What’s that smell?

        

        An acrid odor grabs my attention. Something’s burning. The toast. Oh darn, I forgot to check the setting..

          As I scrape the charred bits off my breakfast I realize I’m more relieved than irritated. My nose still works … which has become the “canary in the coal mine” test to assure us we haven’t caught Covid-19.
          I treasure my sense of smell. Imagine missing the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. Or a just-snipped rose from the garden. What would summer be without that unmistakable aroma of newly mowed lawn? And who can resist the salty sweet allure of kettle corn at the farmer’s market?
         Life and good health are precious; we cling to every moment. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Covid-19 has taught us to appreciate so much we once took for granted. Freedom to assemble, to shop and sing. The chance to see a play or a baseball game.
         But most of all Covid has made me notice the smells. Even offensive odors like the boxwood hedge that always smells like cat urine to me or that whiff of gas that alerts me I have bumped the knob on the stove and the burner is not lit. Just today I went to the store to purchase some parsley for a recipe. I grabbed cilantro by mistake but the smell made me realize my error.
          So here’s to all the smells of summer, good and bad. May our noses keep on working!
         
         
        

What’s next?

        

Six years ago this month, on a full-moon Friday the 13th, I released “Full Moon Friday,” the third mystery in the Jordan Daily News series. In addition to lots of full moon madness and a world-threatening finale, “Full Moon Friday” heats up the love lives of the four main characters. The book ends at a satisfying spot. 
          Fans and friends asked when the next mystery was coming out, but I decided to focus on writing the stories of my ancestors. It just so happens that one of them, Capt. Benjamin Merrill, was hung for treason 249 years ago today. I stumbled upon many more heroes and horrors in my family tree. Thanks to the Covid quarantine I finally managed to finish my research and print a book this month to give to my relatives.
          So once again the slate is clean. Should I return to the Jordan Daily News mysteries?  Or should I finish a whole different story I started years ago? Or should I start on something new, an historical series inspired by some of the exploits of  my ancestors?
         It’s always hard to decide the best course of action; impossible to look ahead and imagine what will be. I wonder what ggggreat-uncle Ben thought when they strung him up on June 19, 1771. He probably just assumed the British governor would always be in power, never dreamed that some ragtag Sons of Liberty stood a chance against the powerful British empire. How could he foresee that those revolutionaries would build a country that would become the most powerful on earth? Or that 250 years later that wealthy country would still not be able to provide justice and equality for all citizens.
         Like Uncle Ben, I have no idea what’s next.  
        
        

Here Comes the Sun

        
Green growth squeezes out blossoms as the orchard rushes into summer.

  When you live in a northern state like Michigan, summer is extra special. Winter is so long, and summer so short, that we can’t waste a minute of sunshine.
              The landscape transforms almost instantly. Last week the bare branches felt light snow and killing frost; this week the forests are greening up as if an artist were slapping on paint. Just yellow-green buds yesterday, swaths of leaves today, full shade by tomorrow.  The beloved cherry orchards barely had time to show off their blossoms before the green growth took over.
              Sleepy little towns like Leland, which are virtually abandoned in the winter,  become bustling tourist centers starting around Memorial Day. This year the transformation is even more dramatic because the Covid-19 lockdown closed business across the state for two months. Just a few days ago Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that restaurants and retail in the northernmost counties could reopen this weekend, as long as safety precautions were practiced.  Village streets are jammed with delivery trucks as merchants unpack boxes and restock shelves.
            Summer anticipation is always tinged with a bit of apprehension. Will it be a good fishing year? Will the lake be too high or will summer heat tame the wet spring?  But this year the questions are are bigger and bolder. Will the tourists from Detroit and Chicago return or will travel fears keep them away? Is the Covid virus waning or will a second wave hit fast and furious like a summer squall?
              None of those fears can dim the excitement, however. The sky is blue.  The shimmering water is so inviting. And, ooooo,  that sun feels so good.

Yakety Yak, Don’t talk back.

