beautiful granddaughter, who just recently turned eighteen years old. Not today.

I have four drafts started and saved. I opened each of them, to see if I’d find inspiration there. One is titled “Ice Cream.” That can definitely wait until warmer weather! Another is the start of a “Time-out for Art” piece. I’m not sure if the work I was writing about still exists, or if it has changed beyond recognition. It may not be something I want to discuss anymore. Certainly not today. The others show promise, and – some other day – I will finish them.

I have a dozen books – maybe more – on writing. Some, like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors, are designed for finessing what is written, rather than for inspiration. Stephen King’s On Writing and Michael Chabon’s Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands tell how they did it, which can be helpful, but doesn’t get me writing today.

I have, in the past, pulled suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: the Practice of Writing Memoir, Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop and Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open for writing material. Some of their ideas are quite fascinating, and get my mind churning.

Goldberg has lots of 10-minute writing exercises: “What can you give up knowing?” “What have you held onto too long?” “Where did you come from? How did you escape?” Novakovich hands out assignments (“Create a character without relying on anybody you have known or seen. You might consult an astrological chart.”) with an objective (to learn how to work from an idea, rather than a real-life precedent, in making up a character) and a means of checking your success.

Berg offers thought-provoking scenarios as jumping-off points for writing: “What transpires as you stand before the monkey cage at the zoo?” “Demonstrate great wrath in a person by describing only the way he or she is smoking a cigarette. Now great fear. Now sorrow.”  She also offers some encouraging words for the place I am in right now: “Next time you feel stuck, celebrate. You are being given an important opportunity.”

With that, I am setting aside my writing for this day, and going in search of other opportunities.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness)Project #3



List the things that you are really good at:

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

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