Tag Archives: art

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!

Running on Empty



I have often remarked that when things start to slow down around here, I’m right on top of it. I slow down, too. I’m not so quick to speed up when business speeds up in the spring. September presents its own set of problems.

Let’s look at just one of my jobs: the hardware store. Business has fallen off, sure, by a good percentage over what it was a month ago. Let’s say business is a full quarter less than it was. Okay. One month ago, we had four full-time employees, one adult working part-time, two students working part-time and a few young people working occasionally.

Come September, we are back to two full-time employees and three part-time employees. Plus, we’re all tired from the busy summer we just came through. And we’re still pretty darn busy! I’m  ready for a break! Though I know we are fortunate to still be getting the customers, I am worn out. I’m at least ready for business to slow down as much as I have!

Then there is the news magazine. It is a  year-round job, and demands every spare minute I can give it. My cleaning job is always there, too, even when it’s September and I am exhausted. And it’s blackberry season. At least every other day, I have to make the rounds to pick a few cups. I enjoy a bowl of berries with milk after dinner, and freeze the rest. They will add interest and vitamins to my cold-weather diet, and remind me of summertime in the dead of winter. No matter how tired I am, I can’t pass them by!

Another problem is this: all summer long, my life has been pushed to the side to accommodate my many other obligations. Everything has been neglected. My house needs a good “rafters to floor-boards” cleaning. My lawn needs to be mowed. The garden and flower beds, which were left to fend for themselves all of this year, need attention before they go completely wild. My dogs want the time and attention I’ve been promising them for weeks. I know how they feel. I’d like to collect on the professional haircut, teeth-cleaning, facial mask and leg-shaving that I’ve been promising myself!

Finally, I’ve been dying to get into the studio. Ideas have been popping! In years past, when things slowed down in the month of September, I took to my studio and started projects that would keep me busy through the whole winter. Lately that hasn’t been possible. Less studio time generally results in fewer ideas and less inspiration. This year, when I’m fortunate enough to have the urge and the purpose, I have to find the time…and the energy.

Energy is something I don’t seem to have, in this busy month of September.



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Now that I’m home from my little trip, let me look at what I did with my two days on the mainland.

  • I had a mammogram. It was overdue, as I’ve neglected to schedule the procedure for a couple years now. It will ease my mind and quiet my hypochondria-fueled fears and imaginings.
  • I walked. More than five miles one day, and at least two the next.
  • I slept. Though the mattress was not the best, I enjoyed both an afternoon nap and a long night’s sleep in my little motel room.
  • I watched Jeopardy. It was the second and last day of the finals in the Teacher’s Tournament, one of my favorites. I knew the answers to the first five questions! Though my success rate dropped of drastically after that, it was still an enjoyable program.
  • I read. I am reading The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, and it’s a hard book to put down. I also went through several magazines – unavailable on Beaver Island – that I picked up while I was over there.
  • I shopped. A trip through K-Mart resulted in a wrist watch, a canvas purse, B&B cream, toothpaste, disposable razors, underwear, ibuprofen and O magazine. The grocery store yielded items from Aunt Katie’s shopping list, two cans of soup and a Real Simple magazine. From the three bookstores I visited, I came away with three note cards, books: A God in Ruins by Kay Atkinson and Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins, and magazines: American Craft, Dwell, and Spirituality and Health.


Now that Labor Day is here, what did I do with my summer?

  • I worked. Long hours and many days each week at the hardware store. I spent too many (yet still not enough) hours working on the Beacon, or doing bookkeeping or other things to support that business. I cleaned at Aunt Katie’s. I gave what I could to my own lawn, garden and house.
  • I managed some creative work. I wrote every day. I completed thirty small paintings. I did my radio broadcast.
  • I walked. With a new dog that likes a walk, I have happily reintroduced walking to my regular schedule this summer.
  • I read. In stolen bits of time over lunch, in the bathtub, or before sleep at night, I managed to get some reading in. I finished a couple good books and have several others underway.
  • I enjoyed time with family and friends. Sue, who runs a seasonal gallery here on Beaver Island, and I have had several good chats and a couple good meals this summer. Mary, my friend since grade school, visited for a long weekend. My grandson, Tommy, came for two weeks and my daughter, Kate, surprised me with a short visit, too. My sisters, Brenda, Cheryl and Amy, came with children and grandchildren, spouses and loved ones for a wonderful week of laughter and fun. Aunt Katie and I managed to squeeze in a few good conversations…a couple of them while eating ice cream. Before the season was over, Lois, Pam, Shirley and I made it out for our annual dinner.
  • Other stuff. With company or on my own with the dogs, I made it to several beaches. I attended two concerts, saw one movie, and went out to dinner a half-dozen times. I had a thrilling, short boat ride out into our harbor to see – close up – the Viking ship that was anchored there. I went on the Garden Tour. Though I have not been swimming or climbed Mount Pisgah, there are still a couple weeks left of summer.