        

I used to talk to Cloudy. He was a good listener

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Do you ever talk to yourself?
         No, of course not. That would be silly.
         See what I mean?
         I have been divorced most of my life. After my son left home more than 20 years ago, I have pretty much lived alone. I always had cats and I would ask them what we should have for dinner or comment to them about the feasibility of whatever we happened to be watching together on television. Granted I also sought their advice on more weighty matters such as which car to buy or where to invest my savings.
         Although my last cat died about five years ago, I still talk aloud in my empty house sometimes. Verbalizing my thoughts seems to make it easier to find a misplaced phone or appreciate a spectacular sunset. Sometimes I even speak with an appropriate accent such as pulling out a bit of an Irish brogue the other day to comment on “a wee pair of lovely Orioles pecking at the bonnie grass in me yard.”
           Today’s technology has spiced up the silence in my home. I can ask questions of Alexa and actually get intelligent answers. I love telling her to time the cookies or put nutmeg on the shopping list.  I admit, however, it turns into a shouting match sometimes when she keeps misunderstanding my song request or when she can’t hear my command to turn down the volume.
           At the risk of sounding like a crazy old lady, I have accepted my habit of talking to myself and have no plan to stop. But I have been thinking I should be more careful what I say. It is too easy to be overly critical. “What did you do that for? You are such a dunce.” “Look at you, fat slob.” “Clean up this place. It looks like a crime scene.” “You blew it again.”
             I need to be the encouraging voice I want to hear. “What a lovely morning!” “Well done. That was a good idea.” “Aha, that looks nice.””You’ve got good taste.” “Praise God. Thank you Jesus.” “Keep it up. It’s working.”

Quarantine on parade

          

Until last week I hadn’t been in a parade since I was in Brownies, which was literally halfway through the last century.  But thanks to Covic-19,  I “paraded” twice in one week
            First a group of girlfriends gathered to celebrate a 50th birthday without breaking those pesky social distancing rules. A few days later my church congregation decided to give drive-by praise and encouragement to three young members who are about to graduate from high school.
           A novel virus calls for novel solutions.
           We pack our quarantined selves into our portable isolation booths — formerly known as the family car — and let our imaginations run wild.  We dress up the vehicle for the occasion — balloons, banners, signs and streamers. We crank up the sound  system, play with the horn and flashing lights.
          And most importantly we interact with friends we haven’t seen in far too long. Keeping a car length apart so we don’t crimp our bumpers, we exceed any social distance rules. But we wave, and shout, and applaud and laugh. Then we return to the safety of our homes, a little more able to face the uncertainty that lies ahead.

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One is the loneliest number.

   

      My purse fell over in the passenger seat spilling its contents on the car’s floor. Gathering up the pieces I spotted my favorite earring.  Its mate had gone missing several months ago. What good is one earring? I should just throw it out but it was a favorite. I threw it back in the purse with all the other stuff.
       Half a pair of anything is one of life’s great frustrations. Who hasn’t done a load of laundry and discovered at least one unmatched sock? You stick it in the corner of the sock drawer assuming the mate will show up and sometimes it never does.You end up with four or five lonesome rejects in the drawer. Where do all the mates go?
       Early in my newspaper career I wrote a column for single people. The promotional photo featured a group of unmatched shoes. Nothing expresses unrealized potential like half a pair.
       One Shoe Off is the second book in the Jordan Daily News mystery series, The title refers to a clue that a kidnapped editor left behind. But as the story develops it becomes a metaphor for a world off balance where the guilty prosper and the innocent are punished.”One shoe off, one shoe on, diddle, diddle dumpling….”
         The day after my purse spilled its contents I was straightening my bedroom when once again I spied that beloved lone earring in the jewelry box. Wait a minute!
          I ran down the hall…literally ran to the kitchen. I grabbed my purse, fished through the jumble and pulled out my earring. I ran back down the hall to the bedroom, grabbed the earring in the jewelry box and held the two up side by side. It was a Biblical  moment. Call the neighbors and rejoice. That which was lost has been found.

