How long has it been since you felt like cheering for our country?
           Join me over the next two weeks watching the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. I’m enjoying cheering for America, even when figure skater Nathan Chen falls twice. But these bright, young athletes bounce over moguls and spin through the air on their skis and suddenly the bloated national budget, Russian investigation and thoughtless tweets are forgotten. 
        I’m not just cheering for my country. I’m getting caught up in the surprising performance of Israel’s figure skaters, or the romantic artistry of the Italian team. I’m tickled by the moxie of the Jamaican luge team, and warmed by the North and South Korean athletes working together.
        Okay, maybe Friday’s opening ceremony was overly sentimental and dramatic. I know the threats of nuclear annihilation don’t disappear with a parade of smiling faces and waving flags. But it’s like Camelot. For one brief shining moment all the fighting and hateful rhetoric is drowned out by applause and fireworks. 
         When Korean pop stars sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” with the whole auditorium waving lights I could imagine for a few minutes that world peace is possible. I know the Olympics don’t have a peaceful history. I know terrible attacks have happened before and are possible again, but no matter what happens in the days and weeks and months ahead I will always remember that beautiful moment.

Pacify as needed

“Improvise,” said the man at the kayak store. It was the third stop in a fruitless afternoon of seeking a replacement  part. The day before I had taken out my kayak on the first adventure of this year’s winter in the Keys. When I returned I discovered the black rubber stopper in the drainage hole was practically rotted through.
         I bought the cheap kayak seven years ago at Kmart, but I discovered they don’t have replacement parts. My second stop was Home Depot which stocks a wide variety of black rubber stoppers, but the ones with a handle to pull the stopper out were too large.  That was the same problem with the replacement parts for the better quality boats at the kayak store.
          So I decided to take the clerk’s advice. Back in Michigan I have a daisy bottle stopper that would probably do the trick. I was in Dollar Tree to make some other purchases so I looked for a bottle stopper. No luck. I was roaming the store trying to find something else that would work, when I spotted a pacifier.
           “Baaaa” my son used to call it. For most of his first two years “Baaa” could satisfy every need. Hunger. Fear. Loneliness. We lost Baaa once when we were traveling. The baby cried so much we went from store to store looking for the special Nuk brand. Finally we found one and my son was instantly satisfied.
           Could Baaaa satisfy a disgruntled kayak?
     Perfect fit, and the color even  matches!

Words on the Wise


      If you had to find three wise men in today’s world, who would you pick?
         The Biblical Magi were “from the East.” In today’s vernacular might mean someone from an Ivy League school. Somebody like former President Barack Obama who graduated from Harvard or the presidents Bush who both graduated from Yale. Or maybe we should consider a king on a whole different level, like Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos who earned two degrees from Princeton: electrical engineering and computer science.
         Since the job requires following a star, maybe we should look for wise men among the top astronomers. Maybe somebody like cosmologist Stephen Hawking. His best-selling book “A Brief History of Time” is almost as mind-boggling as his ability to excel despite ALS paralysis.  Maybe we need a young, healthy astronomer like Brian Cox, a former rocker turned BBC science personality. Or maybe we need to turn to a wise woman like NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who did the trajectory analysis for astronauts like Alan Shepherd and John Glenn and was one of the characters in the movie “Hidden Figures.”.
         But isn’t wisdom more than quantum physics? King Solomon used his wisdom to make wise choices, good judgments.Assuming age brings wisdom, maybe we need somebody like 84-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the oldest judge on the US Supreme Court. Or perhaps we should rely on the wisdom of a church leader like Pope Francis who has been called upon to make all sorts of judgements lately for the Catholic Church.
         Does wisdom imply wealth? If someone were wise wouldn’t they know how to be rich? Like Mark Zukerberg who figured out how to build an international backyard fence and make billions off of our desire to gossip.
        Or should we look for the ability to communicate, to speak and write wise words? Someone like linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky who is known for stating simple truths such as “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
        Or how about Lin Manuel Miranda who figured out the right words to make an unsung hero like Alexander Hamilton  come alive for Americans of all generations and races. 
        Wise can mean many different things. There are even negative connotations like “wise guys” and “wise crack.”
         So I leave this Christmas conundrum in your hands. Post the names of three wise men living today. And have a very Merry Christmas.


Flood warning!


           In Iceland they call it Jolabokaflod or Christmas Book Flood.
           Books have been the gift of choice for Christmas since WWII when currency restrictions limited imported giftware. Now Iceland publishes more books per person than any country in the world. The Iceland Publishers Association puts out a catalog every year. When the catalog shows up in every mailbox, the excitement begins. People select the titles they think will please each person on their list. 
            Christmas gifts are usually opened on Dec. 24 and everybody spends Christmas Eve reading. It’s a tradition!
             This year I am taking a tip from Jolabokaflod. Each day in December, on the Sue Merrell Books Facebook page, I will recommend a book by a local author. There’s a flood of good stories out there, something perfect for everyone on your list.