Now, already 10:00 on my day off, I’ve accomplished nothing so far except for drinking three cups of coffee and this bit of writing. I’d better get busy, or the end-of-day assessment will be a disappointment!


Monday…the Possibilities are Endless!


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My “weekend” begins after work on Sunday and ends Tuesday night in a mad scramble to get food prepared for a weeks-worth of packed lunches, laundry finished and complete whatever projects I had started on Monday.

This week, I started with a nice dinner with friends. I followed that by reading in bed until midnight, cozy under a warm comforter while rain, thunder and lightning continued outside. I slept in this morning until I woke up naturally (7:45!), and I’m now enjoying my second cup of coffee, having not yet moved far from this computer desk.

I have big plans for this day, though. There is a list of “must-do”s and a longer list of “should”s. I keep my “want-to” list in my head these days, where I can indulge if a moment or an hour opens up. It’s sad to note the things – so necessary to my healthy body, mind and soul – that I have let migrate to the realm of guilty pleasures.

The Must-Do List includes:

  • write this daily blog.
  • do the dishes: a collection of bowls, spoons,coffee cups and one pan, that have been waiting in the sink for a couple days now.
  • call Central Drug Store to renew prescriptions.
  • call my daughter, Jen, to make sure she is on track for getting the next Beacon organized and ready to be proofed before going to the printer.
  • follow up on an Email to correct the spelling of a couple names in one submission.
  • update the database with the latest subscriptions, so those checks can be deposited.
  • go to the bank for Beacon business, and to deposit my check from the hardware store.
  • drop off four small collages for the Museum Week art show.
  • two hours to clean at Aunt Katie’s house, upstairs and down today.
  • fold the clothes that have been waiting in the dryer since yesterday, before they settle into wrinkles.
  • talk to the mechanic about when I can get the car in for needed maintenance and repairs.

It’s not a bad list, barring complications. If, for instance, Jen tells me we don’t have enough material to fill the pages of the next issue, I’ll have to push other things aside to turn notes into articles immediately. If she has small areas to fill, I may have to gather more photos or news tidbits. If the clothes in the dryer have wrinkled…if there are unforeseen complications at Aunt Katie’s…if the mechanic needs the car today…but let me assume all will go well.

The Should-Do List is next. It includes things that, Lord knows, need to be done, but that – due to time constraints, necessity and reality – have been relegated to the secondary list. Things like sweep, clean the bathroom, wash the sheets and clean the windows. And other things, like get into the studio and finish the work that is underway, and promised for the Meet the Artists event the first week of August. Mowing the lawn is out, because of last night’s rain(blessed relief!). Hanging sheets on the line and taking the big dog for a walk will hinge on weather, time, and the mosquitoes.

The Want-To List is already suffering as I look over the “Must”s and “Should”s. I have already missed the yoga class, held Monday mornings at the Community Center, just as I have every other Monday this summer. It’s doubtful I’ll find time to watch the Netflix movie that has been waiting for me, in its red envelope by the TV set, for more than a week. I probably won’t – if I manage to make it into the studio – have time to work on the large painting that has been looking at me so imploringly whenever I go in there. I can’t see where I could find the time to pull the masses of now-fading wildflowers that have taken over the garden area. I won’t have time, I guarantee it, to rearrange my kitchen to accommodate the new maple counter top my cousin Bob made for me. I’ll get in the shower before I leave the house, but the relaxing bath – with the bubbles and book and glass of wine that I’ve been looking forward to – will have to wait.

Ah, well…tomorrow is another day.


