Quintessential Minnesota

September 4, 2016

These things mean "Minnesota" to me.

These things are emblematic of “Minnesota” to me:

  • Stands of white-trunked birch trees
  • The haunting calls of loons on the lakes
  • The whine of mosquitos in my ears
  • The raised welts on my skin from mosquito and other bug bites
  • The humidity
  • The sound of wavelets lapping on the dock
  • The sustained low rumble of thunder, like God’s stomach growling
  • The play of clouds across spacious skies
  • Rusty cars (even though there are far fewer rusty carts now compared to when I was growing up there)
Rusty cars

Rusty truck

The Tyranny of Lists

June 14, 2014

“A tyranny of lists engulfed me.  The lists created the illusion that my life was full.”
— Sue Bender, Plain and Simple

My current "To-Do" List

My current “To-Do” List

And here is the dark side of list making:  giving the “illusion” that my life is full.  It is perhaps a false sense of accomplishment when tidy check marks indicate the completion of tasks.  Yes my life is full, but full of what — those myriad duties and tasks of running a household which are sometimes not that rewarding or satisfying, but which need to be done whether they are on a list or not.

Here are two lessons I need to keep in mind about these seemingly insignificant tasks on my “To-Do” lists:  First, with the right attitude, I can find the sacramental in even the smallest activity.

“It’s only what we learn while we’re doing what seems to be basically routine that really counts; how to endure, how to produce, how to make life rich at its most mundane moments.” — Joan Chittister

And second, it is important not to lose sight of the Being in all the Doing.  In fact, I need more unscheduled spaces in my life — fewer tasks that steal my attention and energies so that I can spend more time and thought on a few things that I deem important in my life.

“It’s not busyness that destroys us.  It is simply being perpetually busy with things that only scatter rather than deepen us.” — Joan Chittister, Welcome to the Wisdom of the World

A blank “To-Do” list.

What do you think about that!



The Poetry of Lists

June 13, 2014

“As oppressive as a list may be when one is a slave to its demands, there is a certain beauty to it; to seeing all the tasks that must be laid to rest all arranged and laid out like a poem.”
— Bill Richardson, Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast

My list of fun things to do this summer

My list of fun things to do this summer

I admit that I am fond of lists.  I seem to have so many odds and ends zinging around my mind that I need lists to help organize my thoughts.  Once I’ve captured an item on paper, I stop fretting about it.

I don’t think of the items on my list being “laid to rest” once I complete them, but I do find satisfaction in checking them off one by one.  I like the idea of my list being structured like a poem.  I am a poet who doesn’t know it!


I think we’ve all observed old people’s habits, some irritating, and we’ve resolved to comport ourselves with more dignity when we become the elder generation.  For example, I’ve always been mildly annoyed when every conversation started with a declaration of age, as if that was their singular accomplishment in life:  “I’m 83 years old . . .”

Now that I am entering “young” old age, it’s time to remember my earlier resolutions about aging gracefully.  I was tickled to come across this similar list that Jonathan Swift wrote in 1699 (when he was 32, over a decade before he wrote Gulliver’s Travels) of resolutions for his future, titled “When I Come To Be Old.”  It reads:

“When I come to be old. 1699.

Not to marry a young Woman.
Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
Not to be covetous.
Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
Not to talk much, nor of my self.
Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
Not to be positive or opiniative.
Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.”

Winter “To-Do” List

January 3, 2011

Page from John Updike's A Child's Calendar

Let me share with you one Winter “To-Do” list by Nikki McClure in Remember: A Seasonal Record:

  • Build a fire
  • Eat with friends
  • Go to the library
  • Walk at night
  • Have a sauna salon
  • Make friends with the neighbor’s cat
  • Read cookbooks
  • Eat kale
  • Sleep in
  • Barter
  • Make tamales
  • Heat it
  • Follow racoon tracks in the snow

And here is my seasonal “To-Do” List:

  • Wear woolen socks
  • Finish a hand-quilting project
  • Snowshoe on a mountain trail
  • Curl up under a quilt with a pile of library books
  • Warm up with a bowl of Vietnamese pho
  • Sit among growing things in a conservatory
  • Go on a winter hike
  • Feast my eyes in an art museum
  • Build a snowman
  • Drink hot chocolate with a melting marshmallow on top
  • Sleep between flannel sheets

