Good-Bye November


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Though the temperatures are mild and there isn’t a trace of snow left on the ground, it won’t be long until  winter is here. Tomorrow is the first of December.

Today is a little bit of a celebration for me.

This is the first full day I’ve been able to be at home, since I left the island twelve days ago. I had a long list that I’ve been plugging away at, but it has still felt good just to be here. I woke up without the alarm. I balanced my checkbook, paid bills and went through my big stack of mail. I did a little bit of laundry. I picked up all the fallen branches in the yard. Rosa Parks and I took a long walk.

This, being the last day of November, is the last day of my daily blogging commitment this year. It’s been fun. It’s been challenging. There were a couple days when I just gave a quick run-down of activities, “here I am…that’s all you get,” and a few days that were my usual “list-of-complaints-and-things-to-do” blogs. One night I didn’t actually finish writing until after midnight, so I technically missed one day. Most of the month, though, I feel like I pushed myself to improve…and did. I count it as an almost complete success.

What next? I’ll continue to write, of course, though I won’t try to post a blog every day. There are plenty of other areas in my life that could use a devoted commitment!

Struggling over computer issues today, I was so frustrated I couldn’t stand it any more. I put the bright pink harness and a leash on Rosa Parks, threw on sweats and a warm jacket, and headed out the door.

We have been pretty slack in our walks for a while now. First Clover went lame; she couldn’t walk, and I couldn’t bear to go without her. When she died, it seemed like all the fun went out of a walk for Rosa Parks. Then summer came, with mosquitoes enough to keep us off the trails…before I knew it, we had completely lost the habit. Lately, a walk around the yard each morning was the most we managed.

Until today.

Rosa had to be coaxed along…she’s a stubborn little dog…but once we got to Cotter’s trail, she became more interested in the sights and smells. We surprised some partridge…and they surprised us, with their loud flurry of wings. There were two deer grazing in the field of clover behind Bob Hoopfer’s pole barns; they looked up as we walked past, but didn’t bolt. We made note of the new addition to the old cabin in the woods, and then retraced our path home.

Not quite one hour out in the fresh air, but it did me a world of good. It was good exercise for my little dog, too. For the month of December, I’m going to walk every day. Right now, heady with the success of my writing commitment, is a good time to start another. I’m hoping that by the time the new year rolls around, it will be a fully formed habit.

After that, who knows!





Books I Don’t Like


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I am reading Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. As I was browsing the bookstore in Petoskey last weekend, the owner walked by just as I picked it up. “That’s a great book,” he gushed, “I didn’t like the movie, and the next two in the series aren’t nearly as good, but that book is fantastic.”

I took it directly to the counter, with one other selection, based solely on that recommendation. I didn’t read the back cover, the reviews on the inside flap, or  even the first few sentences of text. That’s how much I trust the opinion of a book store owner.

That was a mistake.

It is a well-written book. It has grabbed and held my attention. If I walk away from it, I will be haunted by questions of how it all works out. I may do just that, anyway.

I do not like books that disturb my rest.

I don’t like to think of our human race as evil.

I like redeeming characters, and I expect a happy ending.

There seems to be a trend, lately, for books – movies, too – that place humans in awful situations, forced to do unthinkable things to survive.

It’s not altogether new. I am still haunted by books like The Grapes of Wrath, Sister Carrie and As I Lay Dying, all classics by revered authors. I still remember a couple short stories that were required reading in high school. The first was To Start a Fire, perhaps by Jack London, about a man dying in the frozen wilderness. The second was about a hive of bees, as it was attacked and destroyed by ants. I’m sure the writing was wonderful and the message strong, but they each left me horrified.

I have two books partially read that I had to put down just because I couldn’t take it anymore.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a science fiction book set in this country, in the near future, after a flu epidemic wiped out most of the population and some kind of nuclear incident poisoned the water. Roving bands of pillagers are a constant threat. It is filled with one heart-breakingly beautiful sentence after another. It is still not worth it. Not to me.

Slammerkin by Emma Donaghue is set in 18th century London. A young girl is accosted on the street, becomes pregnant from the encounter, is kicked out onto the street by her mother, is gang-raped, contracts gonorrhea, is taken in by a prostitute who gets her started in the business…there is no way this is going to have a happy ending. Donaghue is a good writer with a strong feminist perspective. I have read and enjoyed many of her books. I could not finish this one.