Common enemy

           

     I discovered the unifying power of a common enemy when I was in college.  I lived in a co-op: Twenty-one girls in a big old house and a married couple who served as our “house parents.” We had a hired cook, and our house parents ordered supplies. But otherwise the girls shared the duties of running the house — dishes, cleaning, serving meals.
              And we fought continuously. We disagreed with the division of duties, complained about the way the bathrooms were cleaned or the way the dishes were stacked. We fought over boys and borrowed clothes, those who hogged the shower or used all the hot water, or played music too loud, or got up too early or stayed up too late.
             One day our house parents called a meeting. Seems the college had decided that the campus didn’t need two co-ops and since our building was smaller and older than the other, the housing board had proposed closing our building at the end of the school year. If we wanted to live in a coop the following year we would have priority for any openings in the remaining building.
             The girls around that table changed instantly. We praised everything about our old house and how it was run. We started working together, coming up with a strategy. We wrote letters, set up an inspection, selected a team to present our case to the board. And we won.
             I remember being amazed at the transformation, how those girls who could be so petty and vindictive were suddenly supportive of each other when we had a common cause.
              I am reminded of that experience now that a pesky little virus is attacking people all over the world. We used to be suspicious of people from other countries and cultures. We looked down on their religion, their government, their language. Now suddenly we see similarities. We’re all wearing masks and washing hands. We all worry about our older citizens. We tear up at the empty streets, applaud when singing echos from balconies, even when we don’t understand the words.
               And we know if we just stick together, we can beat this thing.

Who is that masked man?

      

Repurposed sleep mask

         Never in my writer’s wildest dream did I imagine I would wear a mask to the grocery store. Or that people would brag on Facebook about the design of their latest facial accessory.
            Back in February — seems like a century ago doesn’t it? — I attended the Conference on World Affairs in St. Petersburg, Fl. It’s a free event with panels of experts on various topics so hundreds of us packed the ballrooms at the University of South Florida Student Center. There wasn’t an empty seat and late arrivals stood along the walls or sat on the floor. I remember one young man sitting on the floor wearing a plain white mask over his mouth and nose. I wondered at the time: Is he sick or is he afraid someone here might be sick? What are masks for, to protect the public or the wearer?
            Two months later masks have become so ubiquitous that the question doesn’t matter: protecting the public is protecting the wearer.
            By mid-March, with events being canceled and quarantine discussed,  a quilter friend delved into her scrap bag and stitched a mask for me as well as everyone in her extended family.  When that one is in the laundry, I can fall back on an airline-handout sleep mask that works just as well to cover the mouth instead of the eyes. And some folks simply resort to a basic  “stick-em-up” bandana.
             A friend joked the other day that before long someone will start selling masks with political slogans. In 2020 the mask is more visible than a bumper sticker.

Watch for the dolphins

      

   I looked up from the kitchen sink just in time to see a dark cloud moving quickly across the surf just beyond my window. The shadow was headed toward shore and suddenly the dark mass split into six distinct pieces.
         “Dolphins,” I yelled to Steve as I wiped my hands on a dish towel and headed for the balcony.
         There they were frolicking in the shallow water between the shore and the line of buoys that keep boats away from swimmers. Rythmically coming up for air, sometimes just a fin, sometimes a full face, and once in a great while a jump out of the water and splash.
          It’s a hypnotic display and I usually forget to pull myself away to take a picture. When I do try to snap one I seldom catch more than the splash,  so I have little evidence that the miracle dance of the dolphins really happens. Not every day. Sometimes we have gone weeks without seeing them. And then suddenly when you least expect it, looking up from the computer screen or talking on the phone and there they are: the graceful, playful showmen of the sea.
          Their visits are extra special now because our four-month winter on the beach is coming to an end. The past two weeks have been the strangest of all as we have been “stuck” in this beautiful spot afraid to get too far from our balcony for fear we might get closer than six feet to another mortal in this surreal Twilight Zone of international quarantines.
          I find myself watching for dolphins a little closer now, needing that moment of magic to convince me that maybe everything will be okay.