The 52 Lists Project #21


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List the things you want to make:

  • I want to make a cookbook. I’ve been thinking of it for a few years now: the 60 most inspirational women in my life, with stories and recipes.
  • I want to make this house feel like a home. It has devolved into an eating, sleeping and working space that serves it’s base purpose but doesn’t bring joy. And it should.
  • I want to make art! My mind is full of projects and ideas! I have plans for new color combinations and different ways of manipulating space. I want to paint. I want to get my hands in clay. I want to try encaustic. I want to put that printing press to work again.
  • I want to make a vegetable garden. Last year, I didn’t get it planted, and was forced to watch the weeds take over where there should have been beans and squash and tomatoes. The time is now! If I’m going to do it, I need to do it soon!
  • I want to make peace! (1) With my dogs, who have good times – like yesterday, when they ran together, tails wagging, through the woods and on the paths around Fox Lake – then bad. Like this morning when they got in a altercation over – to the best that I can figure – which one of them was going to wake me up. Turns out, their growls and barks and yelps drove me out of bed, to put them outside with a good scolding. Now they’re sulking. (2) With my life, and all the things that vie for my attention. I create the craziness myself. Even when I imagine a winning-the-lottery type scenario, where I could quit working so hard, I find my mind wandering to areas like, “I could get a dozen chickens and raise all my own food,” to “maybe I’ll buy a restaurant” or “then I could build that wood fire kiln.” I have to make peace with openness, space and free time in my life…or I will never have it. (3) With this entire aging process, which – since it continues to, by turns, surprise, discourage or infuriate me – I cannot yet say I’m resigned to. And I’d might as well be, because it’s happening. Oh, yeah…and (4) world peace, too, of course.


Timeout for Art: Critique


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Having had experience of late with some well-meaning but hurtful criticism, I’ve been thinking about how we approach one another’s shortcomings.

Critique was a major aspect of college art courses. It was important, we were told, to observe closely our own work and that of others, and learn to talk about it in critique. I think “to observe critically” speaks about the detachment we should feel toward the work, so that it can be honestly appraised, without attachment to the process, the subject matter or the maker. Too often, it was interpreted – by teachers and students alike – to instead mean “find the flaws.”

That never felt comfortable to me. No matter how diplomatic, no matter how true, criticism is always hard for me to take. Too often it seemed an exercise in ego rather than a learning experience. I decided early on that I would not participate in that way.

When my work was being critiqued, I would listen and nod thoughtfully at whatever was said. I would thank them for their thoughts and ideas. I would never defend or argue. I would take everything I was offered and sift through it when I was alone, to glean from it what was helpful and discard the rest.

When it was up to me to offer critical assessment of someone else’s work, my policy was to speak only positive comments. That is not to say I offered only gushing superlatives. Words like “wonderful,” “beautiful” and “outstanding” can be nice to hear, but on their own are not appropriate or helpful in a critique. It’s helpful to break a piece down, before speaking about it. Does the color appeal to you? Is one area stronger than another? What works? A critical comment might be, “My eye keeps moving toward the upper right corner where your color is so dense and lush…” or, “I’d love to see the background darker, to show off the beautiful line quality.”

Whenever I teach, the rules for talking about work – whether your own or someone else’s – is “Positive Comments Only!” It seems especially important because I often teach children. We can easily see the reasons for not discouraging a child’s early efforts. I think we’re all children at heart, though. We all tenderly and cautiously put ourselves out there, exposed, hoping for approval. We can each be knocked down without too much effort, by the criticism of others.

I think most of us are pretty good at self-assessment. We usually already know what our failings are. We know what’s going wrong. Sometimes, we look so hard at those things, it’s hard to see what we’re doing right. It’s certainly hard to know if others do. It seems to me, in life as in art, to hear what is working is more important than to be told what isn’t.



Life at Corner #16



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Kate and Jen, coloring Easter eggs, 1981

Living one year on Beaver Island had changed me. I had grown up. I had more confidence in myself. I was more comfortable with my life.

Before Beaver Island, I would beg my husband to take us somewhere (usually to his parent’s house for dinner and a few games of cards) two or three evenings a week, when he came home from work. Though I’m sure they got to the point of dreading our drop-in visits, now they were so rare, my in-laws even brought it up. Our relationship with them hadn’t changed.  I was just less needy.