Child 44 is set in the Soviet Union at the end of Stalin’s regime. Crime is “non-existent” except for crimes against the state. Everyone is afraid. Anyone could be the next one accused of disloyalty. Children turn in their parents, neighbors report neighbors, family  members turn on each other  to save themselves. It appears that there is a real killer out there, murdering children. To say it out loud, certainly to investigate, would be seen as treason. I’m learning a great deal. It is holding my interest. Still, it disturbs my sleep. I may have to set it aside as well.

I don’t mind strong subject matter. I can stand tension; I can handle a little fear. What I need, along with that, is a thread of humanity, a hero or two, the promise of something better…

Without something to save it, a well-written book is just not good enough.



Failing at Bingo


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When I was a child, Bingo was not legal. Fraternal organizations and church groups would covertly host Bingo games as fund raisers.

Every now and then, an article would hit the papers about a raid on a Bingo game, complete with photos of priests in their Roman collars being detained and prim ladies in Saturday dress-up, looking stunned. The accompanying article – and the dinner time conversation in my house – leaned strongly toward the attitude of “don’t they  (meaning the vice squad, I guess) have anything better to do with their time?” They’d back that up with stories of a robbery or murder (“a real crime!”) that happened just around the corner, while the police were busy finger-printing good church-going people.

Mostly, when it came to Bingo, I think law enforcement personnel just tried to look the other way.

When Bingo was illegal, there were no laws dictating how old you had to be before you could play. When we were on Beaver Island for summer vacation, my Grandma Florence would regularly take us to Bingo at the Holy Cross Hall.

Back home in Lapeer, the Fraternal Order of Eagles held a big Bingo game every fall. The prizes were donated from local markets. Dad was a member of the Eagles, and happy to support them. He’d take any of us kids that were old enough to read numbers, and set us up with one Bingo card each. He’d stand behind us, beer in hand, chatting with his buddies while keeping an eye on our cards. “You missed one there,” he’d say, or, “Get ready to yell Bingo!” One year, with one card only, I Bingo-ed three times, winning a turkey each time. Dad was grinning ear to ear when he told Mom I’d “filled the freezer.”

When Bingo became a legal game, it gained several new rules and regulations to go with it. There were specifications on record-keeping, admissions, payouts, and manner of dispersing winnings. When Bingo became legal, children were no longer allowed to play.

When I was a young pregnant woman with very little disposable income, my husband and I always “splurged” on Saturday night Bingo. It was a cheap night out, with the possibility of a payoff. The poorer we were, the more it seemed we had to go, for the chance to win big.

After my daughter was born, Bingo was no longer cheap: the cost of child care had to be factored in. It became a rare excursion: eight or ten times a year instead of weekly. Around that same time, I quit winning…completely.

Now, I enjoy gambling in many forms. I like euchre better if there’s a “dime a game, nickel a set” rule in place, just to make it interesting. Cribbage is always “penny a point, double on skunk.” I don’t play high stakes poker, but “penny ante, three cent limit” is fun. I don’t have to win. I’m okay if I don’t  break even. However, if I never, ever, ever win – even a fraction of my investment, just to give me hope – it quits being fun. That’s what happened with me and Bingo. So, I quit going.

My point is, though, that I have a long history with the game. I thought I knew how to play. I was confident of it.

Last Wednesday, my nephew Bob was working Bingo at the V.F.W. in North Branch. Bob’s Mom, Cheryl, invited her sisters to go. Brenda, Amy and I took her up on it.

We were all lucky. That wasn’t an issue.

The problem was with the technicalities.

When I called “Bingo,” I hadn’t raised my hand ahead of the call, when the number showed on the TV screen. I didn’t yell loud enough. I was so late it yelling it out, he was calling the next number at the same time. There was a little bit of grumbling from the professional players around the room, and a little lecture from the caller at the podium, but they paid me my $10.00 and we moved on.

Brenda was next. She didn’t call out loud enough. She didn’t keep her had in the air.

More grumbling from the crowd. Another lecture from the caller.

I wondered if Bob was less than thrilled at his row of aunts, all causing so much trouble.

Amy – looking pretty much like a professional player herself, with her own pink Bingo chips and magnetic pick-up wand – had to split her winnings with one or two others who Bingo-ed at the same time. She was coming close enough on many of the specials to make us all hold our breath.

Cheryl won next, without major incident.

Things were improving. I had learned to watch the screens for the numbers, rather than just wait for them to be called out. I was getting faster at placing the chips on the cards, and clearing them before the next game. The professional player sitting at the next table was helpful in explaining some of the intricacies of the game: what a “roving T” was, why we could ignore any “N”s called when going for “the letter X” and the same for “B”s and “O”s when trying for the little “around the free.” At intermission, I even had a friendly exchange with the grouchy caller, who was then working the concession stand. I said, “I’d like two hot dogs, please.” He said, “We only have polish dogs left.” I said “Okay.”

