Hear me roar

 

Women have lost a lot lately. 

   First it was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18. Long before she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993,  she championed gender equity. Thanks to her work, and 1974’s  Equal Credit Opportunity Act, women can get credit cards and mortgages without a male co-signer. She made it possible for me to buy a home in my own name after my husband left me with a son to raise.  

    She fought for equal wages, protection for pregnant workers, and for widowers to receive the same benefits available to widows. Life was a little easier for single moms like me because we knew Ruth was fighting for us.

     Then this week we also lost Helen Reddy, the Australian singer who championed women’s rights not  in a court of law but on the stage of public opinion. She taught us to raise our voices with pride:

        “I am woman, hear me roar/ in numbers too big to ignore/ And I know too much to go back an’ pretend 

Cause I’ve heard it all before /And I’ve been down there on the floor/No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.”

    But the final blow came from India. A 19-year-old girl died after she was gang raped and mutilated as a political statement by one caste against another. Although Indian law doesn’t allow the young woman to be identified, she represents so many women in the world who face discrimination and abuse. She reminds us that we are not invincible as long as any woman anywhere can be tossed aside like a piece of garbage.

        We are Ruthless and Reddy. Hear us Roar.

Dang those miserable masks

 

    I woke up coughing and I couldn’t stop. Oh no, I thought. What have I done? 

    I have to admit I’m not fond of wearing my mask. Nor am I much for quarantine. I’ve fudged the guidelines more than once. I’m not a anti-masker by any means. I try to behave. But I try to have a normal life too. 

     I visit my 92-year-old mother, who would be insulted if I didn’t give her a hug. The church ladies have organized a weekly meeting in the park. We try to wear masks and stay six feet apart, but it is so hard to understand what someone is saying at 6 feet with a mask on. I try to do my part for the community. I worked the polls in August even though I was scared to death I would get infected. Somebody needed to do it. 

    So when I woke up coughing I figured I had fudged once too often. I was overcome with regret. What had I been thinking? If only I could have a do-over. 

    A racking cough shook me out of the bed. I hunted through the bathroom drawer. Where was the thermometer? I unwrapped a cough drop. What should I do? Call my doctor? Look up the nearest testing site? Oh, shoot. What about my weekend plans? Well that would need to be canceled. I wouldn’t dream of taking a chance on giving it to someone else.

     A sip of water, another cough drop. Maybe the cough was settling down.I finally found the thermometer. No fever, 97.4, not even 98.6. 

    Within an hour the cough was gone. I figured pollen must have set off post nasal drip. Not Covid. Maybe this was my do-over, my second chance to be careful.

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

.

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.