Miles and marketing


I’m part of the lunch bunch generation. Meeting for lunch was the way we made business connections when I was working. Now that I’m retired, it continues to be my primary way to connect with friends.  That is until fellow author friend Janet Vormittag came up with a more healthy option.
         Janet is currently riding a wave of success with her latest book “You Might Be a Crazy Cat Lady if…”  Last spring she asked me to meet for lunch to discuss book marketing ideas. It was quickly apparent this was going to take more than one session, so Janet suggested meeting at Johnson Park and discussing marketing ideas while we walked up and down the wooded hills.
          Over the summer we talked and walked at least once a week. We read and discussed “Online Marketing for Busy Authors” by Fauzia Burke,  which influenced changes in our Websites and Facebook pages. We came up with totally off-the-wall ideas such as my traveling shoe posts and her Crazy Cat Lady parties. We signed up for book events such as the Pumpkin Fest in Montague and the Trail of Michigan Authors in Muskegon. We both did radio interviews with Zinta Aistars.We even explored a new walking trail in Ottawa County.
        Now the trees have turned, the leaves have fallen, and this morning we sought refuge from the cold wind by walking at the mall.  No doubt we racked up more miles than book sales, but the walks impacted more than our Fitbits. This weekend Janet is featured at the Novi Pet Expo, an idea we discussed on our very first walk back in May. And next weekend I’ll participate in the Local Author Jamboree at The Book Nook and Java Shop in Montague, something that’s been on my bucket list for years.
     To paraphrase Robert Frost, we have miles to go before we rest, miles to go before we rest.

What time is it anyway?


Does the very idea of turning the clocks back every fall (and forward in the spring) make you fighting mad? Maybe that’s why Daylight Savings Time was so popular during WWI and WWII.
            Things could be worse. When New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson first presented a paper on the idea in 1895, he suggest turning the clock ahead TWO HOURS in March and back two hours in October. Imagine trying to adjust to that! Ten years later a British builder, William Willmett came up with an even more complicated plan: move the clocks up 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April and back again on four Sundays in September.
            The whole idea didn’t really catch on until April 30, 1916, when Germany set their clocks ahead an hour to conserve coal during WWI. Not to be outdone by the enemy, the United Kingdom and France followed suit a few weeks later. I mean it could be really confusing for spies to leak the time of a bombing raid and the Red Baron shows up an hour early.
             Daylight savings time went away after the war and then came back in WWII. It  was used year-round. FDR called it War Time. Spring forward, fall back became the law of the land in 1966, although the dates vary a little over the years.
             This year the time change coincides with a full moon, so your biological rhythm should be extra confused. When you find yourself with an extra hour on your hands this weekend, use it to download the Kindle version of Full Moon Friday. It’s on a 99 cent special Saturday and Sunday. Celebrate the craziness. 

And it keeps on ticking


             This week  I went to see “Wicked” for the fourth time and was surprised to realize how timely the social commentary is almost 20 years after it was written. The first time I saw it on Broadway in 2004, George W. Bush was president. We had been chasing Weapons of Mass Destruction in in Iraq and discovered we had been deceived. So the lines about the wizard telling people the lies they want to hear and the government uniting people by blaming others seemed right on.
            Now, in 2017, with Mr. Trump in the White House, the Wizard’s line that he lies “only verbally” seems so much funnier.  And Madame Morrible making up fake news releases about the so called “wicked ” witch is unbelievably current.
           This timelessness is discussed in “Wicked: The Grimmerie,” a book about the making of the musical. When Gregory Maguire wrote the novel in 1995 it was in response to government lies from Watergate to the Gulf War.  Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book for the musical, says when she started working on it in 1998 the wizard seemed a lot like Bill Clinton and his scandal at the time.
           “The Wizard has no power. He has to exploit the fear and ignorance of others. That is a theme in history that repeats itself over and over,” says producer Marc Platt.

Oh, dear.
           I always thought the clock face and all the cogs and gears in the set of  “Wicked” were to signify the time machine that is taking us back to the story before “The Wizard of Oz.” Now I see that we, like the people in OZ, are trapped in the clock. The cogs of our world are pulling us continuously, helplessly through an unbroken cycle of deception. Like clock work.

Talk about tragic!

Some days it seems like the world is coming to an end. Hurricanes one after another. Fire burning up Montana and now California. Earthquakes in Mexico. Mass shooting in Las Vegas.

But I just heard about a tragedy that tops them all. Some fungus is attacking cocoa plants which means there could be a shortage of chocolate! OMG! Anything but that!

And then I read that it’s not just any fungus but one that can clone itself. Doesn’t that sound like science fiction? Clones are attacking the one plant that can help us survive hurricanes and fires and earthquakes! (Not to mention semester finals, dates with jerks and crummy performance reviews.)

These clones cause “frosty rot pot” which is devastating chocolate production in Central and South America. The good news is cocoa plants are surviving in Brazil and West Africa, for now.

I asked about this fungus at my favorite chocolatier, The Grocer’s Daughter in Empire, MI. They had heard about it but said it hasn’t affected their supply, which I must say is fantastic.

Think I’ll go nibble some right now, in case another catastrophe hits and I need cheering up!

Tomorrow’s another day


I call her Scarlett after the heroine in “Gone with the Wind.”  And considering the weather forecast, I may regret that choice.
           My Scarlett is a 2004 burgundy Mustang, 40th anniversary edition, with about 40,000 miles. It’s my Keys car, a spunky convertible for trips to the beach or Key West when I am enjoying my 4-month snowbird residence on Big Pine Key. I bought it in 2014 from another Big Pine resident who always cared for the little lady, keeping her safely tucked away in a garage.
            She’s had to adjust to slightly rougher times under my ownership, being stuck under a cover in an outdoor storage lot for eight months of the year.
             But she’s tough. Always ready for a trip into the city. She loves parading down Duval Street. Going to hear writers lecture. Or toting volunteers to the house walk. Or heading the other direction to Marathon for the Celtic Fest. She’s a feisty dame.
            This weekend, however, she may have to tangle with an even stormier broad: Irma. An evacuation order is in effect for tourists and residents starting today. But spunky Scarlett will have to hold onto her soft fitted cover and hope for the best.
            I know when lives and homes are in danger, worrying about a second car sounds trivial. And as much as Scarlett enjoys attention, she would never want pity. She will make it through.