It was looking like we might get through the evening without humiliating ourselves further.

Then Brenda got another Bingo.

She nudged me and pointed it out. I didn’t realize the last number – though it was showing on the TV screen – had not yet been called.

What was she doing, trying to get us in trouble??

I grabbed Brenda’s arm and flung it into the air. “BINGO,” I yelled, loud enough for everyone to hear! So there would be no confusion this time, I jumped up out of my seat, and pointed at her!

Brenda tried to get her arm down. I held it up. The caller stopped calling. The guy checking the cards rushed over to check her card.

Her number had not yet been called.


I sat back down.

I let Brenda put her arm down.

We all paused, then, waiting for him to call the number. We had it down now; we had just rehearsed it.

The caller gave me a long scowl first.

He called the number.

Brenda called “Bingo!”

The checker called out her numbers.

It was a good Bingo.


So, I don’t know…I may not be up on all the new technological advances in the game of Bingo; I may be a little slow on marking the cards, a little confused by all the new acceptable patterns and a bit over-enthusiastic when it comes to a win…but the Ricksgers sisters walked away from the table with combined winnings of seventy-one dollars and seventy-five cents. Can it really be said that we’re not good at Bingo?






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Every good-bye was a sad one yesterday. Every hug was heartfelt. The love and laughter and camaraderie we shared would have to  hold me for a while. Study closely the babies and children; they will have grown and changed by the time I see them again.

This morning I was going home.

Keith helped me load my bags in the car. Brenda and I chatted about what a nice holiday we had, as we sipped coffee together. My flight back to Beaver Island was scheduled, and I had a four-hour drive to catch the plane. It was  raining. I had no idea what traffic I’d run into, headed north on the day after Thanksgiving. I couldn’t linger.

It’s always hard to leave my hometown. My roots are there, memories abound. Most of my family is there. No matter how long I stay, no matter how anxious I am to be home, it’s always sad to leave. I miss too much, living so far away, not just of the holidays, but of the every-day.

I was thinking melancholy thoughts like that as I stopped to fill the car with gas, and started onto the freeway.

By the time I got to Davison, heavy traffic and pouring rain  had wiped any other thoughts from my mind. I pulled off at Irish Road. I got a cup of coffee to go, and had a good talk to myself. The rain might continue, but the car handled well in those conditions. The traffic would surely remain heavy through Flint, but would probably abate after that. If I turned back, I’d have to do this all over again tomorrow…after a dozen calls to readjust plans. I had one other flight option, two hours later. I told myself, “Just get out there, be cautious, get through Flint. Then if you have to stop to get your nerves under control, you can opt for the later flight.”

Good advice!

Both the rain and the traffic slowed after the city; by the time I got past Birch Run, with all of its outlet stores, it was easy going. Hard to believe all those cars were on the road to take advantage of Black Friday sales!

I drove straight through. Through intermittent rain, most of the way, then hard pellets of ice for a short time near St. Helen. It was snowing in Gaylord, and the sky was so heavy with clouds, I wondered if they’d be cancelling flights. It cleared, though, as I neared Charlevoix.

The planes were running as scheduled, and I was on time for the earlier flight. No scary plane ride today, it was clear and calm all the way. Looking down, first it’s the runway and the fields around the airport, then the neat patterns of houses and yards, the gravel mounds at the Medusa cement plant, then water.

Lake Michigan.

Few vessels on the big lake this time of year, so the view is just the sky and water. Whitecaps and wave patterns provide subtle variety.

Then suddenly, land.

Going into winter, Beaver Island is a study of grays, tans and greens. The sand forms a border of white. The bright blue comma at the southern end is Lake Genasereth. The plane then follows the water along the east side of the island. Houses present their best faces to the view, with little regard to lining up with their neighbors. They appear to be scattered randomly along the meandering shoreline. The plane tilts around to line up with the landing strip, and gradually descends until wheels touch the ground.


The pilot exits first, then each of the passengers. Off across the field to retrieve island cars, then back to the airport to pick up the luggage. My first stop, then, was Aunt Katie’s farmhouse, to return her keys and her cell phone, to extend holiday greetings from the rest of the family and give her all the news. Next, to the kennel to pick up Rosa Parks, who greeted me with kisses and a wildly wagging tail.