We were busy, too. Our first year back seemed to fly by. Jen zipped through the second grade. She started third grade the same year that Kate started kindergarten. They were in swimming classes for part of the year, and ballet classes for part of the year. I was back in college, in Flint, with a full load of classes, and working as a server at the Big Boy restaurant in Lapeer. Terry traveled to Arkansas for a few weeks to help his cousin with a big job there. I wrote an essay for a national organization, and won an Honorable Mention. Sometimes, with a deadline for a drawing or painting class, I’d turn our kitchen into an art studio. For a few days, meals would be basic picnic fare, as I took over table and wall space for creative endeavors. We planted a big garden in the summers there. My sister, Cheryl, and I started bicycling together. Now and then, I babysat for her children.

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Easter morning, 1981

We had left Beaver Island with a stack of bills, and a packet of information on new land parcels for sale on Eagle Hill Drive. We intended to get caught up, then buy land, eventually put up a small house, and move back to the island with a secure place to live. It was a good plan, and we were making good progress on the stack of bills…when my husband fell off a roof.

Terry broke both arms and sprained a leg. We were lucky! It could have been much worse. With my restaurant tips now our main source of income, all plans slowed. Still, I continued to send little checks, five dollars here, ten dollars there, to the patient creditors on Beaver Island, to pay off our debts. Mrs. Chapman, whose husband had provided us with both gasoline and fuel oil, would always send nice receipts. “Thank you for the effort,” she’d write, “every little bit helps!” I continued, too, to put a little bit in a savings account every week, looking to the future.

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Jen, looking for eggs, Easter morning, 1981


Creative Fire Journal, Day #2


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My creative flames are fanned by…

The people who inspire me most are…

What sets my life on fire

Your task: Do one, some, all, or none of these prompts, as you wish.

I love watching artists work.

It doesn’t matter if their choice of materials are ones that I would use, or if their finished product is anything I would want to attempt.

When familiarity  with the methods and materials is evident, when movements flow and a plan seems in place, I want to watch. The artist could be sitting at a potter’s wheel or a sewing machine, wielding a paint brush or a hammer, filling a paper with lines or a whole wall with color…I’m in.

When I was a small child, there was a person on television that drew on a glass surface with a grease pencil. Like magic, his images came together! No scratching of graphite on paper, no pausing to think where the next mark should be placed, no erasing. I could have watched all day! Later, sketch artists held the same fascination for me. On the streets or in the courthouse, they brought likenesses to the page seemingly without thought or consideration, just action.

In the 1989 film, New York Stories, one segment had Nick Nolte playing an obsessive, moody and well-received artist. He wasn’t a particularly likable character, until he started painting. He used a metal trash can lid as a palette; his canvasses were huge; when he was working, nothing else got in the way. Then, I loved him.

There are films of Jackson Pollack working on his large drip paintings that give me the same feeling: he has a direction and he follows it. He’s in the flow. That’s what I like to see.

I recently purchased the entire PBS Art21 series on DVD. Some episodes are wonderful, with artists intent on getting their message out there, messily, crazily, passionately. Others are more cerebral: they talk about their work as an abstract concept, an organized series of procedures. The intensity is missing. However beautiful the finished product, it needs to also carry the passion and soul of its creator.

Maybe, in a gallery setting, away from the artist and the process, the difference wouldn’t be visible…but I feel like I’d know.

When I want inspiration, I look to those people who throw themselves whole-heartedly into their work. Then I throw myself into mine.

What Next?


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After gaining recognition for his movie, Super-Size Me, Morgan Spurlock developed a TV show. “Thirty Days”  placed people in situations that varied wildly from their standards of beliefs, and showed them the opposing view from the inside. A “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” theme. The time frame was based on the concept that 30 days is the length of time it takes to form a habit. Beyond just habit, though, given thirty days of practice, a behavior or way of thinking can actually become an integral part of your personality.

That is the time, theoretically, when the forced adherence to a regimen becomes a lifestyle.

The thirty-day mark is where a person moves from “I’ve gone twenty-nine days without smoking”…to “I am a non-smoker.”

When the person dragging out of the house every morning at dawn to hit the pavement, wakes up and thinks, “I am a runner.”

When the dieter limiting food choices decides that light dressings actually are preferable to heavy sauces.