Summer Alphabet

July 2, 2010

Summer Alphabet

Summer Alphabet

 A is for ants at a picnic

B is for bare feet, barbeques, beach, bumble bees, and bicycling

C is for corn on the cob, camping, campfires, croquet, canning, and crickets chirping

D is for daisy chains and dahlias

E is for electric fan

F is for freckles, fly swatter, fishing, fireworks, fairs, flip-flops, and farmers’ markets

G is for gardening, green grass, gnats, and grasshoppers

H is for hauling hay, hiking, and hammock

I is for iced tea, ice cooler, and homemade ice cream

J is for canning jars, preserving jams and jellies, and juicy berries

K is for kites and kick-the-can

L is for lemonade, lavender, long days, and lawn mower

M is for mosquitoes

N is for naps and neighborhood block parties

O is for outdoor concerts, oars, and Off insect repellent

P is for peaches, parade, popsicle, picnic, porch, and postcards from vacation spots

Q is for quart mason jars and quilts on the lawn

R is for roses and road map

S is for sunburn, shade, screens, sandcastles, s’mores, sprinkler, straw hats, and seersucker

T is for thunder, tent, tomatoes, and toasted marshmallows

U is for U-pick berries, umbrellas at the beach

V is for Vitamin D, vacation, and fresh vegetables

W is for weeds, white shoes, and watermelon

X is for exploding fireworks, playing with the X-box in the backseat of the car

Y is for yard sales and yard work

Z is for zucchini, zinnias, and the buzzzzzzz of flies trying to get outside

I was pleased to come across a book of lists compiled by Liza Kirwin, the curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.  The book is such a clever idea.  As the title says, the book includes “To-Do” lists, illustrated Inventories, collected thoughts and other enumerations by a wide selection of artists.

Liza Kirwin's book of artists' lists

Paul Branson's alphabetical list of animals (from the book)

My life seems to be governed by lists.  Here is a list from my current day book/journal.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever use it for anything, but it was fun making the list:

List of Sayings using Numbers

  • one for the road
  • back to square one
  • a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • like two peas in a pod
  • stand on your own two feet
  • two’s company; three’s a crowd
  • three time’s the charm
  • three sheets to the wind
  • three-ring circus
  • three dollar bill
  • four corners of the earth
  • take five
  • high five
  • at sixes and sevens
  • eighty-six
  • six of one and half a dozen of the other
  • seventh heaven
  • seven year itch
  • twenty-four seven
  • behind the eight ball
  • cloud nine
  • dressed to the nines
  • the whole nine yards
  • a stitch in time, saves nine

Can you think of more?

Spring Lists

May 1, 2010

Raindrops on a tulip stem

I came across this action list for Spring in Nikki McClure’s Remember: A Seasonal Record: 

  • Wake up early
  • Dig
  • Check rubber boots for spiders
  • Oil the wheelbarrow
  • Balance an egg
  • Eat nettles
  • Hide
  • Visit Grandma
  • Bring tarp on picnic
  • Clean out freezer
  • Get the mail on barefoot
  • Dry clothes outside
  • Plant seeds
  • Sing with the birds
  • Climb
  • Pollinate fruit trees

I have to admit, I haven’t made much progress on my Spring To-Do List posted on March 21st.  I haven’t even picked rhubarb yet this year!  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by how time marches on.

Spring “To-Do” List

March 21, 2010

Flower vendor at the Pike Place Market

The days are getting longer!  Time to make plans to enjoy the gifts of the new season.

Spring “To-Do” List

  • Visit a nursery
  • Eat a hot cross bun
  • Dye eggs
  • Watch for rainbows
  • Splash in puddles
  • Welcome a robin
  • Plant a garden
  • Fly a kite
  • Pick a lilac bouquet
  • Bake a rhubarb dessert
  • Smell the flowers
  • Find shapes in the clouds
  • Make way for ducklings and goslings