Then home.

First a walk through, just because. Then the luggage in from the car. Perishables had to be put away, then clothes sorted out and dealt with. Rosa’s food dish placed back on her pink surfboard rug, where she has her dinner. Every activity can be halted by a little dog smile, or cocked ear, or tail wag as I stop to give her more attention.

I heated water in my new kettle and made tea. I made soup for a cozy meal. Rosa Parks is on her cushion beside me.

I am home.



Almost Midnight; Happy Thanksgiving


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The clock is ticking. It’s almost midnight.

I didn’t get a blog written this morning; I was busy helping stuff the turkey, baste the ham, arrange the desserts and greet the company.

From 2PM until 11:30PM, we’ve had a house full of people – about thirty-six, I think – ranging in age from seventy years old to six months old. We ate, we talked, we laughed…we hated to say good-bye.

Tonight, no time for details, let me just say I hope everyone enjoyed their day as much as I enjoyed mine.

My day was wonderful!

Happy Thanksgiving!


This Good Day


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I didn’t sleep at all last night. Or maybe I did, but didn’t know it. It felt like my brain was always working, though I lay dutifully in bed, with eyes closed, waiting for and hoping for sleep.

Maybe my travels are catching up with me. This is more stimulation than I’m used to on a daily basis, with traffic and stores and lights and droves of people. Though my room here is quiet and comfortable, there are still sounds I’m not accustomed to. Last night I heard a train in the distance! Visits with family and friends give me lots of pleasant thoughts and good conversations, but are not a part of my usual routine on Beaver Island.

I could have been reacting to medicine I took for a sinus infection. Sometimes those over-the-counter tablets that say they “may cause drowsiness” have the opposite effect. Maybe the mug of hot apple cider that I had before bed spiked my sugar. It seemed a more sensible choice than anything with caffeine in it, and much safer than wine, with the medicine.

It could be that my list of unfinished work kept me from sleep. I certainly had time to go through every single item, while laying in bed. I’d bring up one thing, toss it around in my mind, worry over it, process several different possible solutions and put it back on the shelf, to make time for the next item. Several things that seemed like  problems without solutions at 3AM appear much more manageable in the light of day. On the other hand, many of the solutions that I worked out in my half-asleep state make no sense at all today.

With the holiday dinner coming right up, the list of things to be done is still long. Yesterday, we managed to get some things finished, ready for putting out or reheating on Thursday. Today we’re going to finish an appetizer plate, and bake pies, thaw the turkey, set up tables and plan the arrangement of platters and bowls for serving.

Everything is going to be just fine.

In the middle of a sleepless night, everything seems more troublesome.

In the middle of a sleepless night, I am frustrated by the knowledge that everything would be easier to handle if I could just get some sleep!




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When faced with projects of intimidating immensity, I slow down.

I think.

I plot strategies and means.

I wait.

When deadlines loom hugely in front of me…when panic is right under the surface… then I think, “better get moving!”

I came downstate with specific goals: to spend time with family, re-connect, relax…but I also brought down quite a bit of work.

First, this writing commitment. I was late one day, writing my daily blog after an evening with my sisters. As the clock was ticking down to midnight, I was feeling a little harried, but I pushed it away. I published the post at 12:05AM, throwing it onto the next day’s statistics…and it was okay.

I have two or three articles to edit, and notes and photos to put together into a large story. One birth announcement and at least three obituaries to ready for publication. Four other submissions that just need introductions. I’m squeezing it in around visits and appointments…and it will be fine.

I had to consult with a few people about my malfunctioning computer, get it repaired if possible, replace it if not. It turns out replacement is necessary, so…that means more phone calls and paperwork to retrieve the software. It will work out.

Through it all, I have been calm. I have rare opportunities each year to spend time with my family. If I squander this time being frantic and stressed…that time is wasted. “I can only do what I can do,” I tell myself. “There are only so many hours in each day.”

Deadlines are getting closer: work is piling up.

Today, I’m going to water aerobics with one sister and one friend. Tomorrow, I’m baking pies. I may get a chance to visit with another friend who is in the area for a few days. Thursday, the day will be filled with family and friends. Friday, I’ll drive back to Charlevoix to get on a plane to go home…and there will be no more opportunities for spending time with my family and friends down here, no more time for sharing hugs and making memories.

The deadlines will still be there. The work will still be waiting. I can kind of feel the pressure…the underlying panicky feeling…but I will treasure this time with family, and that will carry me through the stress later.

It’s a slow-moving panic.