I love this theory!

I have been working at self-improvement all of my life. Too often, my determination gives way to boredom, distraction or just plain laziness. Many times I’ve thought I formed a good habit, only to find that cheesecake – or some other bad choice – had simply not presented itself for awhile.

I know it’s not foolproof.

Thirty days of practice can, perhaps, make it easier to follow a regimen, which can provide a sense of pride in saying, “I am a walker” or “I am a good house-keeper” or “I make healthy food choices.” Thirty days of sporadic involvement or neglect can destroy that habit as if all of the hard work and determination never happened.

I have written a blog post every day through the month of November. Where am I?

I took this on as an exercise in discipline, not to form a habit. I think of this blog as a life practice that helps me to slow down and be more aware. It gives me the opportunity to reach out to others. I will not give it up, but I do not intend to continue posting every day.

So what have I gained?

Well, in taking this seriously, I sometimes had to get up early or stay up late in order to get my writing in, around my schedule. There were times I woke up in the night, panicked at the thought that I’d forgotten to post something. There were times when I wrote very little, but I managed to get something out there every day. That, alone, is huge for me!

I didn’t let all other things go by the wayside. Often, when I start a self-improvement regimen, I use that as an excuse to neglect everything else. “How can I possibly be expected to dust when I am trying to diet?” Not this time! I managed to integrate this added discipline into my life without any more than the usual procrastination and disregard for other activities. That gives me hope!

I think this is the way to go: thirty days at a time, devote myself to one area of importance without giving up on everything else.

My head is reeling! Where to go next?

I have a series of collages underway in my studio that have been stalled for lack of time and devotion.

The studio could use a good thirty days of attention, to get it organized for work and creative function.

Shall I start compiling stories and recipes for the cookbook I’ve been planning?

The exercise regimen I’ve been working at in a series of fits and starts deserves a serious commitment.

This house would be a more pleasant place to live if I spent a month finishing half-done cleaning and home-improvement projects.

Even just a good long walk every day is a good habit to form before winter settles in.

I can’t decide!

The dogs are pacing the floor; today, I’ll start by giving them a walk.

As for the next commitment, I’ll write about it when I know.

Days Gone By


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Here it is, the first of September.

Another summer season gone.


These flowers open and bloom for one day.

Sometimes I notice how beautiful they are.

Sometimes I pay attention to all of the blossoms, and how many buds are waiting to open.

Too often I see how many spent blooms need to be removed.

Maybe that’s the gardener in me.

Maybe it has  more to do with age, or just my perspective of the world.

I find myself – too often – looking with pensive sadness at days gone by, unretrievable, rather than the days ahead.

Rather, even, than this present, precious day.

September is a time of change on Beaver Island.

The Labor Day weekend marks the end of our tourist season. Children are soon going back to school. Summer residents and visitors are packing up and closing cabins. There is a hint of Fall and the premonition of Winter in our cool nights and chilly mornings. The growing season is nearing its end.

This is a time of good-byes.

My birthday, falling near the end of August, gets my mind going to times past and years gone by.

The melancholy persists with the end of Summer and all the changes it brings.

Punctuated, this year, by the death of a dear one.

Bill Cashman was a good friend to Beaver Island. Map-maker, builder, writer, historian…Bill wore many hats, and wore them all with a dapper sensitivity to this island and its people. He had a keen knack for seeing and encouraging the strengths of any individual. He was a champion of lost-causes and long-shots, and often doggedly pursued an idea that he deemed worthy when all around him were prepared to abandon it.

Bill was a long and good friend to me. He hired my husband and took an interest in our family. He supplied some of the materials to build our little house. He supported me early on in my artistic endeavors, and later helped to set up a website to feature my Collagraph work. He visited my house several times to see my new work and  take notes on my processes. Bill encouraged and promoted my writing, through all my lazy, procrastinating tactics to avoid it.

I ran into Bill in the Post Office just two days before he died. Both on the run, we exchanged pleasantries.

He’d been battling cancer for quite some time. He was skinny and pale, but had a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye.

“Good!” was his emphatic response to my “How are ya?”

Bill knew how to appreciate the present moment!

As we move into the shortening days of Autumn, through sad good-byes and seasons past, I aspire to do the same.